Safe and legal abortion?

It’s a concept you might not want to defend around the Louisville, Kentucky-based law firm of Amshoff and Amshoff. That’s because the firm has dealt with more than five dozen cases of significant, abortion-related injuries caused to women in the last decade—including one case that resulted in a $10-million judgment against an abortionist.

“We have been involved in three death cases,” Ted Amshoff, an attorney with the firm, said in a telephone interview with The Interim. “We successfully represented the family of a young woman who was left a near-vegetable as a result of injuries she sustained in an abortion procedure. We’ve also assisted a number of women who have been rendered sterile, or had hysterectomies, as a result of abortion-related injuries. We’re presently handling about a dozen active cases in various parts of the U.S.”

Amshoff began practising law in 1977 and has handled other kinds of medical malpractice cases, especially in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. His first foray into the world of abortion-related litigation began 10 years ago, when his firm was approached by a young Louisville woman who had undergone an abortion. She told him that after abortuary personnel performed an ultrasound scan on her, they told her she would have to get more money because the gestational age of her unborn child was beyond what she thought it was.

“She then had the (abortion) done and was discharged home the same day,” recalled Josephine Guy, a paralegal with the firm. “She began to experience cramping, bleeding and passing of tissue. Three days later, she passed what she thought was a rather large blood clot into the toilet.

“Being concerned, she picked it out of the toilet and placed it into a jar … It turned out to be the head of one of her aborted babies. She did not know that she was pregnant with twins until we initiated a legal discovery. We found the reason that (the abortionist) charged her more money was not because of the gestational age of her baby, but the fact that she was pregnant with twins. That was traumatic for her.”

With the help of the firm, the woman settled out of court.

It wasn’t long before word spread that Amshoff and Amshoff was willing to take on abortion-related cases, and the phone began to ring. Organizations assisting woman who’ve had abortions began to make referrals to the firm for legal redress.

“Over the last 10 years, it’s become a national practice,” said Guy. “We represent women all over the United States.”

The firm’s most famous case concerned abortionist Thomas W. Tucker II, who had a $10-million judgment levied against him after a 27-year-old Alabama mother of five bled to death in 1991, following an abortion at his hands. It was found Tucker had placed the woman into a separate room on her own so she wouldn’t alarm the other patients.

Ambulance cancelled

“But a staff member was upset by what she saw in the condition of the young lady, so she called an ambulance,” said Amshoff. “But the doctor walked in and said he would be the one to decide when an ambulance would be called, and he cancelled the ambulance.

“The woman bled for a while longer … Finally, (Tucker) said, ‘Fine, call the ambulance,’ and left before the ambulance even got there. He owned a chain of abortion clinics and had to catch a plane to perform abortions in one of those other clinics.”

The bleeding woman was eventually taken to hospital, but died three days later. An abortuary staff member testified that after a request was submitted to see the woman’s medical records, Tucker tried to burn the originals and draw up falsified replacements. The staff member managed to save the original records, except for one page.

“One day, we received a call from the staff member asking if we wanted to know what really happened,” said Amshoff. “The real records were then produced.”

In its judgment, the court found it “difficult to imagine a case more appropriate for an award of punitive or exemplary damages.” Tucker had previously been the subject of criminal investigations concerning the death of a patient in Birmingham. He was also the focus of reports that a preborn child had been born alive and then died at one of his Mississippi franchises.

“The repetitious conduct of the defendant is so outrageous … and extreme … that it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society,” the court added. “While the amount awarded in this action is substantial, it is more than justified by the need to punish and deter similar conduct.”

Amshoff’s firm also pursued a case in which Fairfax, Virginia abortionist Leonard A. Rosen and his Fairfax Ob-Gyn Associates were assessed $175,000 in damages. The suit concerned the 1992 abortion of a mother who was 18-20 weeks pregnant, but was assessed by the abortuary as being only eight to nine weeks along.

Septic shock

Rosen was deemed to have estimated the child’s stage of development solely on the basis of the mother’s last menstrual period. But he did not ascertain that the irregular bleeding the mother was experiencing was a common side effect of the Norplant “birth control” method she was using. Rosen performed no ultrasound or pelvic examination to assess the child’s actual stage of development.

Rosen sent the woman home, leaving dead tissue in her uterus which eventually caused septic shock. The woman had to attend an emergency room two days later to have the remains of her child removed.

Earlier this year, a Louisville jury ruled that an abortionist was negligent in a 1991 abortion that left tissue in a client’s womb, sending her to hospital for five days due to infection.

The jury rendered a $21,000 verdict against Ronachai Banchongmanie after a week-long trial. It said that Banchongmanie did not exercise the degree of skill and care expected of a reasonably competent obstetrician-gynecolo-gist.

Amshoff said his experience with abortion aftermath suggests that statistics kept by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control may be underestimated.

“Unless an independent autopsy is ordered, autopsies are done in-house,” noted Guy. “There’s no motivation to report (problems).”

“Some of the facts in our cases would puncture the politically-correct myth of safe and legal abortion,” said Amshoff. “All of our cases have involved legal abortions. The seriousness of the cases and the manners in which they occurred certainly would give ample evidence against the popularly held position … that the procedure is safe and legal. There is no willingness to look at the facts of the broken lives that, in some cases, result.”

Guy noted that some women harmed by abortion are reluctant to speak up, because of fear and embarrassment. “It depends on how badly they’re injured,” she said. “If it’s cataclysmic, they don’t have medical insurance and are overwhelmed with medical bills, many women have no choice but to bring forth a suit to help. But … a lot don’t like to come forward.”

“Things may be changing a bit,” added Amshoff. “But in one case that we ultimately settled … It wasn’t anything near what the case would have been worth had we gone to trial. But the woman was absolutely adamant that the case be settled (out of court) no matter what, because she didn’t want the publicity of a jury trial.”

Amshoff said it would be incorrect to suggest that the legal system works against women who are seeking redress for abortion-related damages. “I have seen the system work. Our success rate is generally higher than what is generally true of medical malpractice cases in this country … I have never felt that women were at a particular disadvantage in these cases as opposed to other medical malpractice cases.”

However, Guy said plaintiffs sometimes face animosity from female jurors who have strong feelings on the abortion issue one way or the other. “An element is that society in general is very judgmental of, and prejudiced against, women who have had abortions. It’s tough to pick a jury … (Jurors) may blame the doctor, but juries—especially women—are very tough on those girls.”

“Sometimes, there’s sympathy for the provider among pro-choice jurors,” added Amshoff. “But the reverse is not necessarily so … (Pro-life jurors) become very judgmental of a woman who has been injured in an abortion procedure.”

Amshoff and Guy said another obstacle they face in obtaining justice for women injured by abortions is that many abortionists don’t carry malpractice insurance. In fact, the lack of such protection is much more common among abortionists than among other kinds of surgical personnel. (Thomas W. Tucker II, for example, had no malpractice insurance.)

Despite obstacles and complications, Amshoff and Amshoff is dealing with a full caseload at the present time. “We have several cases set for trial this year – but no death cases at present,” said Amshoff.