by Cynthia Isabell
I have been a labor and delivery nurse since 1980. During my thirty-six year nursing career, I have also worked in medical units and for hospice. Being a nurse has allowed me to be present with people through their early beginnings of intrauterine life, and with others through their last breaths. It has been an amazing and rewarding journey. Life is precious and life is fleeting, and life should be respected. I am pro-life.
I am also a nursing instructor and have taught obstetrics to hundreds of young men and women, our future nurses. My students often ask me what my opinion is regarding abortion. “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” they ask me. I do not ask them the same, as I don’t want them to fear that their position might affect how I grade them.
When I answer that I am pro-life, the students often assume that my position is based on my religious beliefs, and so they respond that “you can’t force your religious beliefs on everyone else.” I explain that my argument against abortion is based on the anatomy and physiology of pregnancy, and on logical reasoning.
I was not always pro-life. In the past I considered myself pro-choice. During my career I have even assisted with abortions which were considered to be therapeutic, done through inducing labor, and frequently done for Trisomy 21, or Down Syndrome. It is my understanding of human biology and embryology as well as my own experiences with abortion and thousands of pregnant patients which have shaped my current position on abortion.
Without fail, my students ask me the questions that they hear argued in the media. My students ask these questions even though they, having studied biology, human anatomy, and physiology, already know the answers.
They ask, “When does life begin?” I respond with, “You know the answer to this question. How do you tell if something, such as a cell, is alive or not?” The students answer correctly that “living cells grow and multiply.” And so of course I must remind them of what they already know: that growth and multiplication is exactly what is happening after the egg and the sperm join to form the zygote. Within twenty-four hours of conception the zygote is dividing rapidly into many cells which will differentiate to form different parts of the human body.
Dead things do not do this. Dead cells do not replicate their DNA and multiply into more cells. They do not differentiate to become a brain, a heart, the liver, the skin, muscle and bone. Life begins at conception, when the fertilized egg begins to grow.
The next question they ask is “When can it be considered a human?” I answer, “What determines whether we are a human, rather than a bird or a zucchini?” The answer to this is simple and they correctly reply that it is “our genetics, our DNA.” When the egg and the sperm join, this is the beginning of a new human, with its own set of DNA which also includes hair color, eye color, skin tone, fingerprints, and a multitude of other individual characteristics. The baby is genetically different from the mother, having only half of the DNA coming from her, and half from the father; a distinct human being.
“So now we all can agree that we have established that abortion is killing a living human.”
Of course, the conversation is not complete without “Why shouldn’t a woman be able to do what she wants with her body?”
“The woman has every right to be in control of and responsible for her body,” I answer. She has the right and responsibility to use methods to prevent conception if she does not want to become pregnant. Being in control also would include not engaging in activity which is known to lead to pregnancy, which is sexual intercourse. There are a variety of other, easily accessible methods which can be used to prevent conception from occurring.
“However, once a pregnancy occurs, it is no longer only the woman’s body that is in question, as the baby is not a part of her body,” I explain. “Tell me how we know that the baby is not a part of the woman’s body.”
The students then explain to me that the placenta and the umbilical cord are what separate the baby from the mother. This is important, as most people would view the placenta and the umbilical cord as a means by which the baby is connected to its mother and so make the fetus “part of her body.” While it is true on the surface, a better and more truthful understanding is that it’s the placenta and umbilical cord which separate the mother from the baby and prove that the fetus was never part of its mother’s body. This is because the placenta and umbilical cord exist precisely because the baby has a different and separate circulatory system from the mother and their blood must not intermingle. If something happens, such as a traumatic injury, that causes their blood to mix, it can cause serious complications.
If the fetus were not a separate human being but were only another part of its mother’s body, it would not need a placenta and umbilical cord to separate them. It could simply grow inside one of her body cavities like a tumor without any barriers between the two to protect each of them.
“Now you have established that even though the baby and the placenta are in the uterus, they are not a part of the woman’s body. And even though the placenta is attached to the uterus, it is no more a part of her body than an earring or a watch is when you wear them. So now we have determined that the baby is a genetically distinct human, not a part of the woman’s body, and that it is alive, growing, and developing.”
“What about cases of pregnancy that result from rape?” my students then ask.
According to research, 75-80% of women who become pregnant after rape choose to keep their babies rather than having an abortion. Abortion is not an easy, consequence-free escape hatch. It is not a delete button or reset switch. It is an action all its own, with its own implications and consequences. As such, it cannot undo a rape and erase the pain and trauma for the rape victim. Abortion is the ending of a human life, a life which is as much the child of its mother as it is of its father. It is an additional trauma for the woman, and so it compounds rather than ameliorates the trauma of rape.
