Shortly after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion throughout the United States, a nurse watched helplessly as a baby born alive during a botched abortion struggled to live. In an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer1, a nurse named Linda told her story. She withheld her last name, perhaps fearing retaliation from the hospital where she worked.
In one ward of the hospital, abortionists committed saline abortions. In a saline abortion procedure, caustic saline solution was injected into the mother’s womb. The saline solution burned the baby’s skin and poisoned him or her. Labor would begin, usually within 12 hours, and the baby would be expelled. It could take several hours for the baby to die, and sometimes the baby didn’t die at all and was born alive. Saline abortions were often done in hospitals on an inpatient basis.
The saline method is almost never used today. It resulted in too many live births and was extremely dangerous to the woman. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, saline abortion once had the highest fatality rate for the woman of any elective surgical procedure, second only to cardiac transplantation.2
Linda had the job of collecting the aborted babies and disposing of them. One day, instead of the dead baby she expected to remove from the woman’s bed, she found a living 1 ½ pound child. She says:
It looked right at me. This baby had real big eyes. It looked at you like it was saying, “Do something – do something.” Those haunting eyes. Oh God, I still remember them.
She checked the child’s vital signs. The baby’s heartbeat was holding steady and the child was breathing regularly, but slowly, at 3 to 4 breaths a minute. Linda called the doctor:
I called him because the baby was breathing. It was pink. It had a heartbeat. The doctor told me the baby was nonviable and to send it to the lab. I said, “But it’s breathing,” and he said, “It’s nonviable, it won’t be breathing long – send it to the lab.”
The abortionist wanted Linda to send the child to the pathology lab, where all the dead babies were taken. Instead, Linda took the child to the nurse’s station and put the baby in a makeshift crib with a hot water bottle for warmth. She had no oxygen mask that would fit the child, so she put an open tube of oxygen next to the child’s head.
Ironically, there was a nursery, with equipment to assist prematurely born children, right in the hospital. But the head nurse refused to let Linda take the child there. From the article:
The nursing supervisor, Linda said, had refused to let her put the baby in the nursery, where there was equipment to assist premature babies in distress. “She said to follow the doctor’s orders and take it to the lab. I kept it with me at the station. We couldn’t do an awful lot for it.”
The child clung to life for two hours. Linda did not have resources to care for the baby. These resources were in the very same building, but Linda could not take the baby to the nursery.
Linda was haunted by the child’s death, even eight years later. She says, “I stood by and watched that baby die without doing a thing. I have guilt feelings to this day. I feel the baby might have lived had it been properly cared for.”
Nurses assisting in abortions at the hospital were taught to think of the babies as “tissue.” They were trained to disregard the babies’ humanity. Even though the children who were aborted were fully formed and were in the second or even third trimesters, the children were dehumanized. But it was obvious that this baby was human.
Why didn’t Linda defy the nurse’s and doctor’s orders and take the baby to the nursery anyway? Another nurse explains:
Our training disciplines you to follow the doctor’s orders. If you do something on your own for the baby that the doctor has not ordered and that may not meet with his commitment to his patient, the mother can sue you. A nurse runs a great risk if she acts on her own. Not only her immediate job but her license may be threatened.
Sadly, Linda didn’t have the courage to defy the doctor. It’s possible the nursery would’ve turned away the baby anyway, and the child became another heartbreaking casualty of abortion.
Liz Jeffries and Rick Edmonds, “Abortion: The Dreaded Complication” The Philadelphia Inquirer August 2, 1981
Norman R Kaplan, MD “Hazard of Saline Abortion: Letter” Journal of the American Medical Association July 3, 1972, cited in Mark Crutcher Lime 5: Exploited by Choice (Denton, Texas: Life Dynamics, Inc., 1996)