July 14, 1998. 2:45 am. In the dead of winter; in the dead of the night, a baby girl was born.
She died 80 minutes later. Alone, unwanted, unloved. Her name was Jessica.
In early July 1998, an expectant mother met with Dr Henry Cho of Darwin Private Hospital and requested an abortion. Dr Cho became concerned about the “great psychological trouble” the woman would face if she continued with her pregnancy and although nearly half way through the pregnancy - at 19 weeks - booked her in for a second trimester abortion.
On July 13, Dr Cho admitted the mother into Darwin Private Hospital and prescribed Misoprostol, a drug which is used to induce labour. Misoprostol is the drug used to trigger labour for a stillbirth and is generally acknowledged to be safe for a live baby. Dr Cho’s intention in this case was that the baby would die during delivery, as a result of the trauma of birth at such a premature age.
In the early hours of July 14, after labouring for some time, the mother delivered her little girl, and the child was promptly placed in a kidney dish by the attending registered mid-wife, Nurse Carrie Williams. It wasn’t until Nurse Williams took the baby from the room that she realized little Jessica was alive. Jessica was breathing, moving, crying.
Nurse Williams noted in the Coronial Inquest that the child looked to be between 22 and 24 weeks gestation, and not the recorded 19 weeks. Dr Cho later agreed that the pregnancy had progressed to 22 weeks.
Nurse Williams wrapped the child in a blanket, covered her and left her alone, checking back every 15 minutes until little Jessica died at 4:05 am.
During Jessica’s short life, Nurse Williams continued to care for her mother. She phoned Dr Cho for some assistance in dealing with the child who had survived an attempted abortion, and was told that “nothing need be done”. Dr Cho had reportedly informed the woman that there was the possibility her baby may be born alive, but Nurse Williams was not aware of this.
During the coronial inquest, Nurse Williams stated that there was nothing further she could have done for the child. She said that the baby’s vital signs were good and that she “desperately wanted to do more” but she felt her hands were tied.
It is estimated that 1 in every 30 babies aborted between the age of 17 and 24 weeks is born alive and lives for between 1 and 4 hours before dying. Jessica’s story is not rare.
© Eva Whiteley 2009