Abortionist Bruce Steir, according to the Associated Press, “with a history of disciplinary actions, was charged with murder after state regulators determined that he punctured a woman’s uterus during an abortion.” Deputy District Attorney Kennis Clark told Riverside County Judge Dennis McConaghy that Sharon Hamplton bled to death after Steir ignored a danger he knew he had created.
Steir was on medical probation at the time of the abortion because of his previous botched abortions, which included uterine perforations. He perforated Hamptlon’s uterus during the December 13, 1996, abortion. After Hamptlon was discharged from A Lady’s Choice Women’s Medical Center, her mother drove to Barstow, where she and her daughter lived. But Doris Hamptlon could not waken her daughter when they arrived at the mother’s home. Hamptlon, 27, was dead before paramedics got her to Barstow Community Hospital. Her son, Curtis Bullorck, was 3 when his mother died.
At the time of the abortion, both Steir and another abortionist, Joseph Durante, who owns the abortion facility, were on medical probation stemming from ethical problems and medical errors in previous abortions. Steir surrendered his medical license in March 1997 amid complaints about negligence during abortions, including three that required surgery to repair injuries. In one case, surgeons had to remove a fetal skull found protruding through a huge tear in a patient’s uterus, according to complaints filed with the Medical Board of California.
Another woman discovered that Steir had left behind a four-inch piece of wire in her abdomen during an abortion. She suffered for 13 years before the wire, and the abscess that surrounded it, were surgically removed.
In 1985, Steir, who at the time was a Naval Reserve physician “moonlighting” as an abortionist, botched a cesarian section by leaving a placenta fragment inside his patient. In response, the Navy revoked his license to practice medicine.
In 1987, the Florida Department of Professional Regulation ordered Steir to relinquish his license to practice medicine in that state and “never again to apply for licensure as a physician in the State of Florida.”
In 1988, while under probation with the California Medical Board, Steir perforated the uterus of an abortion client. An official review found that Steir “made no operative report or post-operative report [of the incident] until approximately eight months later, and this was in response to an investigation.” Steir’s behavior in that case prefigured, in detail, his actions in the death of Sharon Hamptlon.
A 1990 malpractice suit filed by one of Steir’s clients recounted how the abortionist had “informed [the woman] that there was a fetal mass that could be aborted when in fact no such mass was present.” Despite the absence of a child to abort, Steir proceeded with the abortion, causing permanent uterine damage and a condition know as Asherman’s Syndrome.
Steir had, in fact, been found negligent in six abortion cases, including three in which the woman had to undergo a hysterectomy
Attorneys said key testimony during the Hamplton trial came from Nancy Myles, an ultrasound technician who assisted Steir in the abortion. Myles recalled that Steir looked up during the abortion and said, “I think I pulled bowel.” The bowel cannot be reached without perforating the uterus, Clark said. If Steir thought he had grabbed the bowel with a clamp during the procedure, he had to know he had perforated the uterus, she said.
Doris Hampton, Sharon’s mother, made a statement to the medical board where she discussed Sharon’s final moments:
“Maybe around 3:00 pm I took Curtis [Sharon's son] inside to use the bathroom. I saw a grey haired man dressed in green surgical clothes sitting at a desk. He said, “You know she is far along.” I said, “No. I didn’t know because she didn’t tell me.” Then I saw Sharon in the recovery room about 3:30 or 4:00 pm. She looked so bad that I felt scared. She was laying on a lazyboy style chair with an IV in her left arm and a blood pressure cuff on the other. She looked very pale. Her eyes were partially open and I could see only the whites of her eyes as if she were in shock. She was not speaking and her whole body was shaking real hard in big shivers. Her legs were especially bad. The doctor said, “She doesn’t react to drugs well.” …. A woman came in and said that Sharon didn’t need the blankets that were on her already and pulled the blankets off….I went back to the waiting room and a Spanish lady came out and said that Sharon would be ready in a few minutes as soon as the IV finished.
Sharon was in the recovery for only about 45 minutes, because at 5:00 pm they came out and said she was ready to leave. I heard someone say that the doctor was real busy and he had to rush out like he was going to the airport, something about him having to go to Sacramento or San Francisco. I saw two women struggling to place Sharon in a wheelchair. Sharon could not walk at all and she was not speaking. She looked very, very pale now.
