University pays $365K settlement to family of woman who died during risky 4-day abortion

The Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico. | UNM

The family of a woman who died during an abortion has received a six-figure settlement following a lengthy legal battle and allegations of wrongdoing on behalf of the abortion clinic and the University of New Mexico that referred her there. 

A pro-life organization called Abortion on Trial, which describes itself as “a group of professionals providing women with resources after abortion injury while simultaneously exposing abortion providers through court case evidence,” announced last week that the University of New Mexico has agreed to pay $365,000 to the family of a woman who died during an abortion at a facility recommended by the school.

Keisha Atkins died in 2017 during an abortion that took place at the Southwestern Women’s Options abortion facility in the state’s largest city of Albuquerque.

The University of New Mexico referred Atkins, then 23 years old and seeking an abortion six months into her pregnancy, to Southwestern Women’s Options, where she underwent an elective abortion.

According to the pro-life organization Operation Rescue, Atkins reported to the clinic on Jan. 31, 2017, for a “four-day late-term abortion procedure that was to be done by eighty-year-old abortion facility owner Curtis Boyd.” She died four days later, and pro-life activists attribute her death to complications from the abortion.

“Abortion on Trial is pleased with this settlement not only for the sake of the Atkins family, but for the sake of women’s safety going forward,” the group said in a statement. “If a major university is paying $365,000.00 for referring a woman to an abortion clinic, anyone referring women to abortion clinics should be terrified of the risks they’re taking. Induction abortion is simply too dangerous to be performed outside of a hospital and this settlement shows just how much risk practitioners take on when they choose to refer women to abortion clinics.”

An autopsy report conducted by the University of New Mexico and filed in May 2017 listed “pulmonary thromboembolism due to pregnancy” as Atkins’ cause of death, in other words, a blood clot in the lungs.

The report noted that Atkins had “large pleural effusions (fluid in and around the lungs), and a boggy, intact uterus, consistent with recent pregnancy.” Additionally, “the lining of the uterus, as well as the maternal surface of the placenta showed acute inflammation, consistent with the clinical nature of a septic abortion.”

“According to reports, Ms. Atkins was at a clinic preparing for the final portion of a termination of a pregnancy,” the autopsy stated. “She presented to the clinic with complaints of cramping pain as expected and was resting preparing for labor. While at the clinic, she noted that she was feeling short of breath, and her oxygen saturation dropped below her baseline. She was placed on oxygen with some improvement of her symptoms. Due to the concerning symptoms, she transferred to University of New Mexico Hospitals.”

At the hospital, she “continued to have cramping abdominal pain, elevated heart rate and difficulty maintaining normal blood oxygen levels despite supplemental oxygen therapy.”

Testing completed at the hospital determined that Atkins had fluid in her lungs and a heart-pumping chamber that was not operating properly. After she was taken to the operating room for the completion of the abortion, she “sustained a cardiac arrest” and “extensive resuscitation efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.”

The autopsy concluded, “While she likely did have an infection from the abortion process, the blockage of her pulmonary arteries by blood clots would have caused the rapid clinical symptoms leading to death, even without infectious or inflammatory complications.”

After citing the stated cause of death due to a blood clot in the lungs as consistent with the risks associated with pregnancy, the autopsy listed the manner of death as “natural.” 

Operation Rescue expressed concern that the cause of death identified by the University of New Mexico as “pulmonary thromboembolism due to pregnancy” was a “whitewash meant to blame Atkins’ pregnancy for her death instead of what appears to be a mismanaged late-term abortion procedure.”

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman characterized UNM as “a biased promoter of abortion.” The pro-life group also contended that the autopsy downplayed the role that sepsis may have played in Atkins’ death.

While the autopsy mentioned that Atkins “had a high white blood cell count and other clinical features concerning for sepsis (or widespread inflammation and infection) upon her hospital admission,” it suggested that “her overall condition in the hospital was remarkable for significant respiratory distress that decompensated rapidly.” Operation Rescue cited some of the symptoms Atkins was experiencing as consistent with “Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation,” which results in “the proteins that control blood clotting [becoming] overactive.”

Atkins’ family filed a civil lawsuit in the Second Judicial District Court of Bernalillo County, New Mexico, against Boyd, Southwestern Women’s Options, several University of New Mexico officials and Dr. Lauren Dvorscak, who conducted the autopsy.  While news of the settlement first became public last week, a court document shared by Abortion on Trial indicates that the matter was resolved on Jan. 20, nearly five years after Atkins’ death.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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