How Accurate Is Prenatal Testing?

I have written about the alleged accuracy of prenatal blood testing before as both a nurse and a mother in my blog “A Dark Side of Prenatal Testing” and “Two Wonderful Stories: A Prenatal Misdiagnosis; Man Saves Grandchild from Abortion”.

Now, ProPublica, a self-described nonprofit investigative newsroom, just published an article titled “They Trusted Their Prenatal Test. They Didn’t Know the Industry Is an Unregulated “Wild West.”

The authors tell the story of a mother who had an in vitro diagnostic test (IDT) that came back negative, meaning her baby did not have the serious conditions that were tested for.

However, when the mom delivered her daughter, the baby had serious problems and only lived 28 hours.

The autopsy showed that the baby had an extra 13th chromosome, a condition that was part of the testing. The chances that the baby would have not have this or two other serious conditions was “greater than 99%.”

The test was a simple blood draw designed to check for an array of genetic anomalies but the mother, a science researcher, read academic articles showing a higher risk of inaccurate results than she realized.

The mom found other women reporting problems with the tests also so she tried contacting the company that made the test, hoping she would help other families.

She was unsuccessful.

She found out that if she had taken other common commercial tests like some for Covid-19 or pregnancy, the company would have had to inform the US Food and Drug Administration about “reports of so-called adverse events.”

The mom found out that the test she took fell into a regulatory void:

“No federal agency checks to make sure these prenatal screenings work the way they claim before they’re sold to health care providers. The FDA doesn’t ensure that marketing claims are backed up by evidence before screenings reach patients. And companies aren’t required to publicly report instances of when the tests get it wrong — sometimes catastrophically.

The broader lab testing industry and its lobbyists have successfully fought for years to keep it this way, cowing regulators into staying on the sidelines.”

The stakes are high for families with the article stating:

 “Upwards of half of all pregnant people (sic) now receive one of these prenatal screenings.”

And that the companies stress that “ultimately, it’s the responsibility of health care providers, who order the tests, to inform patients about the limits of screenings.”

CONCLUSION

When I had my last child in 1985, I was offered but refused amniocentesis. In my case, it was offered because I had previously had Karen, my daughter with Down Syndrome.

Some people asked if I was brave or stupid. I told them that I was just well-informed after researching both amniocentesis and CVS.

I knew that both procedures carry a risk of miscarriage and that I would never abort a child because of a disability. I also knew that such procedures can only test for some of the thousands of known “birth defects” and I personally met families who were erroneously told that their child had a defect but were born healthy.

After that, I was remarkably worry-free during my last pregnancy and delivered a healthy girl.

But maternity care has changed a lot since 1985, especially since the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now states that Abortion is Healthcare Abortion is Healthcare | ACOG

But despite the possible inaccuracies of prenatal test, there is help if a baby is diagnosed with an unexpected condition like Down Syndrome or Trisomy 13.

Thankfully, there are even programs like Perinatal Hospice & Palliative Care: Continuing Your Pregnancy that can help in the event of a prenatal diagnosis that indicates a baby may die before or after birth.

Where there is love, there is always hope!

New Study Shows Stem Cells and Prenatal Surgery Can Help Babies with Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not develop completely in an unborn baby. The resulting opening in the spine leaves  the spinal cord and nerves exposed.

That exposure can cause damage leading to paralysis or mobility problems, a buildup of excess fluid on the brain, and infection.

Spina Bifida can sometimes be diagnosed during pregnancy by a blood test, ultrasound or amniocentesis. Sometimes the diagnosis is not made until after birth.

Before the 1990s, treatment for severe spina bifida involved surgery on the baby after birth to close the defect but the procedure could not repair already damaged nerves.

In 1997, the first prenatal surgery was done and in 2011 and 2020, major studies showed that prenatal repair resulted in better outcomes.

But now, in an October 10, 2022 Medscape article Stem Cell Treatment Helps Babies with Spina Bifida”,  a clinical trial at UC Davis Health is showing that a new stem cell treatment-given while the unborn baby is still in the womb-appears to be effective at reversing paralysis and other problems caused by spina bifida in newborns.” (Emphasis added)

But, as the article rightly states,:

“The researchers have expressed caution about drawing full conclusions so far, but the treatment appears promising. They plan to release information about how the babies are doing at developmental milestones throughout the study process.” (Emphasis added)

The clinical trial started in 2021 and involves myelomeningocele, “a severe form of spina bifida where the spinal canal doesn’t fully close before birth, leading to spinal cord damage.”

According to the article, “So far, three babies have received the unique treatment, which is delivered while a fetus is still in the womb.”

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

Today, prenatal testing is routinely offered to pregnant women, but abortion is too often offered or recommended when prenatal testing shows a possible adverse diagnosis like spina bifida.

According to the Spina Bifida Association, the condition can often be diagnosed before birth:

“There are 3 tests, but, it is important to remember that no medical test is perfect and the results are not always 100 percent accurate. Spina Bifida can be detected in utero by one of the following tests: 

  1. A blood test during the 16th to 18th weeks of pregnancy. This is called the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP screening test). This test is higher in about 75–80 % of women who have a fetus with Spina Bifida.
  2. An ultrasound of the fetus. This is also called a sonogram and can show signs of Spina Bifida such as the open spine.
  3. A test where a small amount of the fluid from the womb is taken through a thin needle. This is called maternal amniocentesis and can be used to look at protein levels.”

Ironically, one of the big health institutions in my city that provides “Pregnancy termination for women choosing to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal abnormalities or maternal health conditions” also has a Fetal Care Center that uses prenatal surgery not only for spina bifida but also for other conditions such as amniotic band syndrome, twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, airway/trachea obstruction and blocked urinary tract, etc.!

CONCLUSION

When I had my last child in 1985, I was offered but refused amniocentesis. In my case, it was offered because I had previously had Karen, my daughter with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect.

I knew that both procedures carry a risk of miscarriage and that I would never abort a child because of a disability. I also knew that such procedures can only test for some of the thousands of known “birth defects” and I personally met families who were erroneously told that their child had a defect but were born healthy. I also knew how to find help if any of my children-born or unborn-had a possible health a problem.

