When I read the headlines about Jennifer McKenna-Morbelli, I had to read it again to make certain that it wasn’t a misprint. McKenna-Morbelli was a 29 year old teacher who died from internal bleeding after having an abortion at 33 weeks. It was those last 4 words that struck me the hardest “abortion at 33 weeks.” I thought that type of procedure was banned in this country but obviously not in the state of Maryland.
Although, I refused to do terminations of pregnancy both as a resident physician and as an attending, I defend a woman’s right to choose. It is an extremely personal and sometimes painful decision that only involves a woman and her Creator but there must be legislative oversight over the process and procedure in order to keep patients safe. When you hear the horror stories from women who were part of the “coat hanger generation,” you’re grateful that these days are behind us but that doesn’t bring help McKenna-Morbelli.
McKenna-Morbelli, a former resident of New Rochelle, New York arrived in Germantown, Maryland at the office of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. McKenna-Morbelli allegedly discovered that her baby had “developed fetal abnormalities” at 33-weeks. Fetal abnormalities do not fall from the sky. They are present by the first trimester. Is it possible that McKenna-Morbelli did not receive a first or second trimester ultrasound? Sometimes defects that involve the brain or abdomen are not revealed until the mid-second trimester but for an anomaly to present late in the third trimester is unheard of.
I am aghast that any physician, even one who performs “late trimester abortions” would do one at 33 weeks. A much better option would have been counseling and perhaps discussions with mothers of children with conditions similar to McKenna-Morbelli’s. There is always, always the option of adoption. Instead, McKenna-Morbelli developed chest pains a few days after the procedure and died.
I’m not going to preach a sermon about morality but one of frustration at the “thought leaders” such as the American College of Obstetrician-Gynecologists who have done a miserable job setting standards regarding these late trimester abortion procedures. They condemn home births but don’t establish standards for physicians who do these late terminations in office settings. And what about informed consent? Was the patient aware of all of the things that could possibly go wrong including her death?
We can never bring Jennifer McKenna-Morbelli back to life but we can try to make sure this type of tragedy never happens again. ACOG, are you listening?
Target words: 3rd trimester abortions, Jennifer McKenna-Morbelli, Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway, Dr. Leroy Carhart, State of Maryland, The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy, pregnancy, pregnant women