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Woman Dies at Abortion Clinic as Children Wait

December 16, 1994 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ When Angela Nieto Sanchez was one month pregnant, she took two of her four children with her to an abortion clinic. The next time any of them saw her, the clinic’s owner was stuffing her body into a car trunk.

Alicia Ruiz Hanna had been performing abortions without a license or any medical training, cutting out the middle man - the doctor - to save money at her Clinica Femenina de la Comunidad in Santa Ana, prosecutors said.

″It’s a case of greed,″ said Deputy District Attorney Rick King.

This week, a jury convicted the 33-year-old Hanna of second-degree murder. She was also found guilty of performing abortions without a license on Sanchez and two women who survived. Hanna faces 20 years to life at sentencing Jan. 27.

Sanchez was a 27-year-old, unwed illegal alien from Mexico, living in Orange, a town in Orange County, and working as a maid. She wasn’t entitled to Medi-Cal insurance and couldn’t afford the $2,000 or so a hospital abortion costs, compared with about $300 at a clinic. She came to Hanna on Jan. 19, 1993.

In court, King described Hanna as ″a wolf in sheep’s clothing.″

″She’s very attractive, has a very soothing sounding voice,″ the prosecutor said Thursday. ″The clientele she reached out to - who were mostly illegal aliens looking for guidance - she would counsel them, which many times resulted in them having abortions done by her.″

Sanchez paid Hanna $280 cash up front. Hanna took her to a treatment room, gave her Valium and injected her with a still-unknown drug, trying to induce a miscarriage. Instead, she suffered a seizure and died.

Hanna tried to revive the woman but testified that she didn’t summon help because she feared arrest. Prosecutors said she prevented a co-worker from calling police.

Hanna then told the children their mother had gone home without them.

Later that evening, Sanchez’s 12-year-old daughter Maria returned with relatives. She spotted Hanna trying to stuff her mother’s body into a car trunk, the child told authorities. A former co-worker testified Hanna planned to dump the body in Tijuana, Mexico.

Hanna told the family that Sanchez had disappeared some time that day, then reappeared, knocking at the clinic window and fainting. Hanna claimed she had seen a man running from the scene, prosecutors said.

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In court, Hanna admitted trying to hide Sanchez’s death. But she claimed Sanchez died because she was high and had a bad reaction to the attempted abortion. However, an autopsy found no evidence Sanchez had used alcohol or illegal drugs.

Hanna’s clinic had used several doctors to perform abortions until she found herself in financial trouble and began performing the procedure herself. She testified that she had done eight to 10 abortions herself.

″When it got down to her hide vs. the victim’s hide, the victim lost,″ King said. ″It’s a very depressing case. We have four kids that don’t have a mother now.″

Both sides in the abortion debate say they were proved right by Sanchez’s death.

″I think this really goes to show that profit motive is high, that concern for women is not necessarily the priority and that abortion, which is touted as being safe because it’s legal, is legal but not necessarily safe,″ said Michele Arocha Allen, a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee in Washington.

Kathryn Kolbert, vice president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York, said the anti-abortion movement has made it harder for poor women like Sanchez to end pregnancies.

″You’ve got such a degree of harassment and intimidation that physicians who used to perform these services as part of their general practice of obstetrics and gynecology have moved away from that,″ Kolbert said. ″As a result, there’s a window for unscrupulous providers.″

King said prosecutors tried to focus the case on criminal negligence, trying to keep abortion politics out of jury selection.

″Our position all along is that this is a maternal death caused by a person who was not a doctor and not even a nurse,″ King said. ″It was our feeling all along that whatever your feelings on abortion are - no matter whether you’re pro-life, pro-choice - it shouldn’t in any way matter or interfere with being able to judge the facts of this case.

″Afterward one of the jurors commented they didn’t know what the other jurors’ positions were on abortion.″

Steve Rhoten, who investigated the case for the Medical Board of California, said it’s hard to estimate how many women are injured by unlicensed abortion providers.

″People are very reluctant to report this ... because they may be fearful of authorities or not knowledgeable as far as medical treatment or an alternative,″ he said.