Some people asked if I was brave or stupid. I told them that I was just well-informed after researching both amniocentesis and CVS (Chorionic villus sampling)

(Today, we have routine non-invasive prenatal screening blood tests called NIPTs but the Federal Food and Drug Administration issued an alert on April 19, 2022 “Genetic Non-Invasive Prenatal Screening Tests May Have False Results: FDA Safety Communication:

“While health care providers widely use NIPS tests, none have yet been authorized, cleared, or approved by the FDA. The accuracy and performance of NIPS tests have not been evaluated by the FDA and these tests can give false results, such as reporting a genetic abnormality when the fetus does not actually have one.” (Emphasis added))

But most importantly, I told them that my daughter Karen was a blessing who helped change many lives for the better during her tragically short life-especially mine.

After Karen died, I became a volunteer babysitter for many children with a range of disabilities and their parents also told me how they became better people because of their child with a disability.

Life must be our highest priority!

What Will It Take? Part Two -Does Abortion Really Help Women?

In August 2019, I wrote a blog titled “Pro-abortion Desperation in Missouri” about the last Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Missouri losing its license because of numerous health and safety violations but continued to operate only because of several temporary injunctions by a judge.

The clinic finally closed only after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returned abortion law to the states.

Unfortunately, the pro-abortion choice response to that decision has resulted in terrible turmoil and animosity.

Now the attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches with few arrests and prosecution of peaceful pro-life demonstrators are continuing unabated.

To try to portray abortion as a positive empowerment for women, Planned Parenthood has tried the “Share Your Story” and “Shout Your Abortion— Normalizing abortion and elevating safe paths to access, regardless of legality” campaigns to increase abortion support and activism. (The National Association of Pro-life Nurses countered with “Shout out Your Adoption!“, pointing out that “Adoption is a wonderful act of love and one of the best alternatives to abortion.”)

Now Planned Parenthood has another strategy for increasing abortion support and activism originally published in MS Magazine on 4/12/2022 and titled “A Firsthand View of the Crisis Ahead for Abortion Rights—and What We Should Do About It”

The article states:

“Since it seems we can no longer rely on the courts to protect these rights, our only solution is to pass a new federal law that will protect abortion rights in all 50 states. The Senate’s recent failure to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act makes it clear that we will need a greater pro-choice majority than we have today to pass this new legislation.

This will not happen in one election cycle, and it will take a commitment of time, energy and resources beyond that which we have been expending to date. We have to get all the voters who support reproductive rights registered and encourage them to vote. We have to elect representatives at all levels of government who will protect our reproductive rights that are currently under attack. (Emphasis in original)

THE TRAUMA OF ABORTION

And as a nurse, I have seen the mental and/or physical trauma after abortion in both friends and patients.

For example, one friend felt she had to have an abortion because the doctor said her unborn baby had little or no brain, which may not have even been true according to the doctor I knew who read the ultrasound. That doctor was devastated to learn that an abortion was done.

Knowing that I was pro-life, my friend said she didn’t want to talk about the traumatic 28 hour induced abortion but, after 5 years, she called me and said she needed to know how the hospital disposed of the body. She also revealed that she secretly hung an ornament for that baby on the Christmas tree every year.

And I wrote a November 2016 blog “Why Talk About Abortion” about one of my elderly hospice patients who told me that she was afraid to die because of a secret abortion she had 60 years ago because she believed that abortion was an “unforgivable sin” and she would go to hell. She also felt her now swollen belly due to her terminal condition was God punishing her for the abortion.

My heart went out to this woman who was suffering so much, more emotionally than even physically.

We talked for a long time and in a later visit about God’s love and forgiveness. I told her about Project Rachel, a healing ministry for women (and even men) wounded by abortion. I gave her the phone number and offered to be with her to meet a counselor or priest, but she insisted that my talking with her was enough to help. I felt it wasn’t, but she seemed to achieve a level of peace and she even started smiling! 

Rose died comfortably and apparently in her sleep about a week later.

SOME RESOURCES TO HELP WOMEN WHO ARE CONSIDERING ABORTION OR OTHERS WHO ARE HURTING AFTER AN ABORTION

  1. Support After Abortion “aspires to shift the conversation to compassion and support for those impacted by abortion” (including men)
  2. Project Rachel for women and even including how to talk to a friend who has had an abortion
  3. Birthright An organization with many resources and help
  4.  American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists states it “Promotes Dignity for BOTH our Patients!”
  5. There are also organizations like Prenatal Partners for Life and Be Not Afraid that provide support, information, resources and encouragement for carrying to term with an adverse prenatal diagnosis.

6. CareNet helps find a crisis pregnancy center in your area

CONCLUSION

Serrin M. Foster of Feminists for Life in her 2018 National Review article Women Deserve Better than Abortion: The Ultimate Exploitation of Women” perhaps said it best:

 “The reality is that there is no such thing as a safe abortion. Few unborn human beings escape a violent death, but what is underreported is the mortality of healthy pregnant women killed during or as a result of abortion.

When we know how much a woman grieves from reproductive loss through miscarriage or stillbirth, who would choose abortion? According to the Guttmacher Institute, those who have abortions come primarily from the poorest among us (75 percent), women of color (61 percent), women pursuing post-secondary degrees that would lift them out of poverty (66 percent), and mothers who already have dependents (59 percent). Half of all abortions are performed on a woman who has already had one or more abortions, proving that abortion solves nothing. Abortion isn’t empowering, and it’s not something to celebrate. Abortion is a symptom of, not a solution to, the problems faced overwhelmingly by women who don’t have what they need and deserve. Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better.”

And ALL of us deserve a better and more peaceful society!

What Will It Take?

I recently wrote a blog titled “The War Against Crisis Pregnancy Centers Escalates” about the attacks on crisis pregnancy centers after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision returning abortion law to the individual states was outrageously leaked.

 Now that the final Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision  is public, the violence against crisis pregnancy centers and churches has continued with few if any arrests.

