N.M. medical regulators are set to rule in case of late-term abortion

ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico medical regulators are poised to rule next week on a case involving a physician who performs late-term abortions at a private clinic in Albuquerque and is accused of gross negligence in a late-term abortion during 2011.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that an attorney for the New Mexico Medical Board maintains Dr. Shelley Sella breached the standard of practice in treating a 26-year-old New York woman who had a uterine rupture during a procedure to abort a 35-week-old fetus with severe brain abnormalities.

According to a transcript of the disciplinary hearing and other documents, the patient had to be rushed to University Hospital after the rupture. She ultimately recovered, but may not be able to carry a future pregnancy to full term.

The attorney for the board contends that the abortion should have been performed at a hospital because the patient was at higher risk of a rupture based on her medical history.

Sella’s attorneys say the allegations of gross negligence are nothing more than a political tactic by a national anti-abortion group that wants to end legal abortions.

The complaint that triggered the medical board inquiry was filed in 2011 by local and national anti-abortion activists who say a ruling against Sella could lead to a national medical standard of practice governing late-term abortions.

The board’s prosecutor told a hearing officer last November that the case against Sella has nothing to do with abortion rights, but involves the standard of care in the way Sella administered uterine stimulants to the woman.

If the board finds a violation of the state’s Medical Practice Act, Sella could face possible revocation, suspension or restriction of her medical license in New Mexico.

During a closed hearing on the Medical Board allegations last November, Sella testified that about 90 percent of all third-trimester abortions in the U.S. are performed in four clinics around the country, including at Southwestern Women’s Options in downtown Albuquerque, where Sella works. The three other private clinics that perform late-term abortions in the U.S. are in Germantown, Md.; Boulder; and Los Angeles.

No hospital in New Mexico performs third-trimester abortions, and only 10 percent of such late-term procedures are done at hospitals in the United States.

Hospitals don’t perform third-trimester abortions usually because of hospital policy, lack of skilled personnel and equipment, and because of religious or political attitudes about abortions, according to an expert witness called by Sella’s attorneys.

Board prosecutor Daniel Rubin said in records that Sella was responsible for the rupture in how she administered uterine stimulants and, after doing so, sending the patient back to the hotel where she was staying. A Southwestern Women’s Options website notes that the clinic is an outpatient office with no overnight accommodations.

Sella’s attorneys say the uterine rupture was an “unfortunate complication,” but one that she didn’t cause. Sella said in documents the uterine rupture was a “bad complication” linked to the patient’s prior C-section.