The Truth About Becky Bell

Author: A.L.L.

ALL About Issues Winter 91, p. 32


The following originally appeared in the Bernadell Technical Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 4, November 1990, under the title "In Memoriam." It is reprinted with permission from Bernadell, Inc.

With the second issue of the Bulletin (Vol. 1, No. 2, Nov. 1989) we pledged to memorialize the names of those women who have perished in the abortion cataclysm. In this issue we pause to mark with great sorrow the passing of Rebecca Suzanne Bell, a 17-year-old young woman from Indianapolis who died on September 15, 1988-and whose tragically premature death is being ruthlessly and cynically exploited by abortion advocacy groups such as Planned Parenthood and Fund for a Feminist Majority. These vicious puppeteers have manipulated Rebecca's parents, Karen and Bill Bell, into appearing in a sordid video and performing in a tasteless travelling roadshow condemning parental notification/consent as responsible for Rebecca's death, i.e. if she had not been fearful of consulting with her parents regarding her pregnancy, she would not have sought an illegal abortion and would be alive today. This column then will be devoted to setting the record straight regarding the Bell affair, which is regrettably replete with medical inaccuracies, legal inconsistencies and a great deal of mendacious posturing by abortion advocates. In short, l'affaire Bell is not in good odor.

Indiana has had a law requiring parental consent for abortion, with a judicial bypass provision. From the rather scanty clinical material available for review, it appears Rebecca Bell became pregnant in mid-May 1988, and quoting from the report of Coroner Dennis J. Nicholas, M.D. issued on 3 October 1988:

She did not confide this information to her parents. According to her friend Heather Clark, Rebecca Bell told the father of the unborn child [significantly, Dr. Nicholas refers not to her 'fetus' but uses the term 'unborn child' in his report] about the pregnancy and he broke off all contact with her in mid-July. Rebecca told Heather Clark that she intended to have an abortion. [She] also had a history of substance abuse for which she was hospitalized from mid-February through April 1988. Bell reportedly was at a party where various drugs were used (cocaine, 'speed' and LSD) on the week-end of September 10-11 [she would now be 16-17 weeks pregnant]. On Tuesday, September 13 she awoke with a neckache, stayed home from school and developed an elevated temperature. She was somewhat improved on Wednesday but was found on Friday, September 16 when her father went home about noon and she was ill. He took her for an x-ray which showed pneumonia bilaterally [in both lungs]. She was hospitalized where she went into cardiopulmonary arrest later that night.

Rebecca Bell expired at the St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis at 11:29 p.m. on 16 September 1988-the night of her hospitalization. An analysis of her blood revealed no evidence of alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines (speed) or other drugs-although her blood was not tested for cannabinoids (marijuana).

Her death was attributed to "septic abortion with pneumonia." In order to appreciate how fabricated, how medically unsound this diagnosis is, one must understand that in order to make a diagnosis of infected (septic) abortion severe enough to kill a woman one must be able to demonstrate the presence of massive inflammation/infection in the uterus and surrounding structures; in the veins of the uterus and pelvis; in the residual pregnancy tissue in the uterus (this tissue virtually always smells powerfully of the toxic substances elaborated by the overwhelming infection (1)-and there was no such smell noted here). Further, there is virtually always evidence of instrumentation, i.e. the marks of surgical clamp on the cervix (to hold it steady while another instrument is thrust into the pregnant womb) or evidence of a forceful dilation of the cervix (this would be especially noticeable in a 17-year-old who had never been pregnant nor delivered a baby before), with the stigmata of lacerations or tears in the cervix and/or uterus. (2) There was no such findings here.

The autopsy on her body was carried out by Jesse C. Giles, M.D., a pathologist in the Forensic Division of the Indiana University School of Medicine. Dr. Giles made a post mortem examination of the reproductive organs of Rebecca Bell and upon gross and microscopic examination of these organs found:

a.) There was no evidence of any inflammation or infection in any portion of the uterus, tubes or ovaries.

b.) There was no evidence of any inflammation or infection in the small amount of pregnancy tissue still present in the uterus.

c.) There was no evidence of any instrumentation anywhere in the female organs.

d.) All blood cultures were negative.

e.) There was no evidence of any peritonitis, a classic finding in any woman dying of an infected illegal abortion.

f.) There were no septic emboli in the lung, i.e. with a severe infection in the uterus some pieces of this infection access the veins producing an infection of the veins (nothing of this sort was found in Rebecca Bell) and then travel through the vessels to lodge in lung, creating not a pneumonia but isolated abscesses in the lung (not found in Rebecca Bell).