However, now even pro-life individuals have been targeted.

For example, an 84-year-old pro-life volunteer was shot on Sept. 20 while going door-to-door in her community to talk about a ballot measure concerning abortion in Michigan. Thankfully, she is expected to recover.

Even more disturbing and over the last weekend, was the news that the FBI raided the home of a pro-life advocate Mark Houck and arrested him in front of his 7 crying children for the alleged crime of “Assaulting a Reproductive Health Care Provider”.

According to the National Review, Mrs. Houck “described an incident in which her husband ‘shoved’ a pro-abortion man away from his 12-year-old son after the man entered ‘the son’s personal space’ and refused to stop hurling ‘crude… inappropriate and disgusting’ comments at the Houcks.” The man did not sustain any injuries but did try to sue Houck. The charges were later dismissed.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO RESOLVE THE NATIONAL TURMOIL SURROUNDING ABORTION?

I was a young intensive care unit nurse when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973. Like most people I knew, I was surprised and shocked when abortion was legalized. However, I quickly found that my medical colleagues were split on the issue, and I was vehemently attacked for being against abortion. I was even asked what I would do if I was raped and pregnant. When I replied that I would not have an abortion and would probably release the baby for adoption, I was ridiculed. Our formerly cohesive unit began to fray.

But I was professionally offended by the pro-life argument that legalizing abortion would lead to the legalization of infanticide and euthanasia.  

It was one thing to deny the truth with an early and unobserved unborn baby, but it was quite another to imagine any doctor or nurse looking at a born human being and killing him or her.

But I was wrong.

As I wrote in my 2019 blog “Roe v. Wade’s Disastrous Impact on Medical Ethics”, personal and professional experiences opened my eyes to the truth.

I have seen the push for “choice” to expand to abortion for any reason up to birth, infanticide and medical discrimination against people with disabilities, including my own daughter who had Down Syndrome.

I wasn’t long until “choice” also became the heart of the “right to die” movement to include to include legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia, withdrawal of feedings from people with serious brain injuries whose “choice” was exercised by family members or doctors and even the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (called VSED by the pro-death-choice group Compassion and Choices).

With VSED, Compassion & Choices maintains that:

“Many people struggle with the unrelieved suffering of a chronic or incurable and progressive disorder. Others may decide that they are simply “done” after eight or nine decades of a fully lived life. Free will and the ability to choose are cornerstones of maintaining one’s quality of life and dignity in their final days”.  (All emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

I have long preferred the term “respect life” to “anti-abortion” because obviously we should respect the lives of all people at any age or stage of development.

But this doesn’t mean anger or vilification of others.

Over the years I have written, spoken, debated, etc. people who do not agree with the respect life philosophy, but I never became angry.

I also found that listening to and not judging others-especially people in crisis-was crucially important.

For example and many years ago, I ran into an acquaintance I will call Diane and I congratulated her on her obvious pregnancy.

I was stunned when she replied, “Don’t congratulate me yet. I might not be pregnant.”

Diane, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, went on to explain that she was awaiting the results of an amniocentesis and said, “I know what you went through with your daughter but I can’t give up my life like that. If this (the baby) is Downs, it’s gone.”

I reassured her that the test would almost surely show that her baby was ok, but I added that if the results were not what she expected I would like her to call me. I promised that I would give her any help she needed throughout the pregnancy and that my husband and I or even another couple would be willing to adopt her baby. She was surprised, as I later found out, both by my reaction and the information about adoption.

Diane gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few months later and ran up to me to apologize for her comments, saying that she probably would not have had an abortion anyway. But I understood her terrible anxiety. Society itself seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards children with disabilities. Special Olympics is considered inspirational but Down’s Syndrome is too often seen as a tragedy.

Whether it is abortion or legalized assisted suicide, we must be prepared to help desperate people either personally and/or referring them to a crisis pregnancy center or suicide hotline.

Every life deserves to be respected.

The War Against Crisis Pregnancy Centers Escalates

When the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft decision by the US Supreme Court to return abortion law to the individual states was outrageously leaked, I wrote about the pro-abortion violence perpetrated on crisis pregnancy centers and the threats against Supreme Court judges.

Now, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is not only strongly protesting the final ruling but also states:

“With Roe gone, it’s more important than ever to crack down on so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ that mislead and deceive patients seeking abortion care,” said Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, promoting her bill. “We need to crack down on the deceptive practices these centers use to prevent people from getting abortion care, and I’ve got a bill to do just that,”

Her bill titled the “Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act” or “SAD Act” directs the Federal Trade Commission to “promulgate rules to prohibit a person from advertising with the use of misleading statements related to the provision of abortion service.” It would also allow charities to be fined $100,000 or “50 percent of the revenues earned by the ultimate parent entity” for disinformation, although the legislation itself does not define the prohibited speech.

Joining Senator Warren on the bill are Senators Hirono, Schatz, Booker, Smith, Klobuchar, Sanders, Murray, Merkley, Blumenthal, Feinstein, Wyden, Gillibrand, Markey, Warner and Markey.

Speaking with reporters in July, Senator Warren stated that:

“In Massachusetts right now, those crisis pregnancy centers that are there to fool people who are looking for pregnancy termination help outnumber true abortion clinics by 3 to 1. We need to shut them down here in Massachusetts, and we need to shut them down all around the country. You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that” (All emphasis added)

This pronouncement was met with derision, even from some reporters.

A CRISIS PREGNANCY DIRECTOR RESPONDS

Heidi Matzke, who heads a Crisis Pregnancy Center in Sacramento, California was eloquent in describing the violence her center has faced as well as responding to Senator Warren’s point that centers like hers must be shut down:

We have had to stop operations of our mobile clinic. We’ve had to hire 24-hour onsite security. We’ve had to add cameras. We’ve had to arm our staff with pepper spray,” she said, adding last week a man with a machete showed up and was stopped before he could inflict any harm or damage.”

