Fact checking clinic workers claims about laminaria

Live Action released a video yesterday (April 28, 2013) which showed a clinic worker from New York telling a pregnant woman who posed as an abortion patient that if she gave birth to a living breathing baby, the baby would be suspended in a poisonous solution that would “make it stop [breathing.]”

In another part of the transcript the clinic worker warns the pregnant woman about the laminaria, small seaweed sticks that dilate the cervix before an abortion.  The laminaria is inserted a day or two before the baby is taken out of the womb. The purpose of the laminaria is to dilate the cervix so that the instruments can be inserted without too much damage to the mother. The clinic worker tells the prospective client that the seaweed sticks are toxic and will kill the baby. She then adds that the woman must come back for an abortion once the laminaria is in place, or her life will be in danger.

CLINIC-3: The seaweed is where the heartbeat, that’s what kills the heartbeat. As well.

WOMAN: Oh really

CLINIC-3: Yes. The sticks that are, they’re toxic.

WOMAN: Oh really.

CLINIC-3: So if you don’t come back the next day, that could be your life at risk.

WOMAN: Oh my God, yeah.

CLINIC-3: So that’s why we make sure we tell patients to make sure, because you some some [sic]patients they’re like, Oh my God, they change their mind–

WOMAN: Yeah, oh my gosh–

CLINIC-3: And then, they never come back

The uncut footage, which can be found here, goes on:

WOMAN: and then what would happen to them, like – [interruption] So like what would happen to those girls then, what would they have to do?

CLINIC—3: well they’ll end up in the emergency room and they’ll still have to do it, because the emergency room will have to take it out.

WOMAN: …. So they’re not going to try to reverse the decision or anything?

CLINIC-3: you can’t, because your child will come out say, either stillborn, or it will come out not normal, you know missing parts, deformed. It’s just toxic.… It has to be 100%. You have to be 100% that you want to do this.

Now, before we go on, a reality check. It is true that if a woman has laminaria placed inside of her and then goes home and never seeks medical attention, her life can be in danger because laminaria left in too long can, and likely will, cause an infection. In fact, this is how Edrica Goode, a Planned Parenthood abortion patient, died.

However, it is not true that once the laminaria is inserted it is too late for the woman to change her mind. It is also not true that the seaweed sticks are toxic and kill the baby, or that the woman can’t change her mind after the laminaria has been inserted.

First let’s look at the website of an abortion clinic in Rochester, New York called Freedom of Choice OB/GYN. When describing a second trimester abortion procedure, the website says:

“If a woman changes her mind about the abortion and has the laminaria removed without going through with the procedure, miscarriage is more likely to occur.”

This clinic’s website reveals that laminaria can be removed, making miscarriage “more likely” – but it says nothing about deformed babies.

And in another pro-choice source, The Abortion Resource Handbook, which is a kind of “how-to” guide for women seeking abortions, abortion patients are advised:

“If you change your mind, laminaria can be removed and dilation stopped at any time before the abortion. However, stopping the procedure at this point may increase your risk for miscarriage, infection, and other complications.”(1)

So while this pro-choice book, which in other chapters demonizes pro-lifers and labels crisis pregnancy centers dishonest and manipulative, admits that it is not impossible to reverse an abortion in the second trimester even after the laminaria have been placed. And while the book does make it clear that there is some health risk, it is hardly true that laminaria are “toxic” or that the woman’s life would be in danger from their removal. A second trimester abortion, when completed, is not without risk either – in fact, it is more common for a woman to suffer serious complications from a second trimester abortion than from a first trimester one.

If the medical doctors are trying to save the baby, laminaria must be removed. In an abortion procedure, the laminaria is removed anyway and forceps are used to tear apart the developing child. It is hard to imagine that removing the laminaria without inserting instruments into the womb would be more dangerous than removing it and in addition doing an invasive, destructive procedure with forceps.

There have also been a number of stories of women who have reversed their abortions and given birth to healthy children.

According to an article in National Catholic Register, a baby named Claire Stout was born at 5 pounds, 2 ounces. She was a normal, healthy baby. Claire however, had been scheduled to be aborted at 20 weeks. Her mother, Jamie Stout, had already undergone the first part of an abortion procedure when she changed her mind due to the intervention of pro-life sidewalk counselors. The laminaria had already been inserted.

Stout was brought to the ER, the laminaria were removed, and a miscarriage was averted. Her baby was born healthy only a few months later.

None of the doctors who worked to save baby Claire indicated that her mother’s life was in danger at any time due to stopping the abortion.

In 2011, a Chicago woman had her laminaria inserted at Family planning Associates, Albany Medical-Surgical Center, which performs abortions into the third trimester. She then decided she wanted to save her baby. She contacted The Chicago Pro-Life Action League, who sent her to the emergency room at Resurrection Medical Center, and she was seen by pro-life OB/GYN who removed the laminaria. She went on to deliver healthy baby. The hospital developed an arrangement with pro-lifers that allowed women who change their minds to go there and have her laminaria removed.

Only a few weeks later, a second woman at the same abortion clinic changed her mind, had her laminaria removed, and gave birth to healthy twins.

The Huffington Post also covered the story.

Their article “Resurrection Medical Center Helping Women Stop Abortions-In-Progress, Gets Pro-Choice Support” discusses the arrangement between pro-life activists and the Catholic hospital. Note that nowhere in the Huffington Post article, which freely quotes Planned Parenthood, does anyone imply that laminaria kills the baby, nor does anyone say that removing the laminaria is dangerous to the mother.

There have been few studies on the outcomes for women who have decided to stop their abortions, have the laminaria removed and have their babies. According to an article in the Standard Examiner a study at Tel Aviv University in Israel found that out of 21 women who had the laminaria removed, four changed their minds again and went on to have the abortions, two had premature deliveries, and only one had a miscarriage. The other 14 had full-term healthy pregnancies. It does not seem that any of the women in the study dealt with life-threatening conditions.

Anecdotal evidence, pro-choice testimony, and the study suggest that abortions can be reversed even after the laminaria is in place and that these reversals are not dangerous to women.  It is also clear that if the woman did go through the first stage of having an abortion at Dr. Emily’s Woman’s Clinic, and did change her mind, the clinic worker may have successfully convinced her that it is too late to save her baby.

1.         K. Kaufmann  The Abortion Resource Handbook (Touchstone, 1997) 153

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