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Doctor In Badly Botched Abortion Is Tried For Manslaughter

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A doctor who performed a badly botched abortion that caused a patient to bleed to death was characterized by prosecutors on Tuesday as careless, greedy and someone who operated far outside the medical norm.

A jury in Queens heard closing arguments in the case against Dr. Robert Rho, who was charged with manslaughter in the 2016 death of Jamie Lee Morales.

The criminal prosecution of doctors over medical errors is rare, but Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal said Rho's mistakes went beyond civil malpractice.

During the operation, Rho severed Morales' uterine aorta, ripped her cervix and pierced her uterine wall. Profuse post-operative bleeding forced the doctor to perform another procedure, but that did not fix the damage, prosecutors said.

Rather than call an ambulance, prosecutors said, Rho sent Morales home with her sister, despite signs she was in grave condition, because he wanted to get back to seeing other patients.

"It's about greed and arrogance," Leventhal said. "Jaime Morales bled to death because this defendant did nothing."

Morales, 30, fell unconscious in her sister's car. Medics responding to a 911 call took her to the hospital, where she died.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said Morales' death was a tragedy but was not a crime.

He told the jury Morales was conscious and speaking when she left the clinic and Rho was not aware of how badly she had been injured.

Lichtman told the jurors that while they might be swayed by the graphic realities of Morales' abortion, "don't be led by your emotion; this is too important."

"The people who have doubt about this case, I ask you to stand strong," he said.

The attorney said Morales never told Rho she suffered from medical conditions that made her prone to more intense bleeding.

Jury deliberations were expected to begin on Wednesday.

Rho, of Lake Success, closed his clinic and surrendered his medical license after Morales' death.

Even before the death, Rho, 53, had been investigated by state officials over concerns that he was performing procedures improperly and using assistants who lacked medical training, witnesses said at the trial.

Prosecutors said Morales had been turned down by other abortion providers because she was 25 weeks pregnant. The state allows abortions at 24 weeks or more only if the woman's life or health is endangered.

The last criminal prosecution in New York over a mishandled abortion was in 1995, when obstetrician David Benjamin was convicted of murder after a patient bled to death from a rip in her uterus during an abortion.

Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted in 2013 of involuntary manslaughter after a patient got a fatal overdose of sedatives during an abortion. He also was convicted of murder for performing extremely late-term abortions, snipping the spines of infants born alive during the procedures.