Woman With Diseased Brain, Kidney Ailment Aborts Stillborn Fetus

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, was completed late Tuesday at a hospital in Orange.

According to sources close to the case, the woman was in serious condition with a kidney infection.

University of California, Irvine, Medical Center officials refused to elaborate on the condition of Laura Eldridge, 35, who has been unable to communicate with anyone for the last year.

The woman’s mother, Helen Stegmoyer, would only say that “I am relieved and very thankful.”


Kidney Complication

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 The solution was withdrawn and the procedure was to be delayed for three days, but Eldridge’s labor progressed anyway and the stillborn, 20-week-old fetus was delivered late in the afternoon, sources said.

The abortion procedure began about 24 hours earlier, shortly after Eldridge, curled in a fetal position and weighing less than 75 pounds, entered the medical center for tests and the abortion.

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


Hospitals, Care Homes

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

Eldridge’s mother and stepfather, Tom Stegmoyer, claim it was in that facility that she was raped by an unknown assailant five months ago, 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.


Court Order Obtained

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 are opposed to abortions. But they said they always have made exceptions in cases of rape and incest and in instances 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.

The case attracted opposition from an anti-abortion group over the parents’ legal ability to order such a procedure 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 the group’s past president, Edward Jamison of Long Beach, who was spearheading the effort.


Investigations Begun

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.

County 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 it being shown that the facility was negligent or otherwise responsible for the woman’s pregnancy, said the hospital’s lawyer, Robert J. Gerst of Los Angeles.


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