Sophie (1994) – USA

Woman at risk of death refused abortion in Catholic hospital by a lawyer

In 1994, 19-year-old Sophie Smith (a pseudonym) of Nebraska was admitted to the emergency room of a Catholic hospital with a blood clot in her lung. Tests revealed she was about 10 weeks pregnant, and the clotting problem resulted from a rare and life-threatening condition exacerbated by the pregnancy. The hospital immediately put her on intravenous blood-thinners to eliminate the existing blood clot and to help prevent the formation of more clots that could kill Smith instantly if they lodged in her lungs, heart, or brain.

Smith’s doctors gave her two alternatives. She could stay in the hospital on intravenous blood-thinners for the remaining 6.5 months of pregnancy and receive a complex treatment to try and prevent a further blood clot from reaching a vital organ. Or she could have a first-trimester abortion, switch to oral blood-thinners, and be released from the hospital. Smith decided to have an abortion as she wanted to go home to her two-year-old child. Because she was poor, Medicaid was covering her medical expenses but would pay for an abortion only upon proof that it was necessary to save her life. Four doctors at the hospital certified that Smith needed a lifesaving abortion, and Medicaid agreed to cover it.

On the morning Smith was scheduled to have surgery, the hospital’s lawyer appeared in the operating room to announce that the hospital would not permit an abortion – lifesaving or otherwise – to take place on its premises. Ten days of dangerous delay followed. Smith wanted to be transferred to a facility that would perform the abortion, but moving her increased the risk that she would have a life-threatening blood clot. Despite the risks, Smith was ultimately transferred by ambulance to her doctor’s office. He performed the abortion and sent Smith back to the hospital, which provided follow-up care.

Read full article: Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, 2002, pg 15