Does This Justify Partial-Birth Abortions?
By Carolyn Gargaro
and Mike Brown
July 4, 2000
Please also read a follow-up article, My Pro-life Story
Without having been in a similar situation, it is impossible for us to entirely understand a couple's torment when they discover in the eighth month that their unborn child suffers an ailment, which makes death a certainty. It must be horrendous, and we c an imagine that there is little sleep and many tears, especially in a situation in which there seems so few options.
Bill and Viki Wilson of Fresno, California, parents of three, are one such couple. In April 1994, in the thirty-sixth week of their pregnancy, a prenatal test detected an encephalocele. According to the article, this causes a malformation of the skull with which more than two-thirds of the infant's brain is formed outside the skull. The ailment, not surprisingly, is fatal generally within the first moments after birth, and possib ly during labor. The couple, realizing that their child was having seizures and would most likely die during birth or shortly thereafter, decided to terminate the pregnancy. As Vicki Wilson states in her June 29, 2000 Salon article, "We also understood that the question was not 'Is she going to die?' A higher power had decided that. The question was 'How is she going to die?'" Viki decided that her child should die via Int act D&E, also known as a partial-birth abortion.
We don't dispute that the Wilsons encountered a terribly heartrending situation -- they did. When a child is diagnosed with a fatal condition, before or after birth, the parents' agony is only fully understood by those encountering a similar tragedy. We a re not oblivious to the parents' pain, yet as heartbreaking as their situation may be, it did not warrant compounding the tragedy by the violent and painful termination of their unborn child, Abigail.
First, Mrs. Wilson seems to believe that the name of a procedure defines the procedure. She chides pro-life advocates for their use of the term "partial-birth abortion" and insists that the proper name for her "procedure" is Intact D&E (dilatio n and extraction). "Partial-birth abortion" is a term is used to offend the public's sensibilities, she claims. Yet the name itself, or her snide referral to the term "partial-birth abortion," does not change the reality of this procedure. The procedure i tself is what should offend the public, not the name.
In a partial-birth/Intact D&E abortion, the abortionist pulls a living baby feet-first (forcing a breech position) out of the womb and into the birth canal (vagina), except for the head, which the abortionist purposely keeps lodged just inside the cer vix (the opening to the womb). The abortionist punctures the base of the skull with a long surgical scissors, with a hollow metal tube called a trochar, or with some other surgical instrument. He then inserts a catheter (tube) into the wound, and removes the baby's brain with a powerful suction machine. This causes the skull to collapse, after which the abortionist completes the delivery of the now-dead baby. What someone chooses to call this "procedure" is irrelevant. A nice, generic sounding name such a s "Intact D&E" applied to jamming scissors in a baby's skull and vacuuming out the brain doesn't magically modify the procedure. Mrs. Wilson claims that her decision was compassionate and loving, and done to save her child from additional pain. Consid ering that a partial-birth -- sorry -- Intact D&E abortion (we wouldn't want to offend the public when referring to sucking out the brains of a full-term baby) is done, without anesthetic, to a child only four weeks from birth, it's hard to ima gine how one could see this as somehow less painful for the child. The pain Mrs. Wilson most likely wanted to alleviate was not that of her child, but the emotional pain she and her family would endure for the next few weeks, knowing that their planned an d wanted child would soon die. While the emotional pain the Wilsons would endure is very real and very serious, does this justify killing the child via the procedure described above?
Imagine giving birth, and then discovering the child has a condition which would cause seizures and eventually the child's death within four weeks. What parent would decide that puncturing their child's skull and sucking out the brain is the most compassi onate and loving alternative? Most likely, such actions would be looked at with horror. Why then, is the decision to pay a doctor to do this very same procedure at eight months gestation, seen as any less horrific? What could the doctors have told the Wil sons -- and whatever it is, is NOT mentioned in the article -- that could have left them believing that a breeched birth, the puncturing of the baby's skull, and suctioning of the brain, was a BETTER and LESS painful death than the one which was already i n store for the baby? Do we really want to live in a society where other people decide when people die without an iota of input from the person being sentenced to die? Yes, Abigail suffered from seizures in the womb, but again, since when do parent s suck out their child's brain to alleviate the child's seizures?
Throughout the article, Viki claims that her "Intact D&E procedure" saved her life. Yet nowhere within the article did she mention any life threatening condition. She apparently wanted to leave the impression that her late-term abortion saved her from certain death, yet, based on the article, this was not the case. An ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilization of the egg occurs within the fallopian tube is "life threatening"; what Mrs. Wilson experienced threatened the life of only one person, the infant she carried.
