It’s heartbreaking to imagine the last day in the life of Keisha Atkins, a 23-year-old woman who died following a legal abortion, at six months, in New Mexico.
“In our last conversation in the hospital, she said, ‘Mom, I’m going to die,’” recalled Keisha’s mom, Tina Atkins. “And I said, ‘Don’t talk like that, you’re going to be fine.’”
Soon after that, Keisha was taken to the operating room. Tina never saw her alive again.
Tina described her daughter as “a beautiful, exuberant young lady,” who loved the outdoors and karaoke singing, going to concerts with her mom and just hanging out with family.
“We just had a great life and all of a sudden, it was gone,” Tina said.
The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the late-term abortion business that started the abortion and the hospital where she died.
“They messed with the wrong black woman because I am not going to step down,” Tina said during an interview with Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, and Alveda King, director of Civil Rights for the Unborn for Priests for Life. Tina has testified before the New Mexico Legislature and is hoping to talk to President Trump about abortions that are killing women and their children.
“This is a tragedy,” Father Pavone said. “It’s so important to be speaking out about this.”
KEISHA’S ABORTION EXPERIENCE
Keisha went to the University of New Mexico (UNM) twice, on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30, 2017, seeking an abortion. She was given an ultrasound but was ultimately turned away from the hospital and referred to Southwestern Women’s Options. Southwestern is an Albuquerque business that performs third-trimester abortions on healthy babies growing in the wombs of healthy mothers.
The UNM staff made the appointment at Southwestern for her. The two businesses often collaborate, both in the training of abortionists and, until last year, in the transfer of body parts harvested from aborted babies.
On Feb. 1, Keisha went to Southwestern, where her baby girl received a shot of digoxin to stop her heart and laminaria was inserted in Keisha’s cervix to begin the dilation process.
If all went according to plan, Keisha would deliver her stillborn daughter two or three days later.
Keisha signed consent forms and was instructed, in writing, that if she experienced any problems, she should not call 911 or go to an emergency room, but should just call Southwestern. She was sent home.
On February 2, she returned to Southwestern to have the laminaria replaced and was sent home again. Late that night, at about 11 p.m., she called Southwestern to say she was having trouble breathing and experiencing abdominal pain. Tina was with her when she made that call and remembers that Keisha was instructed not to call 911 but just to get to the clinic in the morning.
“I stayed with her all night,” Tina said. “She was in so much pain.”
The next day Keisha arrived at Southwestern at 6:45 a.m. with a high fever and experiencing shortness of breath. Her physical symptoms did not improve through the course of that long day.
“That day was horrible,” Tina said. “I was in the waiting room and they finally let me see her for a minute at 2:30 p.m.” Keisha was on oxygen and had a high fever, her mother said.
At 4:08 p.m., almost nine and a half hours after Keisha had arrived at Southwestern, an ambulance finally was called. The abortion was not performed because she was too ill.
Keisha was admitted to the Emergency Room at UNM at 4:53 p.m. Tina remained with her until just before she was taken to the operating room at 10:29 p.m. for a “dilation and evacuation” abortion of her dead baby.
This procedure would entail repeatedly inserting forceps into Keisha’s uterus to remove her daughter piece by piece.
On the operating table, Keisha went into cardiac arrest and was declared dead at 12:10 a.m. on February 4.
Eventually, the remains of Keisha’s baby, whom she had named Mavis, were reunited with Keisha’s body. They were cremated and their ashes, together in one urn, are with Tina.
“I miss my baby,” Tina said. “She should be here with me right now, and my grandbaby.” Mavis would be 2 years old.
Keisha’s sister, Nicole, also had an abortion at Southwestern and suffered complications so serious, she had to have a hysterectomy. She would advise any woman considering abortion to make another choice.
“This has impacted me and my family in ways you could not imagine,” Nicole said. “It has a tremendous amount of loss involved and I wish I had never done it.”
Tina and Nicole both wish Keisha had never set foot inside Southwestern.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
An autopsy performed by UNM’s Dr. Lauren Dvorscak concluded that Keisha died of a pregnancy-related pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in the lungs. The death was listed as “natural” and the autopsy report noted that “pulmonary embolism is the 6th leading cause of maternal mortality in the United States.”
But according to email transcripts obtained by Albuquerque attorney Michael Seibel, who last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Southwestern and UNM, some of the hospital’s medical staff were skeptical that it was really a pulmonary embolism that killed Keisha.
