True compassion sees a second beating heart

January 21, 2011 

An interesting thing happened to Abby Johnson one late September day. Successful completion of a simple, 10-minute task changed the course of her life. Johnson had been with Planned Parenthood for eight years and had been named "Employee of the Year" for her enthusiastic work. She was a good person, a Christian, doing her best to keep women safe and healthy. She'd been promoted to health center director two years before.

That day, a visiting abortionist needed someone to hold the ultrasound probe allowing him a view inside the uterus while performing the procedure. Ultrasound-guided abortions are considered safer because they reduce the risk of accidentally perforating the uterine wall. Johnson respected his choice of the safer method and agreed to take part, even while feeling an inner disquiet in the new role.

Horrified and fascinated at the same time, she says, "I couldn't not watch" as the abortionist inserted the cannula, a straw-shaped instrument attached to the end of a suction tube:

"At first, the baby didn't seem aware of the cannula. It gently probed the baby's side, and for a quick second I felt relief. Of course, I thought. The fetus doesn't feel pain. I had reassured countless women of this as I'd been taught by Planned Parenthood. The fetal tissue feels nothing as it is removed."

"The next movement was the sudden jerk of a tiny foot as the baby started kicking, as if it were trying to move away from the probing invader. As the cannula pressed its side, the baby began struggling to turn and twist away. It seemed clear to me that it could feel the cannula, and it did not like what it was feeling."

Johnson quit her job 14 months ago and joined protesters praying outside her clinic. She explains what she saw as the suction was turned on and the uterine contents removed in her book "Unplanned."

Her book makes a strong case that the pro-choice movement is not full of deranged killers with a blood-lust bent to seek and destroy human life. Most are compassionate professionals, seeking to help women in unspeakable circumstances. They care about their patients and are doing their honest best to make life easier for women.

Like Abby Johnson, many faithfully attend religious services and consider their work to be an extension of the compassionate love God expects of them. They are good people.

At the same time, the pro-choice movement is wrong to ignore the humanity of the fetus. Abortionists are presented with not one patient in a tight circumstance, but two -- both deserving compassionate care.

It has been said that a woman chooses abortion like a wolf chooses to gnaw off its leg to gain freedom from a trap. For the expectant mother, the trap may be financial -- pregnancy leading to a job loss or leading to a breakup that puts her out of her home. Perhaps she lacks the money to feed and clothe the children already dependent upon her. Whatever the reason, it is verbalized as, "I had no choice."

Authentic devotion to choice requires that we eliminate the forces that make an expectant mother feel she has only one choice. True compassion is meeting these external needs, which in turn allows her the freedom to make the choice she knows in her heart is right.

As we mark the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I encourage both pro-choice and pro-life advocates to see each other as co-laborers in the work of helping women get through tough circumstances. While we will still argue whether legalized abortion is in fact good for women, particularly as more women come forward to say, "I regret my abortion," we can agree that both sides want to help women.

Abby Johnson moved from one camp to the other that fateful day. Her deep heart of compassion was enlarged to include one more in need of an advocate -- a second patient who had been nothing more than tissue the day before.


Don Haase is president of Eagle Forum Alaska. He lives in Valdez.

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