Thus in the Bell case none of these critical findings were made by the pathologist. Indeed, in a personal conversation with Dr. Giles on October 4, 1990, he confirmed to us that none of these essential findings were present at the autopsy and did so without qualification or hesitancy.

One also notes that Heather Clark, reportedly Rebecca Bell's best friend (and who seems now to have disappeared), has been repeatedly quoted as insisting that Bell never procured an illegal abortion and that when Rebecca Bell became terminally ill with her overwhelming pneumonia, she had a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), the remnants of which were found in her uterus at autopsy.

To that end we reconstructed the probable scenario based on the autopsy findings, the clinical narrative and on the conversation with Dr. Jesse Giles, the pathologist who performed the autopsy. We then released a letter to Becky Moore of United Families in Eugene, Oregon, dated September 4, 1990, in which we summarized our findings and conclusions:

There is no evidence of any septic abortion contained in the coroner's report; there is no infection in or around the uterus, no pus, no odor to the uterus and no peritonitis. The serosa of the uterus is described as 'smooth and glistening.' In the case of a septic abortion this tissue would be shaggy and discolored. Further, all blood cultures were consistently negative. Indeed, there is no evidence for an induced abortion at all; no marks or stigmata of instrumentation (dilation of the cervix by instruments, marks on the cervix, etc.) in the genital tract. The most reasonable probability is that Rebecca Bell died of an overwhelming streptococcus pneumonia (the same condition that Muppeteer Jim Henson died of). Ms. Bell probably had had an incomplete spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) with a small residue of tissue still remaining in the uterus (typical of a spontaneous miscarriage). The tissue which remained showed absolutely no evidence of infection or inflammation. If the coroner had been convinced of a "septic abortion" he should have made cultures of that tissue: if this had truly been a death from septic abortion the cultures of the tissue would have yielded streptococcus pneumoniae. Finally, in the case of a septic abortion the lungs would have shown septic pulmonary emboli, not generalized pneumonia.

Other well-intentioned, but regrettably superficial analyses would have it that Rebecca Bell, while under the influence of illegal drugs (or while under anesthesia during an illegal abortion attempt), vomited and aspirated gastric juices and/or food into her lungs, setting up the pneumonia from which she died. There is no evidence in the autopsy to support this theory: when someone vomits and gastric juices and/or food into her lungs, there are acute ulcerations (burns) in the air passages (trachea, bronchi) due to the strong stomach acids; no traces of any such burns was found here. Further, no finding of any food particles was ever described in the lungs at autopsy. Thus, this theory is simply not supported by the available evidence.

The only tenable, reasonable explanation for the death of Rebecca Bell is that she contracted a fulminating, overwhelming pneumonia-the type that Muppeteer Jim Henson died of-which in turn provoked a high fever and general toxicity culminating in a miscarriage. Historically, miscarriage has frequently been associated with fever and/or infections and the lack of any evidence for an induced illegal abortion here lends the strongest credence to this theory.

But Rebecca Bell did not die from a septic (infected) illegal abortion: there is not one shred of credible evidence to support this preposterous claim. On the other hand there is a clear preponderance of evidence to hold that she miscarried her pregnancy owing to high fever and toxicity from an overwhelming pneumonia (contracted perhaps by lying in a stuporous condition for hours on end in a draft-the stupor brought about by illegal drugs and the interval between drugs and death sufficiently long that the drugs would have been eliminated from her body by the time of death.)

Those who have shamelessly inveigled her grieving, unsuspecting parents into turning this poor young woman's death into a political Grand Guignol stand exposed as nothing but moral hyenas.

1. Schwarz, R.H., Septic Abortion, J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and Toronto, 1968:23, 1. ibid. p.25

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