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COLUMN

Abortion is not the issue here - safety is

Woman's ordeal shows need for law.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - 10:25 am

Because of the nature of her medical problems, some will want to make a celebrity of Shalissa Hicks - and others will be just as eager to minimize her ordeal.

But because the 30-year-old Fort Wayne woman is a real person who suffered real pain and harm, her story and the obvious need for corrective action must not be obscured by the often-strident politics of abortion.

A single woman studying to be a medical assistant, Hicks never thought she would be caught in the Roe-v.-Wade crossfire. But when the mother of three children between ages 3 and 9 became pregnant as the result of a troubled relationship, desperation overwhelmed her opposition to abortion and Hicks found herself at the Fort Wayne Women's Health Organization Clinic on Inwood Drive Feb. 19.

Three hours and $480 later, her “problem” was over.

And although Hicks didn't know it then, another had just begun.

“Afterward the pain wouldn't go away and was getting worse, and I was bleeding heavily,” said Hicks, who finally showed up at Parkview Hospital's emergency room Feb. 23 and stayed for three days as doctors treated her for a serious infection caused by decaying fetal and placenta tissue that allegedly had not been removed by George Klopfer, the Illinois osteopath who performs abortions in Fort Wayne on Thursdays. “My doctor said I was lucky that I came to the hospital … (because) I could have died.”

Parkview's records confirm her treatment for post-abortion complications, which this month prompted Hicks to lodge a complaint against Klopfer with the Indiana Attorney General's Office.

But despite Hicks' pain and regret, her story is not primarily about abortion or the choices she has made. Medical and personal mistakes happen. But when surgeries are performed at hospitals, patients are assured access to the kind of care and accountability that is not always available following outpatient surgery.

That must change. Hicks, thankfully, is living proof.

As executive director for Allen County Right to Life, Cathie Humbarger's agenda is obvious: She would prefer that women have no abortions. But Humbarger insists she included Hicks' story in testimony before the Indiana House Public Policy Committee last week not because she hates abortion, but because she loves Hicks and others like her, and wants to close a loophole that too often protects substandard medical care from the scrutiny needed to detect and correct it.

According to 640 reports filed by the Fort Wayne clinic in 2007, Humbarger told the lawmakers, Klopfer's patients experienced zero complications that year. Fort Wayne obstetrician and gynecologist Geoffrey Cly, however, has said he treated several Fort Wayne women for serious and even life-threatening post-abortion complications during that same period.

“The likely reason for this discrepancy is that none of the complications Dr. Cly treated were recorded or tracked (by the clinic),” Humbarger testified at a hearing on a bill that would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals, subjecting them to review by other doctors and making it easier to track complications such as Hicks'.

“I regret that many abortion advocates have confused the right to choose abortion with the right to adequate medical care,” Humbarger said. “Abortion is legal, and these women have already made that choice … (but) all of us want to make certain that a woman bleeding after midnight after an abortion can have the same quality of medical care that women in Indiana deserve and receive in virtually every other circumstance.”

Then again, maybe not. For the past seven months the Allen County Commissioners have been considering an ordinance that would require all doctors performing outpatient surgery - not just those performing abortions - to have hospital admitting privileges. The bill has gone nowhere fast, as local doctors and politicians weigh the pros and cons. And in Indianapolis, according to Humbarger, medical lobbyists have opposed similar measures, preferring to exempt more respectable doctors while targeting only euphemistically named “abortion providers” such as Klopfer, who could not be reached for comment

So maybe this really is about abortion after all, at least to some people.

But not to Hicks. That's why the Legislature should pay attention to her, not the special-interest groups.

“When I went back to the clinic (after her release from Parkview), they said they would refund my money if I could prove (I had complications). They tried to make it seem like it was all my fault,” said Hicks, who signed the waiver of liability in exchange for $380 in cash. The clinic kept the other $100 - payment, perhaps, for a valuable lesson.

“Something needs to be done,” she pleaded. “I would not want for this to happen to anyone else again.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel.
E-mail Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.