By Cheryl Sullenger
Tuscaloosa, AL – A troubled Alabama abortion facility where a woman received a fatal abortion last year was cited for serious personnel and infection control violations during a four-visit inspection that took place four months after a patient died last year.
April Lowery, 29, died as the result of an attempted abortion she received the West Alabama Women’s Center (WAWC) in Tuscaloosa on May 7, 2020. During that abortion, she suffered a perforated uterus that caused internal injuries and hemorrhaging, according to her autopsy report.
The inspection recently came to the attention of Pro-Life Tuscaloosa, which provided the report to a coalition of national groups, including Operation Rescue, CEC for Life, and Life Legal Defense Foundation, which has been working to bring accountability to those who were involved in Lowery’s avoidable death.
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) conducted four on-site survey visits to the WAWC between September 1-30, 2020, with a final follow-up phone interview on October 13, 2020, the same day the report was dated.
Certified in 40 seconds
When inspectors first arrived at the abortion facility on September 1, 2020, they were informed by Clinic Administrator Amanda Reyes that there was no one on staff who could conduct abortions. The Medical Director at that time was Leah Torres, who was acting on a temporary medical license while her permanent license application was being processed. But on August 20, 2020, she was ordered to cease and desist the practice of medicine after it was determined she had repeatedly lied on her Alabama medical license application. At the time of this inspection, she was serving as the “Clinical Services Administrator.”
The WAWC was able to hire a new Interim Medical Director on September 14, 2020. Abortions were resumed on September 16 and appointments were scheduled for two days per week.
In Alabama, Medical Directors are responsible for certifying that licensed physicians that conduct abortions at their facilities are competent to do so. This is done by observing each licensee as he or she conducts abortions.
The new Medical Director wasted no time in certifying two abortionists.
However, the Medical Director later admitted that he/she was serving only on an interim basis and had never actually visited the WAWC facility. Instead, Physician A was “certified” during a 40 second Zoom call and Physician B during a Zoom call that lasted 7 minutes and 17 seconds.
The Interim Medical Director confirmed that the new abortionists were “certified” while dispensing abortion pills, not during surgical abortions, which they would also be required to do. A correction plan submitted by Reyes noted that all abortionists certified via Zoom calls would be re-certified by a Medical Director in person.
“How can someone’s competency be evaluated in just 40 seconds? This whole certification process was a sham from the beginning to end,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. “It is shocking that Reyes and Torres would pull a stunt like this after a woman died just four months earlier from a completely botched abortion at their facility by an abortionist whose competency was in question. It shows no consideration for human life – of the baby or the mother.”
Former WAWC abortionist Louis T. Payne, 81, who was believed responsible for April Lowery’s negligent abortion, “retired” from WAWC on July 24, 2020, then surrendered his medical license in October, rather than face pending disciplinary action.
Brown Rust on Surgical Instruments
During the initial inspection visit on September 1, 2020, inspectors discovered brown rust on multiple metal dilators, which were used to open the cervix during surgical abortions. Those dilators were thrown away.
An inspector returned to WAWC on September 29 to observe surgical abortions. Afterwards, that inspector was taken to the sterilization room to observe “tissue processing” and instrument cleaning.
It then became apparent that no one in the facility understood how to properly sanitize medical instruments or operate the autoclave, a device that completes the sterilization process.
Packets of instruments lacked any date and contained no indicator strips that are supposed to be used in each packet to ensure proper sterilization. One employee made the excuse that he/she sometimes would be rushed and forget to put them in. This turned out to be a lie.
When checking charts, sterilization indicator strips were seen taped inside the patient chart covers. When asked about them, the employee confessed, “To be honest, I just run some strips through the autoclave to put in the chart, because the ones in the pack will get blood on them and you can’t put those in the chart.” That employee then searched the drawers of allegedly sterilized equipment packets saying, “I’m sure there are some packets with strips in here somewhere.” However, none were found.
What was found was more rusty dilators and other contaminated instruments.
Reyes’ correction plan included retraining staff in sterilization protocols developed by the National Abortion Federation, a consortium of abortion facilities across the nation.
“There is little confidence in WAWC using NAF protocols since NAF-certified abortion facilities have traditionally been among the worst facilities in the nation when it comes to cleanliness, infection control, and competency of staffs,” said Newman. “I know this from personal experience because I purchased a former NAF-certified abortion facility in Wichita, Kansas, in 2006, and it was filthy beyond description. So, just because a facility says it is following NAF protocols, that’s no guarantee that medical standards are really being met.”
WAWC has only conducted abortions on a sporadic basis since the time this inspection report was completed in October. However, on March 24, 2021, Leah Torres was finally issued a full Alabama medical license, which has allowed her to resume abortions there.
“Given Torres’ issues with dishonesty and the clinic’s track record of serious deficiencies, it is only a matter of time before another woman is hurt or killed,” said Newman. “This abortion facility must be closed by the Alabama Department of Public Health before tragedy strike again.”
View a timeline of WAWC events and troubles (includes previously unpublished information).