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Photo illustration: Krieg Barrie; Photo: F1/Getty Images

Lately dead

Roe v. Wade | By needle or forceps, abortionists continue to kill unborn babies more than 20 weeks old. Pro-life laws in some states are saving these little lives

Issue: "Roe v. Wade turns 40," Jan. 26, 2013

Abortionist James Scott Pendergraft IV’s mobile phone rang. It was Nov. 8, 2011, and a man on the line said his wife was almost 25 weeks pregnant. They wanted to terminate the pregnancy, the man said, because of a “fetal anomaly.”

Pendergraft knew what to do. He told the caller to wire $6,000 cash to a Florida bank account, and promised to give directions for reaching an undisclosed clinic near Washington, D.C., as soon as the funds transferred.

The caller sounded uncertain. “You’re saying something that’s a little bit odd. It’s a secret place, and I have to wire you the money, and then—”

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“I’ve been in business for over 30 years, OK?” interrupted Pendergraft. He assured the husband the procedure could begin as early as tomorrow.

Pendergraft himself wouldn’t be doing the procedure, though. The caller asked who would.

“We don’t reveal the doctor until you arrive at the office.”

“OK, that gives me a little hesitancy. …”

Peeved, Pendergraft’s voice rose: “I clearly understand what you are saying. But I don’t know you, OK? You called me—and I have the experience.”

Unknown to the abortionist, the caller wasn’t a worried husband, but Troy Newman, president of the pro-life organization Operation Rescue. Last July Operation Rescue revealed the results of a seven-month undercover investigation, including sting calls, proving Florida-based Pendergraft was running a late-term abortion business in Forestville, Md., although he had no license in Maryland. Pendergraft employed another doctor, Harold Alexander, to do the abortions.

The Forestville center specialized in ending 24-week-plus pregnancies using “intra-cardiac injection,” a technique Pendergraft honed at one of his Florida abortion businesses, the Orlando Women’s Center. “A spinal needle is guided slowly into the fetal heart, where a feticide agent or 50 [milliliters] of air is injected via a syringe to stop the fetal heartbeat,” explained Pendergraft’s website, LateTermAbortion.net, advertising his D.C.-area availability.

Gruesome late-term procedures like these remain legal in many states, sometimes under the guise of protecting a mother’s mental health or preventing a baby from being born with an abnormality. Abortionists find late-term killings financially attractive: A first-trimester abortion costs around $400, but abortionists like Pendergraft charge $5,000 to $10,000 per late-term procedure, depending on the gestational age.

Pro-life forces are making late-term abortions less common, though, thanks to a wave of legislation restricting abortions after about 20 weeks gestation. The laws are based on scientific evidence suggesting an unborn child can feel pain at that age.

Maryland law formally prohibits abortions once the baby has developed enough to survive outside the womb. But the permitted “health” exceptions—a mother may abort if she feels “distress … associated with the unwanted child”—is so broad as to render the ban meaningless. That made the state a convenient location for Pendergraft to funnel late-term clients.

Pendergraft, now in his mid-50s, has a shady history. Florida has suspended Pendergraft’s medical license four times for improper medical practices, including performing a third-trimester abortion illegally. In April Florida’s Department of Health filed a complaint against Pendergraft for his failure to pay $122,303 in disciplinary fines from the state medical board. In 2005 WORLD reported how, according to staff and clients at Pendergraft’s Florida abortion centers, women sometimes delivered live babies into toilets following incomplete abortions (see “Death by drowning,” June 18, 2005).

The Maryland State Board of Physicians investigated Pendergraft’s Forestville activities after Operation Rescue submitted its undercover findings. Since Pendergraft wasn’t licensed in Maryland, the board merely shooed him out of the state. It also suspended the license of his partner Alexander in August for illegally shredding medical records, making sexually inappropriate remarks to female patients, providing unprofessional medical care, and prescribing Viagra to friends.

What happens during a late-term abortion? Ask Anthony Levatino, an OB-GYN from Las Cruces, N.M., who from 1981 to 1985 performed 1,200 abortions, over 100 of them second-trimester D&E’s—dilation and evacuations. Last May, during a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, Levatino—now an advocate for the unborn—described what he used to do.

He held up a “Sopher clamp”—stainless steel forceps about 13 inches long—and invited House members to imagine themselves performing the procedure: “You introduce this instrument blindly, and start pulling off limbs. Feel yourself grabbing and pulling hard—and I do mean hard—and out pops an arm about that long.” Levatino held a thumb and finger about 4 inches apart.

The difficult part, he said, is extracting the head, about the size of a plum. Levatino grabbed his fist with the forceps to illustrate: “You know you did it right if you crush down and white material runs out of the cervix. That was the baby’s brains.”

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