A Bristol doctor who testified Monday in favor of Gov. Janet Mills’ full-term abortion bill was once deposed for her role in authorizing a 2017 late-term abortion on a young woman who later died in Albuquerque during a days-long outpatient abortion procedure.
Keisha M. Atkins was 23 years old and more than 24-weeks pregnant when Dr. Shannon L. Carr approved of her abortion following a 20-minute consultation, according to records reviewed by the Maine Wire.
After that consultation, abortionists injected Atkins’ womb with medication that killed her unborn child and she was sent home with the deceased child still inside her, where it would remain until she died just after midnight on Feb. 4, 2017.
More than a year later, Atkins’ family sued Southwestern Women’s Options (SWO), the abortion clinic, as well as the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Group and several doctors who were involved in the procedure for medical malpractice, medical negligence, wrongful death, and civil conspiracy.
Carr, who was employed by SWO, was named individually in the suit.
The parties settled in separate settlements in 2022 for more than $1.26 million, according to reports in the New Mexico press.
According to the lawyers representing the Atkins family, UNM Medical Group providers initially denied Keisha Atkins’ request for an elective late-term abortion. New Mexico media have reported she was six-months pregnant at the time.
But those same providers did refer her to SWO, the abortion clinic where Carr worked.
SWO had a preexisting arrangement with UNM, the suit said.
According to the lawsuit, SWO staff taught at UNM and SWO provided UNM with unborn baby parts for research purposes.
The UNM officials who initially denied Atkins’ request for the late-term abortion set up an appointment for Atkins at SWO and delivered her ultrasound imaging to the clinic, according to the suit.
After a brief consultation, foctors at SWO injected Atkins’ womb with Digoxin, an injection that killed her unborn child.
“On February 01, 2017, at the SWO clinic, clinic doctors, under the supervision of Defendant Curtis Boyd, inserted a syringe filled with Dygoxin into Keisha Atkins’ stomach and injected a lethal dose into the baby causing the baby’s death,” the suit states.
The suit doesn’t say who carried out the lethal injection, but Boyd, Carr, and Carmen Landau were the only SWO medical doctors named in the suit.
“Ms. Atkins was then released from SWO clinic with her deceased baby in utero and an instruction to return to the SWO Clinic,” the suit says.
As part of her discharge instructions, the attorneys alleged Atkins was advised not to consult with any other healthcare facility.
Two days later, on Feb. 3, Atkins returned to SWO with a high fever and trouble breathing.
At 6:45 am, SWO doctors began treating Atkins and administering her fluids.
Ten hours later, doctors at the abortion clinic called for an ambulance to transport Atkins to a UNM Hospital Emergency Room.
After another six hours in the emergency room, Atkins was transferred to an operating room where a “Dilation and Evacuation” would be performed to remove the deceased baby.
Atkins died of cardiac arrest on the operating table at 12:10 on Feb. 4, 2017.
At that point, she had been carrying her deceased baby for well over 48 hours.
Read the full complaint here:
The following report, signed by Carr, was used to establish the medical basis for Atkins’ to have an abortion:
In May 2022, both the hospital and the abortion clinic paid $1.26 million to settle claims brought by Atkins’ surviving family members that the substandard treatment Atkins received was negligent.
Boyd, the founder of the SWO abortion clinic, reportedly paid $900,000 of that settlement, while the University of New Mexico paid $365,000 for referring Atkins to the clinic. Neither party admitted to any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit alleged the following of Boyd, Carr, and Landau:
“Defendants Landau, Carr and Boyd, as doctors specializing in late term elective abortion, were negligent in their diagnosis, treatment, and care of Keisha Atkins, which negligence included, but was not limited to, the following:
- a. failure to abide by the standard of care to perform abortion procedures in a hospital and/or in a similarly equipped overnight facility capable of providing constant medical monitoring;
- b. failure to abide by the standard of care to identify and diagnose infection and sepsis;
- c. failure to abide by the standard of care to provide adequate medical treatment for infection and sepsis;
- d. failure to inform Keisha Atkins of the risks and potential complications of allowing SWO Clinic doctors to insert a syringe filled with Dygoxin into her stomach for the purpose of injecting a lethal dose into her baby to cause the baby’s death;
- e. failure to inform Keisha Atkins of the risks and potential complications of carrying a dead fetus inside of her womb after being released from the SWO clinic;
- f. failure to inform Keisha Atkins of the inadequacy of SWO’s medical facility and equipment used in performing late term elective abortions and addressing medical complications;
- g. failure to inform Keisha Atkins of the risks and potential complications for infection and sepsis associated with SWO’s late term elective abortion procedure;
- h. failure to inform Keisha Atkins of the risks and potential complications associated with SWO instructing its patients not to contact or consult any medical facility, hospital, doctor, emergency room or nurse outside of the employees, agents and/or staff of the SWO clinic
By the time of the settlement, Carr had already moved back to Maine. She said in her deposition she had taken a position at Maine General Hospital in Augusta as an OB/GYN.
On Monday, Carr was among the first “expert” witnesses put forward by supporters of Gov. Mills’ abortion bill, LD 1619.
Attempts to contact Carr for this story were not successful. Messages left at her at Maine General were not returned.
A spokesperson for Maine General said in an email she was not employed by the hospital.
WHY DID KEISHA ATKINS DIE?
The key question was whether Keisha Atkins died as a result of the abortion or of other natural causes.
On that question, there appears to have been considerable consternation on the part of officials and providers associated with UNM and SWO.
Both Boyd’s abortion clinic, where Carr worked, and UNM hospital officials initially fought the allegations that a botched abortion or substandard care was the cause of Atkins’ death.
