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Abortion clinic death unites local sides Body disposal after birth in Florida decried

Finally, after all these years, the two sides in the local abortion battle have found something to agree on:

The intended abortion that became a live birth and then death of a girl in a Florida abortion clinic 2 1/2 years ago was gruesome, unethical, disgusting and appalling.

Having agreed on that much, the pro-life and pro-choice activists had different reactions to what the horrific incident says about the abortion industry.

Pro-choice officials decried the conditions and practices of the Florida clinic, while pro-life leaders hope the incident reminds people about the horrors of abortion.

"It's awful and gruesome, but everyone knows where I stand," said Stasia Zoladz Vogel, longtime president of the Buffalo Regional Right-to-Life Committee. "Every abortion is awful and gruesome. It's another life that's been lost. That's heartbreaking."

Susan Ward, communications director for Buffalo Womenservices, and Dr. Katharine Morrison, the clinic's medical director, took pains to distinguish the Florida clinic's procedures from the practices of clinics like theirs.

"Dr. Morrison and I obviously find the actions of this clinic appalling and unethical," Ward said. "We don't really know all the details, but the actions of this particular clinic staff and physicians are not the way any reputable clinic would handle it."

The baby's mother, Sycloria Williams, then 18, went to an abortion clinic in Hialeah, Fla., in July 2006 to terminate her 23-week pregnancy. She was medically prepared for the procedure, but the doctor failed to show in time, and she delivered the baby.

One of the clinic's owners, who has no medical license, then cut the umbilical cord, placed the baby, who had been born alive, into a biohazard bag and threw her out, according to news reports. Police recovered the decomposed remains about a week later.

"We do not do procedures that [late]," Ward said of the 23-week pregnancy. "We go up to 22 weeks, and we take all the precautions to assure that a situation like this would never occur."

Friday, the Florida Board of Medicine stripped Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique of his medical license after finding him guilty of medical malpractice and delegating responsibility to unlicensed personnel.

"This is a victory for women," Dawn M. Iacono, director of pro-life activities for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, said of Friday's disciplinary action. "Now we're going to sit and wait with bated breath for them to press homicide charges without delay. This was a live baby."

Denis A. Kitchen Jr., local attorney and vice president of Lawyers for Life, noted that it took 2 1/2 years for the Florida case to become public.

"It's a little hard to believe that this horrific event has occurred only once in a period of years," Kitchen said. "If the health professional enforcement agencies took a closer look at abortion mills, they would, I suspect, find a lot more of this going on."

Kitchen believes the Florida incident shows the need for stronger monitoring of clinics.

"Society has a legion of relatively uninformed people who repeat the mantra that what we need are safe abortions," Kitchen said. "The abortion industry hides behind that screen. They see any legitimate inquiry into the practices and procedures in abortion clinics as somehow an attack on the rights to have an abortion. The government agencies that are given the task of policing medical facilities need to regulate and thoroughly maintain scrutiny over the abortion industry."

Glenn E. Murray, an attorney representing the local Pro-Choice Network, had a different view.

"If someone committed a sensational criminal act [in Florida], I would hate to see a safe, legal procedure -- statistically safer than childbirth -- be demonized because of an isolated incident," Murray said. "Especially when that procedure, performed within the limits of the law, is a recognized constitutional right."

Some, like Vogel, welcomed the public conversation about what happened in Florida.

"I think every tragedy can teach a lesson," she said. "Here's an opportunity for the public to think about this. What does abortion entail? Basically, every abortion involves the death of a child."

Others don't see the Florida incident saying anything about the general practice of abortion across the nation.

"I don't see this as an abortion story," said Karen J. Nelson, chief operating officer of Planned Parenthood of Western New York. "I see this as a story about an individual doctor accused of violating medical standards, and the officials in Florida are taking care of it."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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