Bruce Steir writes that "I attended medical school twenty-three years before Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land. The only position that I had about abortion back then was that my sister should have been allowed to have the choice to have a safe, legal abortion instead of having to go through the heartbreak of giving birth and then giving her baby up for adoption to another family." He adds that "abortion was thought of as a criminal act in 1957, during my senior year in medical school."
Steir was Medical Director for the Feminist Women's Health Centers in Chico, Redding, Santa Rosa and Sacramento for a dozen years in the 1980s and 1990s. In December 1996 he was performing abortions at a clinic in Riverside and he writes that "one of the women died that day. It was the only death I had ever been responsible for. Over the course of my career I performed somewhere around 40,000 legal abortions."
Sharon was 27 years old and in the second trimester of her pregnancy; apparently Steir had perforated her uterus. He writes that the County Medical Examiner "referred to the death as accidental," but that several weeks later he was charged with second-degree murder by Riverside County prosecutors.
Rather than pursue the matter through what Steir describes as a "lengthy and costly hearing with the Medical Board" he surrendered his medical license in 1997 at the age of 66. The criminal case drained his savings and, seeking to avoid incarceration, with the advice of friends and family he entered a plea bargain to involuntary manslaughter. But the judge sentenced him to Riverside County Jail for a year (6 months of which was to be suspended for 1000 hours of community service).
Steir tells his life story in "Jailhouse Journal of an OB/GYN" ($15 in paperback from AuthorHouse www.authorhouse.com). Though time "has a way of dimming the memory for some details," the book gives the reader a sense of a man with few regrets. "An existing pregnancy that is not wanted is an accident or a mistake," he writes. "It doesn't really matter which it is. People make mistakes and as long as they do there will be erasers on pencils and delete keys on keyboards."