A woman who would have been eligible for a government-paid abortion before Medicaid funds for abortions were cut off died earlier this month after having her pregnancy terminated at a Mexican border-town "pharmacy," the government reported yesterday.
It was the first official report of a Medicaid patient dying from abortion complications since the funds were cut off Aug. 4 to comply with a congressional directive.
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, which has been monitoring the effects of the funds cutoff, said four other women, two of whom carried Medicaid cards, also suffered complications requiring hospitalization after undergoing abortions at the same facility that treated the dead woman.
The victim was described by government sources as a 27-year-old unmarried Mexican-American mother of a 4-year-old child. She died in a McAllen, Tex., hospital Oct. 2, six days after her admission with chills, fever, anemia and jaundice.
A CDC spokesman said his investigators could not determine whether the dead woman had been refused a Medicaid-funded abortion. But he confirmed that she had been informed that they were no longer available before she crossed the border to get her $40 abortion in Reynosa, Mexico. The going rate for legal abortions in McAllen was reported to be $200 to $250, although some have reportedly been arranged in nearby towns for $140.
The disclosure of the abortion fatality came as Senate and House conferees continued to struggle without success over the funding issue.
On Thursday the Senate again rejected strict language proposed by the House to finance Medicaid abortions only if continued pregnancy would endanger the woman's life or "medical procedures" were needed for prompt treatment of victims of rape or incest, so long as the victim reported the assault to the police.
The Senate, which favors more liberal abortion funding rules, would also extend government financing to abortions when mother or fetus would suffer "serious health damage" if the pregnancy were to continue.
In a statement yesterday on the McAllen death and injuries, Jeannie Rosoff, director of the Washington office of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said "Members of Congress who support the ban on Medicaid abortions are responsible for a chain of events that inevitably led to the death and suffering of these poor women."
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), a leader of the anti-abortion effort in the House, said "hysterical characterizations like that aren't very helpful," and added: "Everyone abortion results in at least one death, that of the unborn fetus . . . it's a difficult situation, but two wrongs don't made a right."
Hyde accused the Center for Disease Control of "scouring the country looking for this kind of thing." The center began a 19-hospital survey of abortion and pregnancy-related admissions around the country two weeks ago, according to a Department of Health, Education and Welfare spokesman.
The spokesman said 14 of the 19 have already reported 55 admissions for complications, but it was not clear whether they were from illegal abortions or were related to Medicaid policy.
A CDC spokesman said the Center's involvement in the McAllen case resulted from a request for an investigation by the state of Texas.
The four women who were treated for abortion complications and survived suffered from sepsis, a type of bacterial infection, the CDC said. Three were U.S. residents and one was a Mexican, they said.