Abortion’s Underside
Kermit Gosnell is not the only seedy backroom abortionist operating in the age of Roe v. Wade.


Jillian Kay Melchior

Florida revoked Renelique’s license altogether in 2009. He then relocated to New York, where he was placed on probation for two years because of his behavior regarding Williams but was allowed to continue practicing medicine. The New York Department of Health’s Hearing Committee reconsidered Renelique’s medical license, but it finally determined that he “is a physician who provides excellent medical care to an inner city poor population. These patients should not be deprived of this valuable resource.”56

Renelique’s office tells me that he does not perform abortions any more, though he still practices medicine. (According to a 2009 Associated Press article, Renelique said that performing abortions “was not part of my goals when I came to Florida. But I had to do it to survive.”57 He has made at least three medical-malpractice settlements in New York in the last ten years, the most recent being in 2011, according to the New York State Physician Profile website.58

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“Do I think [Belkis Gonzalez] got away because of the laws in the state of Florida?” says Anthony Rodriguez, the homicide detective who led the investigation into the Williams baby’s death. Now retired, he recounts the details of the case, which he says still deeply bothers him.59

“I think she got away with murder, yes,” Rodriguez continues, “especially in the cold way she disposed of the body. I mean the fact that the baby landed on the recliner, the mother’s sitting in this room, and she’s witnessing the baby breathing, she’s witnessing the baby moving, and according to Sycloria, Belkis comes and tilts the recliner with the baby on the recliner, dropping the baby to the floor. And then she sweeps the baby into a bag and closes the bag and throws it away. That’s pretty cold for a human being to be able to do something like that. Yeah, I think she got away with murder. Perhaps in another state, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Rodriguez says that after collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses, the police investigators felt they had a strong murder case. “But the roadblock came at the state attorney’s office, when we were told we could not move forward on homicide charges because of the age of the baby. . . . The baby was not viable, so it was therefore not considered a human being, which was shocking to me.”60

Denise Burke, a former prosecutor and the vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life, an antiabortion public-interest law firm and advocacy organization, tells me that “when abortion is involved [in a legal dispute], it makes everything that much more difficult. It distorts everything it touches.”61

The federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, signed by George W. Bush in 2002, extends legal protection to any live-born baby, including those surviving an abortion attempt, but its application and enforcement are limited. Twenty-four states have passed legislation creating a specific, affirmative duty for physicians to provide medical care and treatment to infants born alive at any stage of development, including babies that are not deemed viable. Three states require treatment at viability, though the definition of viability varies.62

Late last month, Florida’s legislature passed a bill providing legal protection to live-born babies; at the time of publication, it is still awaiting the governor’s signature. Florida does have a fetal-homicide law that provides some protection for unborn infants who have reached the stage of viability, though that gestational age is vaguely defined. And the state bans abortion after viability, unless the life or health of the mother is at stake, Burke says. But Doe v. Bolton — the companion decision to Roe v. Wade — defined that health exemption broadly; it can mean not only physical health but also mental health and even life circumstances such as age.63

There is some legal disagreement about what should happen in Florida when a baby deemed unviable is born alive and then killed. Burke tells me that “it would still qualify as a homicide,” but investigators and prosecutors who worked on the Williams case have disagreed, speaking on the record with National Review.

The autopsy report lists the baby’s cause of death as “extreme prematurity.” The report explains the rationale for this classification: “Based on witness statements, we know the neonate had movements and that the neonate appeared to have been breathing indicating a live birth. The measurements done at autopsy along with the ultrasound findings are consistent with a gestational age of 22 weeks. The literature shows that fetuses before 24 weeks gestation have basically a 0% survival; this data is from mothers who are already in a hospital setting and who are prepped for preterm delivery. The abortion was done legally before 24 weeks gestation. The cause of death is extreme prematurity and the manner of death is natural.”64

Chief Medical Examiner Bruce A. Hyma sent an e-mailed response to my query, stating: “This case has a lot of false information surrounding it. It was an abortion handled poorly by the clinic staff. Unfortunately, the fetus had signs of life by the staff’s own observations. It died of extreme prematurity.” Hyma said he cannot further comment without reviewing the original record and speaking with the state attorney.65

David Waksman was a prosecutor with the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s office, and he worked on the case until his retirement in 2009. He tells me that “Florida and a lot of states said you’re not a person for purposes of being the victim of a crime unless you’re living independently of the mother. This baby came out and died within seconds, and the neonatal expert we used said, ‘Even if it was born in my hospital and I was there, it was just too immature.’ So that’s why there were no murder charges.”66

Mark Overton, who was deputy chief of the Hialeah Police at the time, tells me that he found the legal rationale “disgusting” and “mind-blowing,” adding that “we’re so callous to this issue.”