Robert Sherman

On March 4, 1975, Robert Sherman performed a safe and legal abortion on 16-year-old Rita McDowell, who was in the second trimester of her pregnancy. When Rita was discharged, her mother was told that she would expel the fetus that night. As they left the office, Rita told her mother, “Oh, Mama, I feel like I had one hundred needles in me.” Rita did not expel the fetus. Instead, she developed a fever. Her mother called Sherman’s facility on March 5 but was told that Sherman would not speak to her, and to bring Rita in two days later. In the early morning hours of March 7, Rita awoke screaming, then collapsed in her mother’s arms. Doctors at the hospital where Rita was taken removed the macerated fetus, but she died from massive infection just after midnight on March 8. An investigation revealed evidence that Sherman deliberately performed incomplete abortions so that he could charge more for follow-up care. He was charged with murder in Rita’s death, and prosecutors presented evidence that Sherman re-used disposable medical equipment, failed to perform tests to verify pregnancy, failed to do pathology examinations, allowed a nurse’s aide to perform surgery, and falsified medical records. Sherman got the charge dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on perjury charges. The prosecutor defended the plea bargain on the grounds that the felony convictions would block Sherman from ever practicing medicine again. However, Sherman served two years in a federal prison, then set up a legal abortion practice in Boston.