She also called Ms. Warren statements “horrific”:

“Pregnancy centers give away $266 million of free medical services and resources to communities all over this incredible country. And her words are just incredibly hurtful.” (Emphasis added)

She also said her center provides fully licensed OB/GYN care with medical professionals and that “most of the women working at her clinic have had an abortion before and many believe their lives would be ‘so much different’ if they had gone to a pregnancy center.”

CONCLUSION

Personally and as a nurse, I have had experience with women considering abortion as well as women (and men) who relate how they were damaged by an abortion. They need compassion and real help.

Crisis pregnancy centers are a wonderful resource and even Sen. Warren acknowledges that crisis pregnancy centers outnumber well-funded abortion clinics by 3 to 1. There’s a lesson in that.

But most importantly, I wish that all of us would realize that abortion is a tragic loss of a life regardless of the circumstances, not a political cause to celebrate!

A Crisis Pregnancy Close to Home

A few days ago, I read an article from one of the medical news sites I subscribe to titled Would You Like to Keep This Pregnancy?’ I Asked My 13-Year-Old PatientHaving a choice can help end cycles of poverty among marginalized teen patients”.

Of course, the doctor/author was pro-abortion and the article was horrifying to me. I thought how differently a pro-life healthcare provider would handle the situation and remembered a news article I wrote in March, 1998 for the National Catholic Register newspaper.

Here is the news article:

A Crisis Pregnancy Close to Home

When it’s your own unmarried teenage daughter facing a staggering ‘choice,’ are you still pro-life?

“Mom, I’m pregnant.” When these words are uttered by your unmarried teenage daughter, it’s a heart-stopping moment for any parent. When the parent is a committed pro-lifer, the shock is often overlaid with stunned disbelief, shame, and guilt. “Hasn’t she been listening? This isn’t supposed to happen to my daughter!” and “How did I fail her?” are common first reactions. I know.

This Christmas, my 18-year-old daughter quietly told me that two at-home pregnancy tests came out positive.

Marie, named after the Blessed Mother, had long been my “worry child.” A brittle crust of teen rebellion had long covered a soft, sensitive heart, leading to a constant round of minor and not-so-minor infractions and arguments. Lately, though, her life seemed to be coming together. A“B” average at college and a job she loved lulled me into a sense that the worst was over. She confided that she thought she was falling in love and we talked about the pressures and temptations such strong emotions bring. Street-wise and assertive, I thought she was “safe.” But, as countless other parents have also discovered, my child lives in a world that too often considers virginity a disability and chastity an old-fashioned ideal.

The one bright spot in that night of tears and fears was that abortion was never considered an option by Marie: “Mom, I couldn’t kill my baby!” Although I was heartbroken by the circumstances of this pregnancy, I couldn’t help but feel proud of her for having the courage and common sense to reject the abortion “option.”

Surprisingly, she said all her friends were against her having an abortion and a few who had been leaning “pro-choice” were now rethinking their position. Two of her friends actually threatened to physically stop her from having an abortion even before she told them that she would never abort.

We didn’t resolve everything that first night or even later. Adoption or keeping the baby is still the big question and one that will involve a lot of prayer, thought, and discussion. It hasn’t been easy, but facing this crisis together has taught both of us so much already. What the future holds for Marie and her baby is uncertain but, with prayer and love, it is still a future bright with promise for both of them.

A Common Stereotype

A January 1998 New York Times article, “Many Women Make No Link Between Abortion and Politics,” perpetuates a common stereotype-the pro-lifer who chooses abortion when a crisis pregnancy hits home. Writer Tamar Lewin states, “Almost every abortion-clinic counselor can reel off stories of patients who say that they have always opposed abortion but that their own situation is different, or men who bring their pregnant wives or teenage daughters to the very same clinics that they have long spoken out against.”

But conversations with people active in the pro-life movement reveal a very different picture. Not surprisingly, pro-life people willing to help total strangers with a crisis pregnancy are also ready to help and support their own sons and daughters facing the same crisis.

“You think it’s the blackest day in your life when your daughter tells you she’s pregnant,” Lucy R., long active in the pro-life movement, says. A smile lights her voice. “But it’s really the beginning of a great blessing. That little boy (now six years old) is the light of our lives.” She credits prayer and pro-life principles for that happy ending.

Janet B. was a young professional when her sister told her that she had had an abortion without their parents’ knowledge because although their mother and father were strongly pro-life, the sister was sure they “just couldn’t take it (an unwed pregnancy).”

When Janet herself became pregnant out of wedlock, her parents became her biggest supporters. “We became so much closer,” she says. “My sister was wrong.” Interviews with pro-life supporters around the country reveal that this kind of family support during a crisis pregnancy appears to be the norm, not the exception.

Marcia Buterin RN, founder of Missouri Nurses for Life and active in the pro-life movement for 25 years, has had broad experience with pro-life parents whose daughters or sons have had crisis pregnancies. “It almost seems like an epidemic sometimes,” she says. “Pro-lifers are not immune from what is happening in the rest of society.”

But, she says, the reaction of the parents she has known has been invariably positive despite the heartache at discovering a son or daughter has been sexually active. She also says that, in the vast majority of cases, the young women keep their babies rather than releasing them for adoption. This echoes statistics which show that more than 90% of unmarried mothers keep their babies, almost the opposite situation of a generation ago when most of these mothers chose adoption. Thus, pro-lifers are not only supporting their daughters and sons during their pregnancies but also are usually involved in helping to raise their grandchildren.

Waning Support for Abortion

Not only do pro-lifers appear to routinely reject abortion for their unmarried children, society seems to be slowly starting to change its attitude toward abortion and the unmarried. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, not only has support for abortion-on-demand eroded by an estimated 8% since 1989, but public support for abortion when pregnancy threatens to interrupt a woman’s career or education has also dropped 14% and 8% respectively.

A clear majority of the people polled did not feel these circumstances justified abortion. Undermining a basic abortion rights tenet that familiarity with abortion increases public acceptance, the same poll showed that “personal experience” was twice as likely to be given as a reason for becoming less favorable towards abortion rather than more supportive of abortion.

At the same time, a new wave of pro-life sentiment appears to be rising in a most unexpected place-the young people who have grown up under the shadow of Roe. The Times/CBS News poll showed even less support for abortion on demand among 18-29 year olds (29%) than among the general public (32%). The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, has noted that “in recent years, fewer pregnant teens have chosen to have an abortion.” Even the media is beginning to notice. In a Jan. 21 New York Times article “A New Generation Rising Against Abortion,” writer Laurie Goodstein interviewed an eclectic group of young people attending a Rock for Life concert and found thoughtful and strong pro-life support even among those sporting tattoos and punk-style clothing.

Some explained that they began considering the value of life after losing friends to suicide, drug overdoses, and automobile accidents.

Goodstein also noted that many of the concert-goers she interviewed said that they arrived at a “right to life” position on their own and that, to be consistent, they also opposed the death penalty and assisted suicide and supported abstinence.

Countering Rock for Choice and other groups which help raise money for abortion rights groups, Rock for Life is a relatively recent phenomenon which reaches young people through the potent medium of music. Concert organizer Bryan Kemper told Goodstein that 15 concerts have already been staged and that there have been 110 bands “willing to perform for gas money.” Rock for Life is not the only sign that the pro-life movement is connecting with a new generation. Teens for Life, started in 1985, is a national organization run by young people encouraging teens to speak up for life and get involved in community activities. It has chapters throughout the country and continues to grow in numbers.

Another positive sign is the increasing number of pro-life groups springing up on college campuses. And not just on religiously-affiliated college campuses. MIT, Princeton, and the University of Texas are among colleges which not only have pro-life groups but also have websites on the Internet.

What Helps, What Hurts

But trends and statistics do not meet the needs of the individual young woman and her family suddenly facing a crisis pregnancy. The first reactions of parents and others to the news is extremely important to the woman and can even make the life-or-death difference for the unborn baby. When the first reaction is anger or a stern lecture about premarital sex, the young woman can feel abandoned and, in her despair, decide that eliminating the baby will make everyone feel better.

Parents and friends of young men and women coping with an unwed pregnancy are often unsure of what to say or how to handle the situation. One newer resource developed to help with this problem is a video and pamphlet called First Words: Can Our First Reaction to an Unplanned Pregnancy Save a Child’s Life? produced by American Life League.

The video tells the stories of four young women who faced an unwed pregnancy and encountered a range of reactions from friends and family. In their own words, these young women share how these reactions influenced their decisions about whether or not to abort their babies. The pamphlet is written by Cathy Brown who candidly tells her own story and offers helpful advice to parents and others.

But deciding against abortion is only the first step in a crisis pregnancy. The decision about whether to keep the baby or release him/her for adoption is often the most agonizing question for a young woman. Questions about insurance coverage and prenatal care, maintaining or losing a relationship with the father, the reactions of other children in the family, etc. are some of the practical and immediate concerns. Birthright and other pro-life pregnancy counseling centers can be a big help to families struggling with a crisis pregnancy.

Members of the family’s church can also help provide much needed spiritual and emotional support as well as involving the community in the nurturing of a new life.

For parents, especially pro-life parents, embarrassment and feelings of failure are common and understandable. It’s hard to put aside such feelings and concentrate on the feelings and needs of a son or daughter. But, as Donna B., a long-time pro-life activist and herself the mother of a pregnant teen, says, “Abortion is the real failure. It’s OK to be proud when your daughter chooses life.”

Nancy Valko writes from St. Louis, Mo.

WHILE PRO-ABORTION VIOLENCE AGAINST PRO-LIFE CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTERS INCREASES, THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SAYS CONSCIENCE RIGHTS REGARDING ABORTION MAY BECOME “INDEFENSIBLE”

We have been witnessing the rage and misinformation dividing Americans after the outrageous leak of Supreme Court Justice Alito’s draft decision on the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization returning abortion laws back to the states since it was reported on May 2, 2022.

Many pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are now being attacked with paint, firebombs, etc. by pro-abortion groups like “Jane’s Revenge”. But as Nicole Ault of the Wall Street Journal points out:

“No woman is forced to go to one of these clinics, where more than 10,000 licensed medical professionals worked or volunteered as of 2019, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute. In addition to providing ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, the centers help women get supplies and counseling.”

But then, on June 8, 2022 and during the night, U.S. Marshals protecting the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh from illegally picketing protesters apprehended an individual with a gun and a knife who readily admitted that he was there to kill Justice Kavanaugh in response to the leaked draft opinion that indicated the Court might be preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Now, Jane’s Revenge has issued a call to ‘riot’ against the Supreme Court if it does overturn Roe v. Wade.

Their flyer “DC CALL TO ACTION NIGHT OF RAGE” declares “THE NIGHT SCOTUS OVERTURNS ROE V. WADE HIT THE STREETS YOU SAID YOU’D RIOT. TO OUR OPPRESSORS: IF ABORTIONS AREN’T SAFE, YOU’RE NOT EITHER.’ JANE’S REVENGE.” (Emphasis added)

THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION ON ABORTION

On March 8, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO), the international body responsible for public health and part of the United Nations involved in many aspects of health policy and planning, issued its’ “Abortion Care Guideline.

In the Guideline, WHO recommends “the full decriminalization of abortion” and calls conscientious objection to abortion a major obstacle to making abortion freely available.

According to the WHO recommendations:

“If it proves impossible to regulate conscientious objection in a way that respects, protects and fulfils abortion seekers’ rights, conscientious objection in abortion provision may become indefensible.” (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

Personally, when my daughter Karen, born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, died at 5 1/2 months in 1983, my grief was substantially lessened by donating Karen’s clothes, formula, etc. to our local Birthright organization, one of the many pro-life organizations providing help to pregnant women.

Since Karen and as a nurse and mother, I have been able to help advocate for distressed mothers and their families, children and adults with disabilities and, best of all, my own daughter who found she was pregnant in her first year of college and gave birth to my first grandchild.

And I know that the WHO is absolutely wrong in calling conscientious objections to abortion “indefensible”. Conscience rights are critically important for all of us, whether or not we are healthcare providers.

As I wrote in my December 13, 2019 blog “Are We Witnessing the Coming Extinction of Conscience Rights?”:

“With the current support of a predominantly sympathetic mainstream media, well-funded and politically active groups like Planned Parenthood and Compassion&Choices are also putting pro-life health care providers and their supportive institutions in grave danger of becoming an endangered species in law, politics and health care.

If this happens, our health care system will radically change-especially for the unborn, the elderly and people with disabilities.

When dedicated and compassionate people are denied entry into the health care professions because they refuse to deliberately end lives, harassed and/or fired when they refuse to participate in a deliberate death decision and efforts to make religiously based healthcare institutions to allow lives to be ended by “choice”, will any of us ever be able to trust our healthcare system when we need it the most?” (Emphasis added)

THE TRAGIC DIVIDE ON THE ROE V. WADE ABORTION DECISION

It has been almost physically painful to watch the tidal wave of rage and misinformation dividing Americans after the outrageous leak of Supreme Court Justice Alito’s draft decision on the Dobbs V Jackson Women’s Health Organization returning abortion laws back to the states.

But this is not the first time I saw such division about abortion.

I was a young intensive care unit nurse when the Roe v. Wade decision came down in 1973. Like most people I knew, I was surprised and shocked when abortion was legalized.

However, I quickly found that my medical colleagues were split on the issue, and I was vehemently attacked for being against abortion. I was even asked what I would do if I was raped and pregnant. When I replied that I would not have an abortion and would probably release the baby for adoption, I was ridiculed. Our formerly cohesive unit began to fray.

But I was professionally offended by the pro-life argument that legalizing abortion would lead to the legalization of infanticide and euthanasia.  

It was one thing to deny the truth with an early and unobserved unborn baby, but it was quite another to imagine any doctor or nurse looking at a born human being and killing him or her.

How wrong I was!

As I wrote in my 2019 blog “Roe v. Wade’s Disastrous Impact on Medical Ethics” , it wasn’t until the 1982 Baby Doe case and my daughter Karen’s birth and death opened my eyes and changed my life.

HARD TRUTHS ABOUT ABORTION

Because I am a nurse and mother, I have personally learned some hard truths about abortion and the abortion industry. Here are some of my experiences.

A young relative came to me after visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic for a suspected sexually transmitted disease. She said the clinic told her that she didn’t have an infection but the girl continued to get worse-and scared.

I arranged for her to see my own pro-life ob-gyn who discovered that the infection had damaged her cervix so much that part of it had to be removed and, even worse, she would probably have to have her cervix sewn shut until delivery if she became pregnant in the future.

Learning that Planned Parenthood had apparently missed the diagnosis, my doctor never charged for his services.

KNOWLEDGE IS ESSENTIAL

I will never forget the Christmas day my 18-year-old daughter told me she was pregnant.

We talked for hours, and I told her that I would support any decision she would make-except abortion.

She laughed and told me that abortion was not an option because she “knew too much”, especially from the prenatal pamphlets I showed my children with each pregnancy. They all were excited about how their brother or sister was developing and asked almost daily what their unborn sibling was now able to do.

My first grandchild is now 23 years old and has a loving family who allows us to be part of her life.

And we know even more now about pregnancy, as I wrote in my 2019 blog “An Amazing Video of a Living, First Trimester Unborn Baby” . The video shows an approximately 8 week old unborn baby moving its’ tiny head and limbs remarkably like a newborn baby. Unfortunately, the video was both heartbreaking and beautiful since this little one was developing outside the mother’s womb (ectopic pregnancy) and had to be removed surgically. He or she could not survive for long but this recognizable baby was obviously not a “clump of cells”!

POST-ABORTION TRAUMA IS REAL

Many years ago when I worked in home health and hospice, I cared for a very cranky, elderly woman I will call “Rose” who had rejected all the other nurses in our agency. Even her own doctor had problems with her and told me that he could not understand why she was even still alive because her end stage congestive heart failure was so severe. Part of my assignment was to measure her abdomen and legs to adjust her diuretics (water pills).

As I got to know Rose over a few visits, she softened towards me and began telling me about her life. But one day, while I was measuring her abdomen, she burst into tears and told me she hated looking 9 months pregnant because of the fluid retention in her abdomen. Rose said she knew it was God punishing her for the abortion she had 60 years before!

Rose had never told anyone, not even her late husband, about the abortion she had before marrying him. She felt that baby was the boy she never had but she didn’t feel worthy to even name him. She also told me that she knew she had committed the “unforgivable sin” and was afraid to die because she would be sent to hell. My heart went out to this woman who was suffering so much, more emotionally than even physically.

We talked for a long time and in a later visit about forgiveness and God’s love. I told her about Project Rachel, a healing ministry for women (and even men) wounded by abortion. I gave her the phone number and offered to be with her to meet a counselor or priest but she insisted that my talking with her was enough to help. I felt it wasn’t but she seemed to achieve a level of peace and she even started smiling.

I wasn’t surprised when Rose died quietly and comfortably in her sleep about a week later.

OFFERING HELPFUL INFORMATION IS CRUCIAL

In 1989, I had just started working as an RN on an oncology (cancer) unit when we discovered that one of our patients had CMV (Cytomegalovirus).

One of our nurses was pregnant and tested positive for the virus. Her doctor told her how her baby could die or have terrible birth defects from the virus and he recommended an abortion.

“Sue” (not her real name) was frantic. She had two little girls and worked full time. She said she didn’t know how she could manage a child with serious birth defects.

I told her that it was usually impossible to know if or how much a baby might be impaired before birth. I also told her about my Karen who was born with Down Syndrome and a critical heart defect and died at 5 months. I told her that I treasured the time I had with her and later babysat children with a range of physical and mental disabilities.

Most importantly, I also told her that I would be there to help her and her baby.

“Sue” decided against abortion and told the other nurses what I said.

The other nurses were furious with me and said if the baby was born with so much as an extra toe, they would never talk to me again.

But slowly, the other nurses came around and also offered to help Sue and her baby.

In the end, we all celebrated when Sue had her first son who was perfectly healthy!

CONCLUSION

Many people don’t understand is that being pro-life isn’t just being against abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. What being pro-life really means is truly caring about all lives, born or unborn.

What I have found most helpful is a  sincere interest and willingness to help when encountering people struggling with an abortion decision for themselves or someone close to them.

Why talk about abortion? Because we never know who may need to hear the truth and we need to help heal the tragic divide in our nation by our example.

Homicide is a Leading Cause of Death During Pregnancy-How Can We Help?

A February 22, 2022 USA Today articleHomicide is a leading cause of death during pregnancy. These women are more likely to be killed.”, cited a 2021 study in Obstetrics and Gynecology that found that homicide exceeded all top cause of maternal death “by more than twofold” in 2018 and 2019.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2003 that the United States required death certificates to include information on whether the person who died was pregnant at the time or had recently given birth. Then the CDC paused on releasing reports on U.S maternal mortality rates “over concerns that the data collect was incomplete and potentially incorrect” until 2017 when all 50 states included some type of checkbox on death certificates allowing officials to track maternal mortality.

Pregnancy-associated homicide covers the perinatal period (pregnancy and up to 1 year postpartum) and when the perpetrator of the homicide is identified, the assailant is most often an intimate partner. Most of the victims were found to be black or younger than 25.

The USA Today article states that:

“Experts say the alarming statistics reflect a grave nationwide public health concern, with the inequity adding urgency to widen the lens on maternal mortality causes, track them better and raise domestic violence awareness.”

Dr. Andrea Jackson, an obstetrician and gynecologist and professor at the University said the findings felt like a call to action for all of us in obstetrics” and that the “whole system needs to be built with the most vulnerable at the center”.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

While clinicians are encouraged to be “more proactive in screening for signs of domestic violence during prenatal appointments”, the rest of us should be aware that many women are afraid to tell others about domestic abuse-whether or not they are pregnant.

Both personally and professionally, I have seen women hide their domestic abuse problems from others with a happy face for years before the abuse was evident.

When we encounter women considering abortion, we need to be aware that some women may be in abusive situations and need help beyond food insecurity, lack of child care, transportation barriers to health care, etc.

Live Action, a pro-life group, published a March 2022 article “Love Them Both: How to help a pregnant mother in a crisis situation” that has helpful information on numerous resources available to help pregnant women facing a crisis situation like domestic violence, homelessness, drug addiction and more.

As Live Action says:

“Pro-lifers can help any woman considering abortion by helping her out of the crisis with real solutions.”

And we all need to know about the resources available to help women-pregnant or not-with these serious problems.

My 2000 Voices Magazine Article: Who Wants a “Defective” Baby?

This month, it was revealed that President Joe Biden “wants Congress to pass a law making abortions legal up to birth” after the US Supreme Court refused to temporarily block the Texas Heartbeat Law.

While talking to a friend about this, I remembered a 2000 Voices magazine article I wrote about why every unborn child deserves protection and she asked that I send it to her. Sadly, this magazine is no longer publishing.

This is the article I wrote that appears on my other blogsite that contains articles, op-eds, etc. that I wrote up to 2014, when I started this blog. The reflection at the end of this article was published by the National Down Syndrome Association and was-to my surprise-eventually reprinted in several other countries.

Voices Online Edition
Summer 2000
Volume XV, No. 2 – Jubilee Year

Who Wants a “Defective” Baby?

by Nancy Valko, R.N.

“Of course, no one wants to adopt a defective baby. ” This was said with much emotion (and not much charm) by an older gentleman in a class at a local university where I was speaking this past April. I had been invited to discuss the legalities and effects of Roe v. Wade from a pro-life point of view to a class of senior citizens studying the Constitution and the Supreme Court.

While several of these senior citizen students defended abortion as a matter of complete privacy for the mother, their arguments centered around the “need” for legalized abortion as a solution for social problems.

Since I had told the story of my daughter Karen, born in 1982 with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, the pro-abortion students were extremely vocal about the personal and societal justifications for aborting a baby like Karen. Hence the statement about no one wanting to adopt a “defective” baby.

“Happily, sir,” I told the senior student, “You are wrong. Even back when I had Karen, I found out from the National Down Syndrome Association that there was a list of people waiting to adopt a baby with Down Syndrome. Just the night before, I added, I had found a new website for matching prospective parents with children who had chromosomal and physical defects.”

The student refused to believe that this could be true.

The effects of Roe v. Wade
Life of the mother, incest, rape and fetal defect are the four hard cases usually cited to justify what has now become abortion on demand. All of these are uncommon reasons given in the estimated 1.3 million abortions every year; but the possibility of having a child with a birth defect is a common fear nearly all expectant mothers experience and, not surprisingly, polls show that the majority of the public support abortion in this circumstance.

Although I have always been pro-life, I could understand the fear underlying these poll results — until my own daughter was born.

Just two weeks before the birth of my daughter Karen, I saw a mother trying to pry her young son with Down Syndrome away from a display case at the supermarket. She looked exhausted.

“Please, Lord,” I silently prayed, “Let this baby be ok. I can handle anything but Downs.”

When Karen was born with Down Syndrome, I was stunned. But I was quickly put in touch with mothers from the Down Syndrome Association who replaced my fears with information and realistic hope.

Then a doctor told me the truly bad news. Karen had a heart defect, one so severe that it seemed inoperable and she was not expected to live more than 2 months. That certainly put things in the proper perspective.

What “pro-choice” really means
It turned out later that Karen’s heart defect was not quite as bad as originally thought and could be corrected with one open-heart surgery, but I was shocked when the cardiologist told me he would support me 100% if I decided not to agree to the surgery and allow her to die. This was especially hard to hear because, as a nurse, I knew that the doctor would have been otherwise enthusiastic about an operation offering a 90% chance of success — if my child didn’t also have Down Syndrome. Apparently, even though Karen was now a legal person according to Roe v. Wade by the fact of her birth, this non-treatment option could act as a kind of 4th trimester abortion.

It was then that I realized what pro-choice really meant: Choice says it doesn’t really matter if a particular child lives or dies. Choice says the only thing that really matters is how I feel about this child and my circumstances. I may be “Woman Hear Me Roar” in other areas according to the militant feminists, but I was not necessarily strong enough for a child like this.

I also finally figured out that Roe v. Wade’s effects went far beyond the proverbial desperate woman determined to end her pregnancy either legally or illegally. The abortion mentality had so corrupted society that it even endangered children like my Karen after birth. Too many people, like the student in Supreme Court class, unfortunately viewed Karen as a tragedy to be prevented.

Medical progress or search and destroy?
In the late 1950s, a picture of the unborn baby using sound waves became the first technique developed to provide a window to the womb. Ultrasound in recent years has been used to save countless lives by showing women that they were carrying a living human being rather than the clump of cells often referred to in abortion clinics.

But while expectant parents now routinely and proudly show ultrasound pictures of their developing baby, there is a darker side to prenatal testing. Besides ultrasound, which can show some birth defects, blood tests like AFP testing and the Triple Screen to test for neural tube defects or Down Syndrome are now becoming a routine part of prenatal care. Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are also widely available tests to detect problems in the developing baby. It seems that every year, new testing techniques are tried and older ones refined in the quest to find birth defects prenatally.

97% of the time, women receive the good news that their baby seems fine; but the tests are not foolproof, and they can only test for hundreds of the thousands of known birth defects. Relatively few such birth defects can be treated in the womb at the present time. Some women want testing so that they can prepare for a child who has a birth defect, but when the tests do show a possible problem like Down Syndrome, up to 90% of women will abort.

While some hail prenatal testing as a way to prevent birth defects, the effects of such testing has led to what author Barbara Katz Rothman calls the “tentative pregnancy” in her 1993 book of the same name. Although Rothman calls herself pro-choice, her studies of women considering amniocentesis led to her conclude that such testing has changed the normal maternal-child bonding in pregnancy and the experience of motherhood, usually for the worse.

“I might not be pregnant”
I observed this firsthand several years ago when I ran into an acquaintance and congratulated her on her obvious pregnancy. I was stunned when she replied, “Don’t congratulate me yet. I might not be pregnant.”

Diane, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, went on to explain that she was awaiting the results of an amniocentesis and said, “I know what you went through with your daughter but I can’t give up my life like that. If this (the baby) is Downs, it’s gone.”

I reassured her that the test would almost surely show that her baby was ok, but I added that if the results were not what she expected I would like her to call me. I promised that I would give her any help she needed throughout the pregnancy and that my husband and I or even another couple would be willing to adopt her baby. She was surprised, as I later found out, both by my reaction and the information about adoption.

Diane gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few months later and apologized for her comments, saying that she probably would not have had an abortion anyway. But I understood her terrible anxiety. Society itself seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards children with disabilities.

On one hand, people are inspired by the stories of people who have disabilities and support organizations like the Special Olympics; but, on the other hand, many people consider it almost irresponsible to bring a child with disabilities into the world to suffer when prenatal testing and abortion are so available.

But as the vast majority of parents who are either natural or adoptive parents of children with disabilities will attest, all children are born with both special gifts and special limitations. No child should be denied birth because of a disability or even a limited life expectancy.

Women who do abort after a diagnosis of a birth defect are also hurt. Besides depriving themselves of the special joys — which occur along with the difficulties — of loving and caring for such a child, these women often experience unresolved grief, guilt and second-guessing instead of the relief and peace they expect.

A few years ago, a local hospital which performs late-term abortions for birth defects asked a miscarriage and stillbirth counseling group to help with their distressed patients. The group declined, citing the fact that the most reassuring message they give grieving mothers is that there is nothing they did or didn’t do that caused the death of their babies. Obviously, that was not a statement they could make to mothers who abort. There is a very real difference between losing and terminating a child.

How many of these mothers knew before their abortions that, in practical terms, there has never been a better array of services and support for children with disabilities and their parents? Or that their children were dearly wanted by prospective adoptive parents? Such information might have been just the support they needed to choose life for their children.

Final thoughts
Despite the best medical care, my Karen died at the age of 5 and 1/2 months, but the impact of her life has lived on. At her funeral Mass, the priest talked about how this child who never walked or talked had transformed the lives of those who met her.

Especially mine.

After Karen died, I sat down and tried to put into words what Karen and all children with disabilities have to teach the rest of us. The following reflection was published in the National Down Syndrome Association newsletter in May, 1984.

THINGS NO TEACHER EVER TAUGHT
In 1982 my daughter, Karen, was born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect. Less than six months later she died of complications of pneumonia. Karen may have been retarded but she taught me things no teacher ever did.

Karen taught me:

That life isn’t fair — to anyone. That self-pity can be an incapacitating disease. That God is better at directing my life than I am. That there are more caring people in the world than I knew. That Down Syndrome is an inadequate description of a person. That I am not “perfect” either, just human. That asking for help and support is not a sign of weakness. That every child is truly a gift from God. That joy and pain can be equally deep. That you can never lose when you love. That every crisis contains opportunity for growth. That sometimes the victory is in trying rather than succeeding. That every person has a special purpose in life.

That I needed to worry less and celebrate more.


Sources:

1. “Prenatal Testing”, by Nancy Valko, R.N. and T. Murphy Goodwin, M.D., pamphlet, Easton Publishing Co.

2. “Doctors have prenatal test for 450 genetic diseases” by Kim Painter. USA Today, 8/15/97

3. Rothman, Barbara Katz. The Tentative Pregnancy. Revised, 1993. WW Norton and Co.

4. “Advances, and Angst, in a New Era of Ultrasound”, by Randi Hutter Epstein. New York Times. May 9, 2000.

Nancy Valko, R.N., a contributing editor for Voices, is a former president of Missouri Nurses for Life who has practiced in St. Louis for more than thirty years. An expert on life issues, Mrs. Valko writes a regular column on the subject for Voices.


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