Women who are pregnant from rape often choose to carry the pregnancy because they recognize that the baby is still their baby despite the circumstances of its conception. They also feel that having an abortion would be undoing the only positive thing (the baby) that resulted from the rape, as it cannot “undo” the rape. While abortion exacerbates the pain of the rape victim, many find that having the child is a source of healing for them.
Additionally, many rape victims state that they do not want to punish an innocent baby because of the crime of the rapist. If they were to do that, they would feel like they were as bad as the rapist. Victims of rape already suffer from feelings of guilt and shame over what happened to them, and part of the healing process involves releasing those feelings and recognizing that they are not responsible for what someone else did to them. However, if they become pregnant from the rape and have an abortion, they are now burdened with actual rather than imagined guilt – actual guilt for having committed a crime against an innocent victim – which makes healing tremendously more difficult. Women who have had abortions report suffering from immense guilt afterwards, and they become more burdened by the abortion than by the rape itself because they now feel like a perpetrator and a worse criminal than even the rapist.
My students also ask, “What about abortion in cases to save the mother’s life?” There are statistics reported that less than 1% of abortions are performed to save the life or reduce health risks of the mother. This statistic is unreliable because it includes ectopic pregnancies which would not survive regardless because of where the placenta is implanted. The definition of an abortion is the termination of a human pregnancy to cause the death of a fetus, which is another reason why the removal of an ectopic pregnancy cannot be considered the same as an abortion. It is not performed for the sole purpose of ending the life of the fetus. This statistic also includes abortions done for the mother’s mental health, because she allegedly cannot handle the stress of a baby born with a genetic abnormality such as Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). Subtracting “abortions” to remove ectopic pregnancies and those which are performed for preserving a woman’s mental health, we find that statistic dwindle down to zero. As the Association of Pro-Life Physicians states, an abortion is never needed to save the life of a mother and this argument should not be used as a support for abortion.
The argument that all abortions should be legal anytime for any reason because sometimes it is performed to save a mother’s life does not hold up under further scrutiny. If you say that sometimes shooting a person can save the life of another, as in self-defense, can you then conclude that it should be okay to shoot people anytime, for any reason?
In the past when I have assisted with abortions, I believed that it was acceptable because I was not actually performing the abortion and I was only taking care of the mother while the physician performed the abortion. One day, I witnessed a saline abortion. I watched the baby through the ultrasound as the doctor injected saline solution into the uterus. Immediately the baby recoiled in pain as the saline started burning its skin. I started crying and had to leave the room. Later, when the doctor reprimanded me for my reaction, I told her that the abortion was barbaric and that I would never help with one again.
I continued to care for the women who were having medical, “therapeutic” abortions. With these abortions, the labor is induced and the woman delivers an intact baby which will then slowly die by suffocation. We wrap the baby in a blanket and the parents often want to hold the baby they are killing and bond with it while it slowly suffocates, believing the lie they were told that the baby is not suffering. There was one that was performed for what were dubious reasons, but the patient and her family were adamant that it needed to be done. I arrived to work after the baby had already been born and had died. I was supposed to take the baby to wrap it to go to the morgue, but I took the baby to another room and held it while I cried. I never helped with another abortion after that.
When I tell my students this story, it is always with great difficulty and they can tell that it still upsets me to this day. I can still see that sweet little face of the dead baby. I am crying while I am writing this, because I helped kill babies.
Although I was personally against abortion and believed that it is murder, I also felt that I could not impose my opinion on others. I eventually realized that this makes no logical sense. If I truly believe that abortion is wrong, that it kills an innocent person, and if I understand the facts of science that prove it is murder, then how can I say that it is ever okay for anyone to have the right to make that decision? That is like saying that I think it is wrong to shoot the guy at the gas station, and I would not do it, but I cannot impose those beliefs on anyone else. It’s like saying that even though I think it would be wrong to hold a pillow over the face of the stroke patient in the acute care facility, I shouldn’t impose my beliefs on anyone else.
Who do we think we are that we can decide that the preborn baby matters less than any other living human? Is it okay to kill a person for convenience? Is this really the kind of society in which we want to live?
