Second-Degree Murder Trial of
California Abortionist Delayed
By Liz Townsend
The trial of California abortionist Bruce Steir, charged with second-degree murder in the botched-abortion death of a 27-year-old woman, will be delayed past its scheduled June 1 start date. Steir's lawyers are trying to force the California Medical Board to release 10 years of documents on disciplinary action against doctors, attempting to prove that Steir's prosecution is " discriminatory" because he is an abortionist and based solely on pressure from pro-lifers.
Prosecutors and medical board officials strongly dispute Steir's claims. "The board has no agenda against physicians who engage in any specific area of medical practice," board spokeswoman Candis Cohen told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "Every physician who harms a patient is accountable to the medical board. That's our mandate."
Steir is accused of second-degree murder in the death of Sharon Hamptlon on December 13, 1996. Prosecutors claim he perforated her uterus during an abortion and sent her home to bleed to death without getting her the emergency medical care she needed.
"This [case] is not even about abortion," Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Kennis Clark told the Los Angeles Times. "This is about a person who knows he did a life-threatening act, knew it... could kill somebody, and consciously disregarded the danger."
Pro-abortionists in California have vigorously defended Steir, claiming he is only being prosecuted because of pro-life pressure. They have established defense funds and web sites decrying pro-lifers, prosecutors, and the medical board. On a web site defending Steir, his wife Yen makes their position clear: "Why did the state do this? Is it to justify its anti- abortion agenda? You figure it out."
However, pro-lifers dismiss such charges, focusing instead on the long record of complaints against Steir filed with the medical board. "Steir's charge that the prosecution is politically motivated is a charge that he's been making for a decade," said Brian Johnston, NRLC Western director.
Complaints of negligence against Steir have been filed with the California Medical Board since at least 1991. In November 1995 (over one year before Hamptlon's death), prosecutors filed a formal complaint against Steir, accusing him of negligence in six abortions, the Press-Enterprise reported. In three of these cases, the women required hysterectomies.
A hearing on these cases was scheduled for April 1997. However, Steir surrendered his medical license in March 1997 in the wake of Hamptlon's death, and the hearing was canceled.
Steir was arrested in October 1997 for the second-degree murder of Sharon Hamptlon. Although the trial was scheduled for June 1999, the California Supreme Court ordered all proceedings stayed until the document dispute is resolved, making it unlikely a trial would take place on schedule.
The Supreme Court reversed two lower court decisions February 25 and ordered the 4th District Court of Appeal to hold a hearing on the document request, according to the Press-Enterprise. A Riverside County Superior Court judge and the appellate court previously refused the request, citing the medical board's contention that since the records are not computerized it would take a very long time to produce the documents.
"It would take a physical review and search of every record for 10 years," Deputy Attorney General Jose Guerrero told the Press-Enterprise, amounting to about 100,000 documents. The law "allows a sitting judge to balance the need for information against another party's burdensome task in compiling the information," Guerrero added.
The Supreme Court's decision was based solely on Steir's right to request the documents, not on the facts of the case, which began when Hamptlon, the mother of a three-year-old boy, went to A Lady's Choice Women's Medical Center in Moreno Valley, California, to abort her 20-week-old unborn baby.
Clinic employee Nancy Myles testified in a February 1998 hearing that as Steir was performing the abortion, he "gave her an unusual, almost indescribable look - - then said, 'I think I pulled bowel,' " meaning he had perforated Hamptlon's uterus and grabbed some of the bowel through the tear, according to the Times.
Myles testified that Steir said he would call 911 if he had " pulled bowel." However, he continued to work for a few minutes more and then said, "I think I got it," the Times reported.
Hamptlon was placed in the recovery room, and Steir soon left the clinic to catch a plane back to his home in San Francisco. According to the Times, prosecutors contend Hamptlon "was unstable; unable to walk on her own; complaining of pain; pale, shaky and throwing up," but Steir did nothing more to help her.
Ten minutes after Steir left, Hamptlon was put in a wheelchair and brought to her mother's car for the drive home, the Times reported. By the time they got home, Sharon Hamptlon was dead.
Steir and the owner of the clinic, Joseph Durante, settled a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Hamptlon's family for more than $1 million in November 1998, according to the Press-Enterprise. Neither Steir nor Durante admitted liability for Hamptlon's death.
Most of the money will go to Hamptlon's son, Curtis Bullorck, after he turns 18. Until then, Curtis's grandparents will receive some money each month for his care. "It will never replace the loss of growing up without a mother," Jack Schuler, the family's lawyer, told the Press-Enterprise. "But this will make the Hamptlons' life easier."
Schuler and the Hamptlon family have spoken out forcefully against Steir and his supporters. "I don't understand why the pro-choice people want to rally around the cause of a shoddy physician," Schuler told the Los Angeles Times.
"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."