“Pat, sorry to bother you this morning but I wanted you to know that one of our patients died yesterday.”  I could barely understand the caller, her message being obscured by her audible sobs.

It was a Saturday morning in 1996 when I got the call at home from the director of an abortion clinic in Illinois.  As a staff person at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, all of the directors and owners had my home phone in case of an emergency.  Generally, the calls I got at home were to tell me a doctor had been killed or a clinic firebombed.  This was the first time I got a call about a patient dying in a clinic.

The director told me that the woman had died of a pulmonary embolism, something that was totally unpredictable.  Still, although they were not responsible it was clear that the entire staff, from the director to the receptionist who checked her in that morning, they were stunned and they spent hours going back in their minds (and in the charts) to see if they missed any sign.

Despite what the anti-abortion advocates would have you believe, deaths in abortion clinics are an extremely rare occurrence.  So rare, in fact, that when it happens, it becomes ”national news” amongst the abortion provider community.  Indeed, upon speaking to the director I immediately sent out a broadcast fax to our clinics letting them know of this unfortunate event.  I was told later that the clinic received a number of calls, emails and flowers as a sign of support for the staff.

But the fact is that abortion clinics are medical facilities that conduct surgery and, as in any other medical facility, sometimes things can go wrong or there can be a unfortunate, natural occurrence.  The death could also be the result of blatant negligence or just an unfortunate set of circumstances.  It’s possible that the patient did not tell the clinic some vital information that led to her death.  It could just be anything

I thought about that incident years ago when I heard that a 29-year old woman had recently died when she was having a late term abortion performed by Doctor Lee Carhart in Maryland.  Of course, the anti-abortion groups were quick to pass judgment.  “The avoidable death of this young woman dramatically illustrates the dangers of third trimester abortions that are done outside of the safety of obstetrical standards,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue and Pro-life Nation.

This is par for the course.  A woman unfortunately dies and the anti-abortion folks will jump all over this, making it appear as if nothing was done to save the woman’s life, that the staff just sat around watching Oprah while a woman died in their clinic.  They’ll suggest that staff tried to cover up the “botched abortion.”  And, of course, they’ll then argue about the “dangers” of legal abortion.

Approximately one million women each year get abortions.  Some will be injured, some will have a bad reaction emotionally and a very small handful will die from the abortion itself or have some complication.   Those who oppose legal abortion will fail to mention that on average only six women die from complications of a safe/legal abortion in the United States and that there are actually 13.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. And more than 68,000 women nearly die in childbirth in the United States every year.

No, instead they will spend their energies trying to bring as much attention as possible by focusing on this one very unfortunate incident, they will rush to judgment without collecting any official facts and they’ll argue that, because of a rare incident like this, abortion should be made illegal in this country.  Oh, and they’ll probably throw in there a pitch for money to their organization.

In the meantime, they will totally ignore the hundreds and thousands of women who get abortions safely, who go home after the procedure, go to work the next day and move on with their life with no regrets.