So why DID the Wilson's choose to not only end their child's life, but to do so using the most barbaric procedure possible? Was it because Mrs. Wilson's life was threatened by the pregnancy? No, and medical experts, as well as the pro-choice American Medi cal Association, agree that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. Never, despite the claims of pro-choice advocates, or people like Mrs. Wilson who claim that her life was saved but never mentions how her life was even threatened.
Mrs. Wilson justifies undergoing a partial-birth abortion because her child remained "whole" after the brain was vacuumed out, and, unbelievably, they would be able hold their baby afterwards and take pictures. Further in her reasons for her choice, Viki Wilson cites, "Jon and Katie [her first two children] could say goodbye to their sister ... we were able to see Abigail, cuddle her, kiss her. We took photos of her. Swaddled, she looks perfect, like my father, and Jon when he was born." This, in itself, borders on the ludicrous. To subject children to a situation wherein the parents have to explain, "here is your sister, whom we just killed, say goodbye", and have those same children experience that moment for the rest of their lives is atrocious. To hav e first terminated the child, and then subject her to the humiliation of being memorialized for the sake of the family's guilt is atrocious. And finally, to suggest that now that their newborn infant is "perfect", having only just executed her because she was "imperfect" quickly passes "atrocious" to enter the realm of the abominable.
The child remaining "whole" (sans the brain) would also allow for a proper autopsy, which could provide genetic information on the odds of this happening again. Seems like a valid reason, yes? Well, actually, no. A C-section would have provided the same " whole" baby, including the brain. This alternative was rejected because, according to the doctors, C-sections increase the odds of possible future fertility problems. And of course, the doctors made sure to inform her that they use C-sections to SAVE babi es, and her baby was going to die anyway. While one can understand why Mrs. Wilson wanted to avoid possible future fertility problems, this could have been avoided by carrying the child to term. Carrying the child for four more weeks would have left the b aby "whole" and would have been safer than a partial-birth abortion, which is a dangerous procedure itself, though you'll never hear the abortion advocates admit this. But carrying the child to term meant an additional four weeks of emotional anguish. Iro nically, the same woman who proclaims in her article that she would give her life to save her child, would rather subject her child to immense pain and death than to go through the emotional turmoil of carrying Abigail for an additional four weeks. She wa s willing to give her life if Abigail could have lived, but since Abigail would not survive, it appears that the child was degraded to something worthy of photos and glowing descriptions of how "perfect" she looked, but not worthy enough to be spared a to rturous death. Most mothers would go through weeks, months, years of emotional anguish to protect their child from unnecessary pain. But somehow, when the child is in the womb, no matter how close he/she is to that magical moment of birth when she becomes "human" in the eyes of the law, the child becomes an object, something to take pictures of, but not something to protect from additional pain.
While we try to avoid entering Christian or Biblical ideas into our pro-life arguments, one of Viki Wilson's additional misguided justifications for the termination of her baby compels us to bring the subjects into this discussion. Mrs. Wilson professes t o be a practicing Catholic, and that it was the decision of a "Higher Power" that the baby was going to die. However, God seems to have been over-ruled with regard to the means with which Baby Wilson was going to die, "'How is she going to die?' To this d ay, I thank God that that decision, at least, was mine." In point of fact, this decision was also God's, since the baby's death was predetermined, although God's version of Abigail's final exit would have been mercifully less painful than the one she subj ected to, at the request of Mrs. Wilson and at the hands of her doctors. But in the world of abortion on demand, mothers and doctors are allowed to play God, deciding the fate of others simply because that other person resides within the womb.
Lastly, Mrs. Wilson's article was written to touch the hearts of her readers. She wants them to understand that her situation and decision was heart-wrenching, painful and awful. While we await the comments from some of our readers about how heartless we are, we know that the Wilson's situation was tragic, painful, and something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Yet the tragic nature of the situation -- finding out that your child would soon die, four weeks away from giving birt h -- does not justify killing the child to alleviate the child's current suffering; it does not justify using the most barbaric procedure possible to kill the child; it does not justify claiming that your child's death helped save your life when it did no t; and it does not justify using the child's death to fight for the right for other mothers to have the right to kill their unborn child, through any means, for any reason, at any time prior to delivery.
This article copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Gargaro and Mike Brown and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its authors. All rights reserved.