The death of a woman after an abortion at a clinic in Tuscaloosa has been investigated by state officials following complaints by anti-abortion groups.
The CEC for Life group released details of the death this week, saying a woman appeared to have difficulty getting to a car after leaving the West Alabama Women’s Center on May 7.
The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Captain Jack Kennedy, the Tuscaloosa County Violent Crime Unit chief, said his office investigated the case with a forensic pathologist investigator and did not found no basis for criminal charges.
“We did an initial investigation,” Kennedy said. “We couldn’t find anything that we could sue anyone for. It is a death under medical supervision.
The Alabama Board of Medical Examiners is reviewing the case after a patient who left the clinic later died at UAB Hospital the same day. The council reviews complaints against doctors and may impose penalties. “The incident has been reported to the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners who currently have this matter under investigation,” Kennedy said in a statement this afternoon.
Anti-abortion activist groups said the doctor on call was Dr Louis Payne, 81, who co-founded the clinic in 1993. Efforts to reach Payne for comment were unsuccessful.
Payne retired this summer and was replaced as medical director by Dr Leah Torres, who referred requests for comment to a spokesperson for the clinic.
“Due to privacy laws, the West Alabama Women’s Center cannot comment at this time,” said Robin Marty, communications director for the West Alabama Women’s Center. “We continue to uphold the highest standards of care for all of our patients.”
Marty said the clinic was no longer in contact with Payne.
Reverend Terry Gensemer, founder and director of the Charismatic Episcopal Church for Life, said sidewalk counselors from the Pro-Life Tuscaloosa group were outside the clinic and expressed concern when they saw the woman struggling and being assisted as she walked to a car on the exit from the clinic. He said the woman appeared to be in her thirties. Activists say a clinic worker told them the woman later died.
The Gensemer organization released a statement about the incident after filing complaints with the Alabama Board of Forensic Pathologists and the Alabama Department of Public Health, which oversees the clinics. They also requested that an autopsy be made available to show a cause of death. Tuscaloosa County does not have a medical examiner’s office, Kennedy said, and medical investigations into the death are handled by the Alabama Department of Forensic Pathology. AL.com has left a request for comment with the Forensic Medicine Department but has not yet received a response.
Sarah Neely, a Gensemer assistant at CEC for Life, said Pro-Life Tuscaloosa is planning to rally to a “Prayer in the Park” event at Snow Hinton Park on Saturday, August 15 at 10 a.m., with guests including State Sen. Gerald Allen.
Neely said the group was not trying to violate the privacy of the family of the deceased woman.
“We’re not interested in publicizing his name,” said Neely. “The reason we asked for the autopsy was to see what the cause of death was.”
Witnesses who were there questioned whether the woman was receiving adequate medical assistance, she said.
“Has everything that could be done to prevent his death been done?” Said Neely. “If there has been any wrongdoing, it should be made public.”
The West Alabama Women’s Center performed 3,371 abortions in 2018, out of 6,484 that year statewide, according to the Alabama Center for Health Statistics.
The clinic made national news earlier this year when it was purchased by the Yellowhammer Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance for abortions in Alabama.
The Yellowhammer Fund received a large influx of donations after Alabama passed the country’s most restrictive abortion law in 2019. The law would have banned nearly all abortions, but U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson has blocked the ban with a preliminary injunction in October 2019, saying it was unconstitutional.
The West Alabama Women’s Center has been one of three clinics providing regular abortions in Alabama over the past two years, along with the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville, where 1,823 abortions were performed in 2018, and the Services Health Center in Montgomery, who performed 1,286 abortions in 2018. USA Children and Women’s Center in Mobile and Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham each reported performing two induced abortions in 2018.
Planned Parenthood Southeast opened its new clinic in Birmingham city center in July and plans to offer abortion services there starting this fall.