Chicago Abortion Death Turns Political

A black Illinois woman's abortion-related death is being used against Planned Parenthood.

Tonya Reaves (Facebook)

(The Root) -- By all accounts, Tonya Reaves' life was spread out before her as she prepared to enter a new phase of adulthood. She was engaged to be married and had a 1-year-old son, according to the Huffington Post. But her life was cut short on July 20 when the beautiful 24-year-old with the winning smile died after an abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Chicago.

Now all that's left is an incomplete canvas and a grieving family as they struggle to find answers to her death, which has been ruled accidental.

"It happened so fast," Reaves' twin sister, Toni Reaves, told WBBM News. "She was just fine one day, and then the next day she was gone. We're just trying to figure out what happened."

Reaves underwent a cervical dilation and evacuation, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. It is believed that she died from a hemorrhage, and her pregnancy was determined to be a contributing factor. She is thought to have been in her second trimester, the family's lawyer, Corey Meyer, told The Root, but it is unclear because they are still gathering medical information. The examiner's office has ruled the young woman's death an accident.

"We have requested medical records," Meyer said. "It is my understanding that she was about 14 to 18 weeks, but I don't know for sure until I see the records."

The Reaves case has been thrust into a rancorous and vociferous national debate between liberals and conservatives over the pros and cons of abortion rights. Planned Parenthood has figured prominently in the debate because conservative lawmakers and activists have targeted the group as a major provider of abortions and have made public funding of the organization a major issue in the presidential-election campaign.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the world's largest breast-cancer charity, came under fire earlier this year when it announced, under pressure from conservatives who oppose abortion, that it would no longer fund breast-cancer screenings for Planned Parenthood. Officials later reversed the decision and restored funding after experiencing considerable backlash.

Abortions make up 3 percent of all Planned Parenthood health services. The bulk of services include pregnancy prevention, cancer screenings and general health care, the group says.

Reaves' death was brought on by complications that affect less than 0.3 percent of abortion patients, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion rights. The group also reports that the risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, from one death for every 1 million abortions at or before eight weeks to one per 29,000 at 16 to 20 weeks -- and one per 11,000 at 21 or more weeks.

African-American women obtained 40.2 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the U.S. in 2008, compared with white women, who obtained 52.4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers show that black women receive abortions at a disproportionately higher rate than white women (African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population).