On the way home to Barstow, I stopped at Wendy’s to get a sandwich for little Curtis. I tried to wake Sharon but all she said was “Huh, Huh.” Then Curtis said, “Mamma, I love you. Do you need anything? Are you okay?” And Sharon said, “Okay. I’ll take a drink.” Sharon was lying in the backseat of the car and said to Curtis, “Come on back with me Curtis. I love you and so I could hold you and you could go to sleep.” She was silent for about one hour. Near Victorville, she said, “I’m so hot. Please let the window down.” I opened the window a bit. After that, Sharon was silent forever.
We got home to Barstow and I saw that Sharon, still laying in the back seat was naked from the waist up, having removed her shirt, shoes and socks. I started yelling, “Sharon. Sharon. Wake up,” but she didn’t and my husband, Ben Hamptlon, said, “Call 911.”
Despite Sharon’s death, despite all the lawsuits and judgments against Steir for his botched surgeries on other women, pro-choice activists raised money for Steir’s defense on the Internet, encouraged their friends to put pressure on elected officials and the California Medical Board, and urged the Riverside County prosecutor to drop the charges.
Pro-choice activists even set up a professional-looking Web site in Steir’s defense at http://www.steirsdefense.org. (now down)
The Chico Feminist Womens Health Center (FWHC), where Steir was Medical Director, set up the grandly-named “Dr. Bruce Steir Constitutional Litigation Fund.”
An e-mail letter sent out by the “Steir Defense Fund” on March 4, 1998, said, in part, “Dear Pro-Choice Supporter: The nightmare of Dr. Bruce Steir, abortion physician, continues. … On February 18, 1998 Judge Dennis A. McConaghy, an anti-abortion judge in conservative Riverside County, California has held him over for trial. … Dr. Steir’s nightmare could happen to any provider of late abortions, especially one who travels a distance to provide abortions in a conservative community… No one could foresee these outrageous criminal charges….Representatives from abortion clinics have attended all hearings and have examined all the medical records and the chart. We are fully satisfied that Sharon Hamptlon, the patient who died from an undetected perforation that bled into the abdominal cavity, was provided with competent medical treatment that met or exceeded that standard of care…The Dr. Bruce Steir Constitutional Litigation Fund welcomes your questions, your ideas, your participation, and your financial support.”
Shauna Heckert, executive director of the Feminist Women’s Health Centers in Northern California, where Steir worked for 12 years, said “he really did have a bigger goal in mind … to help women.”
Specifically, the national leadership of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Abortion Federation (NAF), Refuse and Resist, and the California chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARRAL, now NARAL Pro-Choice America), argued against filing any charges at all against Steir. The Chico [California] Feminist Women’s Health Center (FWHC) went so far as to set up a “Dr. Bruce Steir Constitutional Litigation Fund.” They blamed the murder charge on pro-lifers, claiming that the charges were “trumped-up” and brought for “political” reasons.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) followed FWHC’s lead. A letter of support from the Sacramento chapter of NOW said that “It is an inequitable tragedy that a doctor, who has dedicated so many years of his practice to providing abortion services, now faces such unjust harassment.”
Refuse & Resist!, a radical group headquartered in New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, designated Steir “a true hero” as it conferred its supposedly coveted “Courageous Resister” award upon Steir during its March 10, 1998 “National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.” Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman, who attended Meanwhile, Steir, like so many other abortionists, blamed the women for their problems when he said that “They were all second-trimester abortions. The patients put themselves at risk by waiting so long.”
In a February 15, 1989 deposition, Steir admitted that he spent an average of seven seconds with each patient before aborting them. He said that his total interaction with the women consisted of the words “Hello, my name is Bruce and I’m here to perform your abortion. How are you?”
In an interview with the publication Inland Empire, Steir said, “My incarceration proved nothing.” He maintained he was guilty only of failing “to make the diagnosis of her (Hamptlon’s) condition.” “I’m absolutely not sorry,” he told the Inland Empire. “I’m sorry I ended up in jail. I’m sorry I had to surrender my license and I’m sorry a woman died. I would like not to have done that abortion that day.” His order of priorities is telling; he apparently sees himself as the primary victim in the matter.
Jack Schuler, the Hamptlon family’s attorney, said “I don’t understand why the pro-choice people want to rally around the cause of a shoddy physician. If I were in their shoes, I would do as much as possible to distance myself from the likes of Steir … rather than having him be the poster boy for my cause.”
At the last possible minute, as jury selection was about to begin, Steir pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He entered the plea in Riverside County Superior Court.
Pro-choice activists continued to support him, despite his guilty plea and the overwhelming evidence against him. Despite the crushing weight of evidence, Carol Downer ignored all reality and said “I’m incredibly sad. There was no case. “I’m sure this will give heart to people who want to attack doctors.”