UNM doctor Lauren Dvorscak investigated Atkins’ death and determined it was “natural” due to pregnancy. The official autopsy for Atkins said she died from pregnancy — there’s no box to check for “abortion” — and a related pulmonary embolism.
Here’s UNM’s report from the Office of the Medical Investigator:
But UNM internal emails show at least two medical professionals expressing skepticism that a large pulmonary embolism would not have been discovered before the abortion clinic began their procedure.
Dvorscak became defensive when her finding in the death investigation was challenged.
The Atkins family’s attorneys argued, based on the medical evidence and internal UNM communications, that the true cause of Atkins’ death was abortion-related sepsis that developed as Atkins was carrying a dead baby in her womb for more than 48 hours.
Further, the attorneys alleged in the suit that UNM’s medical staff said Atkins death was “natural,” despite all evidence to the contrary, in order to protect the abortion clinic, with which UNM had other professional affiliations, from liability.
The suit states that SWO was the sole provider of infant unborn body parts to UNM researchers.
Abortion on Trial (AOT), a pro-life group of medical professionals who report on cases like Atkins’, has compiled extensive documentation from the legal proceedings documenting Carr’s involvement and deposition.
The group, and some members of the New Mexico media, have also reported that Atkins’ abortion was paid for by Medicaid.
According to AOT, Carr signed off on paperwork asserting that the abortion was necessary because the pregnancy had a “profound, negative impact upon the mental health of this woman” — a sign off that helped Atkins get Medicaid to pay for the procedure.
SHANNON CARR DEPOSED
On Oct. 21, 2019, Carr was deposed in relation to the wrongful death case.
In the deposition, Carr admitted that her consultation with Atkins did not involve an assessment of her mental health, although she had previously claimed potential harm to Atkins’ mental health was among the reasons she ought to have an abortion paid for by Medicaid.
In the deposition, Carr said there was no “irreversible harm to [Atkins’] physical health for carrying the child to term.”
However, she approved of the abortion because having the child would have affected Atkins’ “future and mental well-being.”
Asked to give an example of the harm to Atkins’ mental health having a child might do, Carr said, “That would just be speculation of parenting at a young age with– as a single mom financially not stable. Depression, anxiety. That would be speculation as to any forward effects on her mental health. It’s possible.”
Carr later elaborated that having a child could potentially have interfered with Atkins “overall prospects in life,” stating: “You know, I can’t know what she’s wanting to do with her life, but certainly having a child changes the calculus of what a young Latina woman is able to do in this, in this country.”
Carr incorrectly stated Atkins race.
She was in fact a Black woman.
DR SHANNON CARR AND LD 1619
Carr is licensed to practice medicine in the state of Maine. She also has active licenses in Vermont, Illinois, Texas, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. She is licensed in Obstetrics and Gynecology by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
She attended the University of Maine in Farmington before graduating from the University of Vermont College of Medicine in 2000. Carr has previously worked at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, the Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, and Maine Medical Center in Portland.
In her 2019 deposition, she said she worked for Maine General Hospital in Augusta; however, she was hired in an “office only” capacity, which means she does not provide abortion services.
She has been involved in Maine Democratic politics, including a 2018 event with the Lincoln County Democratic Committee and EMILY’s list.
She was among the first witnesses called to testify in favor of LD 1619 by Democratic leaders running the Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. Carr spoke for 15 minutes.
She called “later abortions” “life-saving health care.”
“When I’ve met with patients before, during, and after their later abortion processes, we’ve cried together, and shared in the profound sadness and confusion that can follow,” she said.
“And rather than regret, my patients express heartfelt gratitude about having been able to get the care that they and their family so desperately need,” she said.
Later, upon questioning from Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, Carr was asked a question about how LD 1619 would apply to potential future cases, like Atkins’ case, in Maine.
“Are you saying that an abortion of a perfectly healthy baby at 36-weeks is acceptable under this bill?” asked Rep. Rachael Henderson (R-Rumford).
“I didn’t say 36 weeks necessarily, but a later abortion — yeah. Depending upon again that consultation with that provider, um, their mental health professional, yeah,” said Carr.
“I am not to judge,” she said.
UPDATE: On October 12, 2018, the University of New Mexico announced a new policy setting limits on future fetal tissue research.
“Changing the acceptance requirements for donated fetal tissue will align our research policies with our pregnancy termination practices,” said Paul B. Roth, MD, MS, Chancellor for Health Sciences, in a statement.
UNM’s Center for Reproductive Health performs only medically necessary abortions, as defined by New Mexico’s Medicaid program, said Eve Espey, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
An abortion is considered medically necessary if the pregnancy results from rape or incest or if continuation of a pregnancy would cause severe mental health or physical consequences for the woman, Espey said.
As a matter of policy, UNM Health System clinics and hospitals do not perform abortions past the point of fetal viability, except in cases of severe fetal anomaly or to preserve the woman’s health, she added.
Roth said in his statement that he had given the matter much consideration following the recent suspension of fetal tissue research at the Health Sciences Center. Studies being conducted by UNM neonatologist Robin Ohls, MD, were terminated after it was found that she had failed to follow internal rules regulating the transfer of tissue to an outside entity.
While no fetal tissue research is currently underway, Roth earlier had decided to that the Health Sciences Center should retain existing tissue that had been donated by women who had undergone abortions, having done so with the knowledge that the research had the potential to improve the health of future generations.
Going forward, however, “any UNM researcher wishing to make use of the samples would need to go through our stringent internal approval processes before proceeding,” Roth said.
UPDATE: Here’s the full text of the deposition Dr. Carr gave in 2019.