The autopsy report noted that Keisha “also had a high white blood cell count and other clinical features concerning for sepsis upon her hospital admission.”
Keisha’s family believes that sepsis, a widespread infection, is what killed her. Some hospital staffers seem to agree.
In an email dated July 20, 2017, Dr. Trenton Wray, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of New Mexico Hospital, who was one of the physicians who treated Keisha, said: “Everything about her course was consistent with septic abortion … I have to admit, I was floored by the cause of death being a massive PE.”
Wray was asking for an opinion from Dr. Gary Hatch, a diagnostic radiology specialist, who responded:
“The autopsy report doesn’t make sense to me. Who did the autopsy?” Hatch also insisted “there was no massive PE at the time of the CPTA. Period.”
CPTA stands for computed pulmonary arteriogram, a test that would have detected a pulmonary embolism.
In a subsequent email to Lisa Hofler, who was primarily in charge of Keisha’s treatment in the emergency room, Wray said: “My personal opinion on it is that she had septic cardiomyopathy.”
In an email exchange between Dvorscak, who performed the autopsy, and Hatch, Keisha’s infection was mentioned again.
“I agree that everything makes sense for sepsis, and I’m not denying that she was septic and going through a septic abortion,” Dvorscak wrote.
In his response, Hatch asked: “Could a potential sequence here be PE due to DIC due to sepsis due to endometrial infection?”
DIC stands for disseminated intravascular coagulation, a dangerous blood condition that can lead to hemorrhaging. Retention of a dead fetus is one potential cause of DIC.
“I think the scenario you outlined is entirely plausible,” Dvorscak replied, “that everything may have been sort of a sequence from her underlying infection.”
A month after these email exchanges, on August 23, 2017, the Albuquerque Journal ran a story under the headline “Autopsy Rules Out Abortion as Cause of Death.”
In the story, New Mexico Chief Medical Investigator Dr. Kurt Nolte called Keisha’s death “a rare and tragic case for the family.” Southwestern, in a statement, said “All of us . . . are heartbroken by her death. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
The Southwestern statement went on to berate pro-lifers who were trying to learn the truth about the death of a healthy 23-year-old during the abortion of her healthy baby:
“For those who oppose women’s reproductive justice to exploit this sad event by putting forth lies about abortion and the patient’s care is sickening.”
Tina Atkins has a different take on what’s sickening about this situation. “These late-term abortions are killing our children, our mothers, our daughters,” she said. “And they’re just getting away with it. I wanted to raise my grandbaby. I can’t even do that now because I don’t have either one of them here.”
Another set of emails sent two days after the Journal story was published brought up another discrepancy.
Remember that UNM turned Keisha away when she went there seeking an abortion, instead of sending her to Southwestern for an elective abortion of her six-month fetus. That makes it curious for Eve Espey, chairwoman of UNM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, to write: “. . . would you be willing to remove the word ‘elective’ – she qualifies under New Mexico’s definition of ‘medically indicated,’ but I would suggest just saying ‘abortion.’ “
If her abortion was medically indicated, why was Keisha sent to an abortion business that, according to files collected by Seibel, had no emergency equipment on hand and whose doctors did not have hospital admitting privileges?
That’s just one of the many questions Keisha’s family want answered when the case is heard in December 2020.
They will also want to know why Southwestern waited more than nine hours before transferring her to the hospital, and why UNM waited more than five hours before sending her to an operating room to remove Keisha’s baby, who had been dead for about 60 hours at that point.
They would like the truth about the cause of death to come out – was it really a pulmonary embolism, or, as their lawsuit contends, did she die due to a septic infection that was overlooked until it was too late?
They want to know if, with better care, Keisha might have lived.
Keisha’s family, working with Elisa Martinez, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance for Life and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, also wants to ensure that no more women die from abortion.
Noting that even literature supplied to Keisha at Southwestern said the risks of later abortions were much greater than those performed early in pregnancy, Ms. Martinez said: “This is why we have to put an end to barbaric late-term abortion. There are too many women who are being lied to. We need this story to get out.”
Why young women, particularly women of color, continue to die from legal abortion is beyond the scope of the lawsuit, but it’s a question that needs an answer, especially as late-term abortion spreads to states like New York, Illinois, and Vermont.
“So many of the details sound so tragically similar,” Father Pavone told Tina and Nicole Atkins. “Not only are we praying for you, but we are going to work side by side with you to make sure this tragic loss will not be in vain. We’re going to save more lives as a result.”