I once attended a town hall meeting held by an elected state representative who was strongly pro-choice. During the meeting she brought up the abortion issue and declared how proud she was of her support for women to have control of their own bodies and reproductive rights. I thanked her for bringing up the topic and proceeded to explain to her the information I have discussed with my nursing students. Many in attendance voiced agreement with my statements, and many also indicated they were not aware that the mother’s and baby’s blood do not mix and that the baby really is never a part of the woman’s body.
At this point, the representative told me that not everyone is a Christian and agrees with my opinion and that there is separation of church and state. I told her that I am a nurse who values human life, and my views are based in biology, human anatomy and physiology, and not a particular religion. The representative, now entirely frustrated, abruptly ended the meeting. Afterwards, several people approached me simply to tell me that they had learned a lot and consequently had changed their minds about being pro-choice.
I have come to the realization that Roe v. Wade of 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey of 1992 will likely never be overturned. Abortion is a surgery, it has risks. At the hospitals where I have worked there have been many patients who come to the ER, hemorrhaging and infected after having abortions in clinics. It is obvious from the ruling of the Supreme Court, which undermined the efforts in Texas to improve patient safety by requiring abortion clinics to meet the same standards as an outpatient surgical center, that the real motivation behind the legalization of abortion is not to protect women from bad doctors and unsafe conditions. Kermit Gosnell, after all, still had plenty of patients. Neither is the motivation genuinely “for reproductive rights,” as the Left proclaims. Rather it is, above all, a money making venture.
So what is a pro-life person to do to try to protect the pre-born child from being murdered by its own mother when abortion is legal, easily accessible, and actually applauded as it was at the Democratic National Convention? I believe we need to become advocates of the preborn through educating people, even if it is one at a time. Every time you can educate one person, hopefully they in turn will educate another about the realities of what abortion is.
From my experiences at the town hall meeting and from teaching my students, I have realized that the majority of people who are pro-choice have taken that position because society has told them that it’s the reasonable, civilized position. It tells them that there is no logical conflict between being personally against abortion and not willing to “impose” your feelings on anyone else. Their positions have not been well thought-out or researched. Their positions are based on ignorance at the personal level and trust in a system which they believe to be morally upright and scientifically objective. However, once people become educated in the facts of biology and fetal development and they think about them rationally, they will more often than not come to change their attitudes towards abortion.
I have had numerous students tell me that they were very comfortable being pro-choice even though they were personally opposed to abortion. They say that after our conversation they realize how illogical that is, and that they are now pro-life. Other students were involved in school debates in which they were told they had to represent the pro-choice side of the abortion argument. This was their motivation for asking me what my position is. They said they were no longer pro-choice and could not argue for pro-choice because now they recognized that it is wrong.
What I’d like you to learn from this if you are pro-life is that you need not be afraid of speaking about abortion and your pro-life position with those who are pro-choice. The internet is full of vocal and volatile abortion advocates who want to intimidate you into silencing your voice, but do not be deceived into thinking that the majority of pro-choice people will be verbally abusive and hostile toward you. Most of them are actually reasonable people who can be reached and persuaded by the facts, but you have to be willing to present them with your well-reasoned arguments.
You can find similar opportunities to teach people as I do. Be prepared to answer questions with facts, and be polite and calm. You, too, can attend town hall meetings held by elected representatives. Regardless of what party the elected official belongs to, she is there to represent everyone, not just the members of the same party.
Pro-life advocates have been too focused on the legality of abortion – on the supply – and not focused enough on the demand. I have had patients, who had been planning on having abortions, but developed cramping and bleeding at 16 or 20 weeks and went to the emergency department. They are sent to labor and delivery where we treat them as we do all of our patients, with efforts to preserve the pregnancy. Part of the care includes a lot of teaching about what is going on, listening to the heart beat, and doing ultrasounds. We talk about their baby and what we are doing to make sure the baby is okay. These women will confide that they had been planning on getting an abortion but now that they have seen and heard their baby and see how much we cared about them and their baby, and treated the pregnancy as being important and special, they no longer want to get an abortion.
We can combat the abortion industry through education, through conversation with our friends and coworkers. It will not matter that abortion is legal if there is a dwindling demand, if the people have decided that they do not want what their progressive government is peddling. Our friends and family members and coworkers are listening, so it’s time we start offering a different message than the one that the media bombards them with.
Cynthia, DNP, ACNS-BC, is a registered nurse with twenty-eight years experience working in low and high risk obstetrics, and eight years working medical surgical and hospice nursing. Cynthia has also been a nursing instructor for seventeen years. She holds a masters degree in adult health nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice with a certificate in nursing education.