MIAMI --- A shocking case of a botched late-term abortion in Florida is gaining national attention and could, pro-life leaders say, help change public attitudes about abortion and when life begins.
The case has resulted in the revoking of the abortion doctor's medical license and should, many say, lead to the filing of murder charges because the baby could have survived if given medical attention.
The controversy began when then-18-year-old Sycloria Williams in July 2006 learned she was pregnant -- 23 weeks along -- and opted for an abortion. She went to a Miami abortion clinic, where the doctor, Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique, inserted laminaria sticks to dilate her cervix and gave her a prescription of Cytotec to take later that night to begin inducing labor. She was told to come back the next day to a different clinic just outside of Miami.
Williams arrived at that clinic the next day, but Renelique didn't show up, at least not on time. After waiting about two hours for the doctor to arrive, Williams began feeling nauseated and was placed in a patient waiting room, given a robe and told to lie down. At 2 o'clock that day -- and with Renelique still not at the clinic and no one in the room -- Williams felt an immense pain and delivered a baby girl. The staff began screaming "and pandemonium ensued," and Williams "watched in horror and shock as her baby writhed with her chest rising and falling as she breathed," a civil lawsuit filed in January on Williams' behalf states.
With the baby trying to breath, a staff member, Belkis Gonzalez, who has no medical license, came in the room and used orange shears to cut the umbilical cord, the suit states. She then "scooped up the baby," the placenta and afterbirth, placed everything in a red plastic biohazard bag, sealed it and tossed it into a trash can. Renelique later arrived and told her the "hard part was over," the suit states. He gave her an IV and a shot, cleaned her up and sent her home, the suit says.
The Florida Board of Medicine revoked Renelique's medical license Feb. 6, but many say criminal charges should be filed. After all, Williams' baby, whom she named Shanice, could have survived. A baby born in 2007 just prior to 22 weeks at Baptist Children's Hospital in Miami, Fla., survived and went home after a nearly four-month stay. Quadruplets in Nebraska born at 23 weeks last year survived.
An autopsy showed that Williams' baby had air in her lungs and was trying to breath.
"It's infanticide. We're trying to make sure we don't tolerate infanticide here," Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which filed the lawsuit, told Baptist Press. "The baby was gasping for air. They used a pair of shears and didn't tie [the cord] up so the baby was going to bleed to death. They treated the baby like a piece of garbage."
Tom Pennekamp, a prominent Miami attorney and past president of the Dade County Bar Association, is representing Williams under the umbrella of the Thomas More Society. The suit claims wrongful death, medical negligence and personal injury and was filed against Renelique, Gonzalez and other staff at the clinics. Clinics named in the suit include A Woman's Care in north Miami and A Gyn. of Hialeah, where the live birth occurred.
The suit's main goal, Brejcha said, is to pressure prosecutors to file murder chargers. The story has received significant media coverage, including a story by the Associated Press and a mention on the popular DrudgeReport.com website.
Florida state House Republicans sent out a press release Feb. 6 urging prosecutors to take action.
"Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, we can all agree that this is tragic and morally reprehensible," House Majority Leader Adam Hasner said. "Administrative action against the physician by the Department of Health is not enough, anything less than murder charges being filed is unacceptable."
House Deputy Majority Leader Anitere Flores called the incident a murder and said it is the duty of House members "to call for immediate charges to be filed to ensure that no other young women become victims of this clinic." Rep. Rachel Burgin noted that Florida's safe-haven law would have allowed the baby to be dropped off anonymously at the hospital, and assuming she lived, adopted by a couple.
The young woman regrets going to the abortion clinic in the first place, Brejcha said.
"It became a new ballgame when she saw her baby there gasping for breath," he said. " ... It's an impersonal matter when you talk about a medical procedure but when you see a human being there grasping for breath, that's a different matter."
A series of anonymous calls helped police find the baby's body. One call told them it was hidden on the clinic's roof, but police were unable to find it, the suit states. A follow-up phone call led police to find the body in a cardboard box in a clinic closet.
The irony for pro-lifers is that there would have been no controversy if the abortion procedure had been performed legally. Williams was scheduled to receive a dilation and evacuation (D&E), which involves dismembering the baby while still in the womb piece by piece -- an arm here, a leg there, and of course the skull. Roe v. Wade and its companion case Doe v. Bolton allowed abortion at any stage of pregnancy for any reason. U.S. abortion laws are more liberal than most of the industrialized world, including France, Great Britain, Germany and Russia.
"The degree of barbaric medical malpractice in this case is absolutely astonishing," Brejcha said. "And that's something that pro-life people should not be hesitant to let the world know about, because the abortion industry is keeping that quiet and talking about safe, legal abortion. It's never safe for the baby."
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