by Maureen Kramlich
October 10, 2003
Recently, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) held a rather remarkable hearing on "Scientific and Medical Advances in the Field of In Utero Surgery." Witnesses included Dr. Jim Thorp, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist; Michael Clancy, a photojournalist; and Mr. and Mrs. Armas, parents who had chosen in utero surgery for their son Samuel, now 3.
Samuel was twenty-one (gestational) weeks old when he had surgery to correct spina bifida. Michael Clancy was assigned by USA Today to photograph the experimental procedure. The entire surgery took place within the womb, which had been lifted out of Mrs. Armas's body. At the end of the procedure, Clancy said, "I saw the uterus shake, but no one's hands were near it. It was shaking from within. Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing. The doctor reached over and lifted the hand, which reacted and squeezed the doctor's finger." Clancy snapped a photo.
When the film had been developed, Clancy's editor called him to say it was the most incredible photo he had ever seen. Clancy had captured Samuel's tiny fist, reaching out from his mother's womb, grasping the surgeon's finger.
Today, Samuel is a precocious three year-old. He loves bugs, especially lunar butterflies. After Senator Brownback showed Clancy's photo at the hearing, he asked Samuel, "Have you seen this photo?" "Yes," he replied. "They fixed my boo-boo."
That photo, incidentally, was said to be too graphic for American audiences. It took four years for the mainstream press to pick it up.
The photo is graphic. It displays a surgery, and surgeries aren't pretty. There is blood. There is flesh. But the photo is graphic in another sense. It shows the living hand of a living unborn child, reaching out to one of the (born) people trying to help him. This, I suspect, is why the mainstream media rejected it. A media engrossed with graphic images of war does not fear blood and flesh. It fears to show unborn children as people.
We live in a culture that wants to view these children as nothings. At the stage when Samuel underwent surgery (21 weeks), about 13,000 unborn children are aborted every year, thousands by partial-birth abortions.
But as science and technology progress, it will become increasingly difficult to label unborn children as nothings. Dr. Thorp testified, "It is extremely difficult not to see the fetus as a child before birth with the same value as a child after birth." Dr. Thorp, who performs fetal blood transfusions on children as young as 19 weeks, said that the unborn child reacts to the pain of a needle just as any born child does. He says the treatment possibilities are limited only by practical considerations. For example, most needles are too large for younger unborn children. However, he noted, unborn children are having hernias repaired and tumors removed and even having balloon angioplasty on their little hearts.
Unborn children are undeniably alive and human. The question, then, that has to be at the center of the abortion debate is: Are these human lives worthy of the protections of the law?
Maureen Kramlich is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops