Does infanticide even exist?
I asked a woman who held a child as it died after a failed abortion.
Two things transpired this month prompting me to reinvestigate the story I first heard 20 years ago, one that penetratingly haunted me.
The first event was that the governor of my state, North Carolina, vetoed NC Senate Bill 359, which would have required medical professionals to provide life-saving care specifically to infants who survive an abortion. He claimed the bill “would criminalize doctors… for a practice that simply does not exist.”
The second was a televised town hall during which Democratic presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand decried the irresponsible role of Fox News in stirring up a “red herring debate” about infanticide. “It doesn’t exist… it doesn’t happen, it’s illegal, it’s not a fact.”
Were it so clear cut, there would be no heated, party-line dispute over infanticide. Yes, it’s extreme to envision anyone of any political affiliation actually wanting newborn children to die of exposure or malice in the minutes or hours after birth. But the question is not whether infanticide is desirable. The question is whether or not it happens. Where are the actual stories? Who will provide a testimony of personal experience?
My friend Lora was a chaplain serving a rotation in a prestigious North Carolina hospital while finishing her theological counseling degree by distance learning in 1998. Lora and her new husband lived two blocks from the hospital where she served. Toward the end of that chaplaincy, she was summoned in the middle of the night to the Labor and Delivery ward — the first time she had ever been asked to come to that particular area of the hospital. Still bleary from having been jolted awake, she was met by a nurse who looked at her chaplaincy badge and simply said, “Follow me.”
She was led down the corridor and unexpectedly made a turn toward a storage closet. Inside, mops reclined in corners, cluttered shelves climbed floor to ceiling. Along one wall was a stretch of laminate countertop that dropped off into a utilitarian sink.
Lying on that cold countertop, with no blanket or bassinet, lay a perfectly-formed, stark naked baby boy, his arms and legs strewn spread-eagle away from him, and a mortuary tag with his name: Bryan.
“He was supposed to die in the birth canal, but sometimes this happens.” The nurse picked him up and thrust him into the arms of my startled friend, who asked if the child was dead or alive. As she cradled the baby, he drew his arms into the familiar fetal position self-hug. The nurse told her that if she put two fingers at a particular spot on the chest, she could still feel the heart beating. Lora positioned her fingers and the weak pulse tapped through.
The baby had been diagnosed with Down syndrome by amniocentesis. He wasn’t supposed to make it out of the birth canal alive, but when he did, the mother asked if he could be baptized. That’s why Lora had been called in.
With that, the nurse slipped out of the closet and my friend was left alone with Bryan. She had visited the NICU before and knew what a small baby should look like. This was a very late-term abortion. Tears streamed down Lora’s cheeks as she incredulously recounted that day to me, blurting, “He was chubby!”
For the next eternity of 15 or 20 minutes, she held that baby boy and rocked him, crying, singing, praying over him. She consciously remembers feeling that she wanted to have nothing to do with this, but at the same time she felt that she was standing on holy ground while death circled the room, ready to devour. There was an eerie honor to holding Bryan and waiting for the end to arrive. Part of her felt she didn’t have the right to stand in this intensely private and sacred place.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15
Somewhere along the way, Lora had the wherewithal to draw a little water from the sink and place her wet fingers on the baby’s head. With a prayer and blessing, she did as she had been asked.
“When you open your eyes in a few minutes, Jesus will be the first thing you see.”
Emotions raw, there came a point where she said to herself, “Okay. That’s enough. He’s gone.” Anger began to replace bewilderment. She laid the boy’s body back on the table. The spread-eagle pose now seemed limper than before. At the nurses’ station she informed the attendants that it was over, signed a certificate of baptism and sought out the delivery room where the mother was waiting.
The room was dark, but Mom was awake, exhausted, resigned. She hung her head. Lora introduced herself as the hospital chaplain. She handed Mom the baptism certificate and asked if she wanted to see her son. The mother pensively shook her head no, hiding her eyes. “He’s beautiful. Perfect,” my friend told her. Mom never said a word in response, and with that Lora left the room.
She ran home in the dark, furious and grieved and betrayed. Turning to her Bible for some comforting word, she asked herself what in the world she could do to categorize or make sense or make good of this experience. She split the Bible in the middle and her eyes fell on Psalm 49:20: “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”
It struck her like a sword. Her heart, apart from the renewing power of the gospel, was not dissimilar to this poor mother’s. Without the restraining mercy of God in her life, she would be but a beast of self-interest and self-preservation. While the choice to intentionally take an innocent human life—failed attempt or successful—is morally reprehensible, and though we can unapologetically call abortion wrong, my friend could not condemn.
Before she left that death closet in the delivery ward, Lora prayed that the Lord would place her in the path of women who are considering abortion. She realized that unless she took an active role to intervene on behalf of women in crisis, she would be forever complicit, vulnerable to the hardness of heart that comes with a posture of superiority. She had been called to a deeper humility and compassion.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus Christ told a parable in which a priest and a Levite passed by a Hebrew man who had been beaten and left for dead. These men would almost certainly have considered themselves pro-life. They would have likely stood before their congregations to condemn beatings, robbery and murder in the strongest possible terms.
Only the Samaritan acted in a pro-life way, doing the practical things that stopped a man from dying unjustly.
Lora’s night with baby Bryan changed her forever, making her a life-long ‘good Samaritan.’
Yes, infanticide does exist. It is relatively rare and almost always happens under extenuating circumstances. But if we miss the opportunity to rally unequivocally around laws to protect the already born, we lose our footing for defending the rights of the unborn, and all valuable life along the continuum from fertilization to natural death.
Mark Nicholson is the Executive Director of PassionLife Ministries, which teaches biblical bioethics to pastors in countries where the abortion and infanticide rates are highest.
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