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A child without a choice

Abortion | After body is discovered, police and legislators line up to prosecute for murder Florida abortion clinic personnel

Issue: "Katrina: One year later," Aug. 26, 2006

Police and prosecutors in Hialeah, Fla., are investigating an abortion clinic incident that has all the markings of murder. On the morning of July 20, an 18-year-old girl walked into the A Gyn Diagnostics Center to abort her baby at 23 weeks. She had received medication to dilate her cervix the night before. By that afternoon, however, the clinic abortionist, Frantz Bazile, had not shown up for work.

The girl delivered her baby, alive, moving, and trying to breathe. Clinic worker Belkis Gonzalez then allegedly cut the umbilical cord, stuffed the wriggling, gasping baby into a biohazard bag, and sealed the bag shut.

That is the story the baby's mother and at least one other witness told investigators, according to Hialeah Deputy Police Chief Mark Overton. The day the baby was born, police received a tip and searched the clinic, but found no body. Nine days later, acting on another tip, police searched A Gyn again. This time they found the infant, still in the biohazard bag, unrefrigerated and badly decomposed.

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"This was a live birth. It wasn't an abortion or a botched abortion," Overton said. "We have a hospital within five minutes of that location and [Gonzalez] could have got that baby some help."

There will be charges, Overton said. But Florida authorities are proceeding carefully in deciding what type. They are reinterviewing people who have already given statements, Overton said, and "getting statements from people who lawyered up and refused to give them earlier." Police and prosecutors also are awaiting lab results, he added. "It's not like C.S.I. Miami, where you get the results by the end of the show."

In the view of some pro-life activists, the reported discussion among Florida authorities as to whether the 23-week baby was viable, and whether viability might bear on what kind of charges are filed, is ominous.

The case seems "pretty cut-and-dried to me, especially with the Born Alive Infant Protection Act," said pro-life activist Jill Stanek, the former Christ Hospital nurse in Illinois who blew the whistle over abortions in which living babies are left to die. "No matter the circumstances of its birth, that baby was a legal person entitled to medical care."

About two-thirds of babies born at 23 weeks survive, according to a 2003 study published in the journal Pediatrics. High survival rates aside, the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act clarified that all babies, regardless of gestational age, are legal persons entitled to medical care; failure to provide it is a crime.

The Hialeah City Council on Aug. 10 stripped A Gyn of its local license. Clinic owner Siomara Senises voluntarily surrendered her operating license to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. In 2004, Senises turned in her license to operate another clinic in Miramar, Fla., after authorities discovered she had allowed unlicensed workers, including a medical student and a janitor, to perform abortions. The Hialeah incident marks the third time in two years that Florida abortionists have had to surrender their licenses for endangering women's safety, and the second time in just over one year that a born-alive baby has died in a Florida clinic.

The Hialeah incident is likely to revive stricter legislation to regulate abortion clinics. Florida Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster (pictured), a Republican, said courts have repeatedly used a privacy provision in the state constitution "as a firewall between the legislature and abortion clinics," as a way to prevent health-care regulators from policing abortion clinics as they do other types of medical facilities.

The Hialeah incident has renewed Webster's resolve to try again to require abortionists at least to carry liability insurance. Such coverage is not currently required, giving abortionists in the state "an open opportunity to create a medical malpractice incident because there is no one to hold them liable," Webster said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Overton said he believes the Hialeah clinic is liable for homocide. "My investigators are adamant about this case. I'm adamant about it and I think it's a tragedy . . . that they have this veil of late term abortion. . . . Once the baby was born alive, that changed the whole complexion. They can slaughter anyone they want according to the statutes before birth, but not after."

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