In pretrial hearings, Judge Vilia Sherman said she saw no indication that pro-life pressure led to the charge. A state official denied the selective-prosecution allegation and said abortion opponents hold no sway in any investigation into medical wrongdoing. Candis Cohen, spokeswoman for the Medical Board of California, said that “Mr. Steir’s record … of mispractice speaks for itself.”
Hamptlon’s mother, Doris, said that Steir should go to prison for a “long, long, long, long time. My child’s never coming back.”
Doris Hamptlon and her husband now care for Hamptlon’s son, Curtis Bullorck, who is 7 years old and attends first grade. In 1999, the family agreed to a settlement worth up to $2 million in a civil lawsuit against Steir.
The clinic where the abortion was performed is owned by Dr. Joseph Durante, who was placed on two months’ probation last year for failing to disclose previous disciplinary actions taken against him.
On November 30, 1998, the San Diego Union stated that “The shadow of Dr. Bruce Steir hangs over the Medical Board of California like a cloud – a constant reminder of how an incompetent and dangerous physician slipped through the cracks. … Beginning in 1985, when he was thrown off staff at the Naval Hospital on Camp Pendleton, Steir repeatedly was disciplined for harming California women.”
Steir was spared a prison sentence. His punishment for killing Sharon Hamptlon was a year in the county jail, 60 months of probation, and 1,000 hours of community service. The sentencing judge suspended 180 days of the sentence, thus reducing the term to six months. On September 16, 2000, after serving 114 days, Steir was released. This was done for his ostensible good behavior, which apparently did not require the slightest expression of remorse.
Some last words from Sharon’s mother:
“I cry every day for the terrible loss of my daughter, and I am overwhelmed that 3 year old Curtis had his mother taken away forever. My husband, Ben Hamptlon, (father of Sharon), is sick with grief, has terrible head pain, is under the care of a doctor for this and has been taking strong pain medicine since Sharon’s death. My prayer is that these doctors be stopped immediately so that no other girl will be killed and that no other family will have to suffer as we have.”
References: “Abortion Doctor.” Associated Press, October 24, 1997; “Abortion Practitioner to be Tried for Second-Degree Murder.” The Press-Enterprise [Riverside, California], December 19 anad 21, 1996, and February 19 and July 11, 1998; American Life League’s Communique November 14, 1997; Raymond Smith. “Funds Raised for Abortion Doctor.” The Press-Enterprise, December 1, 1997, pages B1 and B2; “Woman’s Death From Legal Abortion Continues to Cause Concern.” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1998; “Woman’s Death From Abortion Makes for Explosive Case.” Steven Ertelt’s Pro-Life Infonet at http://www.prolifeinfo.org/infonet.html, July 31, 1998, December 2, 1998 and February 19, 1999; “Legal Abortion Death Continues to Make Headlines,” Sacramento Bee, February 18, 1999; “Abortion Practitioner Who Killed Woman Will Face Murder Trial.” Pro-Life Infonet, April 6, 2000; Raymond Smith, The Press-Enterprise. “Plea Changed to Guilty in Abortion Case: An Agreement to a Lesser Charge is Reached as the Murder Trial was About to Begin.” Inland Empire Online, April 10, 2000; “Abortionist Changes Plea to Guilty in Murder Trial.” Pro-Life Infonet, April 7, 2000; “Abortionist Pleads Guilty: First Such Conviction Ever in State.” San Diego News Notes, May 2000, pages 1 and 3; “News.” Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission, May 2000, pages 10 and 11; “ACLU Says Bias Led to Prosecution of Bruce Steir.” Riverside Press-Enterprise, May 26, 2000; “ACLU Says Bias Led to Prosecution of Bruce Steir.” Pro-Life Infonet, May 28, 2000; “Steir Gets Only One Year for Abortion-Related Death.” Pro-Life Infonet, May 30, 2000; Maggie Garcia. “Caught Off Guard: Abortionist Sentenced to Jail.” Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission, July/August 2000, page 1; Julie Foster and Michael P. Ackley. Jailed Abortionist to be Released Early. Doctor Who Botched Procedure: ‘My Incarceration Proved Nothing’.” WorldNetDaily.com, September 16, 2000; William Norman Grigg. “The Abortion Underworld.” The New American, January 15, 2001 [Volume 17, Number 2] “Abortion Practitioner Convicted of Manslaughter in Legal Abortion Death.” Arizona Republic, May 5, 2001; Pro-Life Infonet, May 5, 2001.
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