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Woman Battles Kidney Ailment After Abortion

Times Staff Writer

The abortion procedure on a severely brain-diseased Fountain Valley woman, whose parents claim she was raped in a La Mirada convalescent home five months ago, was completed late Tuesday at UCI Medical Center in Orange, leaving her in serious condition with a kidney infection, according to sources close to the case.

Hospital officials refused to elaborate on the condition of Laura Eldridge, 35, who has been unable to communicate with anyone for the last year. They defined “serious” as meaning that she has “questionable” life signs and is “acutely ill.” The frail woman weighs only 75 pounds.

The woman’s mother, Helen Stegmoyer, declined to comment, except to say, “I am relieved and very thankful.”

Kidney Complications

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Doctors ran into complications Tuesday morning when Eldridge’s infected kidneys began reacting to the solution being used to induce labor, the sources said. The solution was withdrawn and the procedure was to be delayed for three days, but Eldridge’s labor progressed anyway and the stillborn 20-week-old fetus was passed late in the afternoon, the sources said.

The abortion procedure began about 24 hours earlier, shortly after Eldridge, curled in a fetal position, entered the medical center for tests and the abortion.

Eldridge is believed to have a fatal hereditary illness called Huntington’s chorea, although some doctors think she is suffering from some other brain injury or neurological disorder.

She has been in hospitals and convalescence homes for more than three years and had been in the Mirada Hills Convalescent and Rehabilitation Hospital for the last year.

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Eldridge’s mother and stepfather, Tom Stegmoyer, claim it was in that facility that she was raped by an unknown assailant, probably while her hands were tied down to stop her from pulling tubes and needles out of her body.

They learned about their daughter’s pregnancy last week when she was taken to Norwalk Community Hospital because a feeding tube had dislodged in her body. X-rays found the tube in her colon but also revealed the pregnancy. Ultrasound testing put the fetus age at 20 weeks.

The Stegmoyers last week obtained a court order making Helen Stegmoyer the conservator for her daughter with the authority to seek an abortion and to file suit against any party responsible for Eldridge’s condition.

The parents said they normally oppose abortions but always have made exceptions in cases of rape and incest and in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. Doctors said she would stand a better chance of surviving an abortion than either a full-term pregnancy or a Caesarean birth.

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The case has attracted opposition from an anti-abortion group over the parents’ legal ability to order an abortion for their incapacitated child.

The California Pro-Life Council, which had offered to find a home for the baby if the Stegmoyers would allow a Caesarean birth, considered attempting to intervene Monday, but their own lawyers told them to avoid legal action, according to past president Edward Jamison of Long Beach, who was spearheading the effort.

Meantime, Mirada Hills is facing criminal and regulatory investigations by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, the county Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, which is acting on behalf of the state health department.

Health officials issued a civil citation and a $5,000 fine last Friday because Eldridge was impregnated while under the facility’s care. But Mirada Hills will appeal the citation and fine administratively because the penalty was issued without any showing that the facility was negligent or otherwise responsible for the woman’s pregnancy, the hospital’s lawyer, Robert J. Gerst of Los Angeles, said.

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Mirada Hills, which the Stegmoyers commended for being a clean, well-maintained facility, is conducting its own investigation.

A plan proposed by the facility to correct procedures to avoid the potential for a future rape was accepted as proper corrective action, said Marvin Brandon, program manager for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services’ facilities division.


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