“I didn’t really want kids,” says Michael Clancy. A terrible, abusive childhood left him with no desire to have children of his own. And when it came to the subject of aborting children in the womb, he sat on the sidelines, believing that it was a woman’s issue. “I thought that as a man, it wasn’t my fight!” he said. That was until he witnessed the extraordinary event that happened 12 years ago: the event that changed his life forever.
Last week, Clancy was the keynote speaker at the Knights of Columbus Michigan Council and Michigan Right to Life’s 34th Respect Life Dinner in Livonia, Michigan. He shared his amazing story and the controversy surrounding him since the day he found himself in just the right place at precisely the right time to take extraordinary photos – photos that the Tennessee native declares are the earliest recorded human interactions. The images are so powerful that a battle has raged for over 12 years about their validity. Clancy travels the world to tell the truth about what happened and why we should believe him.
Michael Clancy is the photojournalist who was hired by USA Today to record the fetal surgery of 21-week-old Samuel Armas. According to Clancy, during the surgery to correct for spina bifida, he saw that the mother’s uterus began to shake from within, and as he watched, the tiny fist “came through the opening with a fury” to reveal the whole arm. The doctor lifted the tiny hand, and Samuel then “reacted by squeezing the doctor’s gloved finger.” As if to test for strength, the doctor, Joseph P. Bruner, shook the fist, but “Samuel held firm,” according to Clancy.
The veteran photojournalist was able to take several pictures in progression at 1/60 of a second. Not even sure if the pictures were in focus, Clancy submitted the roll of unprocessed film to USA Today per their policy to avoid manipulation.
But immediately after the surgery, Clancy was shocked when the doctor asserted to others that the event was staged and that he had purposely pulled the baby’s hand out of the womb to provide a photo op. “Untrue!” says Clancy as he suddenly found himself in the center of a very difficult situation.
“I knew this was important! You can look back and see the earliest human interaction! This was history…I knew as a journalist that history is important whether we like it or not!”
It came down to Clancy’s word against the doctor, who, suggests Clancy, needed to protect his reputation from the evidence that Samuel had come out from under the anesthesia too early – an occurrence, Clancy says, that “happens[,] and we all know it. It [anesthesia] was experimental for mother and baby at the time.”
It would be reasonable to think that the man who snapped such an amazing photo would receive a Pulitzer Prize. But the controversy served to end Clancy’s journalistic reputation and the twelve-year career he loved.
Ever since, he has been speaking to people about the event and the historic and political impact on the journalistic community at the time.
The photograph, meanwhile, has made a significant and untold impression on the whole world, and the dramatic moment has been recreated on major television shows: “Scrubs,” “House,” and “The Good Wife.”
You know, you want a ticker tape parade, you want a Pulitzer Prize but I have learned that sometimes it’s the journey…sometimes it’s the one heart a day that we need to win this battle.
When asked what caused him to change from being uninvolved in the pro-life movement to becoming someone who fights for the unborn, Clancy says, “I didn’t want to be in this position. It’s tough to be in the middle of this. It was Samuel who did it… I have a lot of questions – did he feel the cold air or see light? In my opinion, he came out of the anesthesia and he did feel pain for whatever duration that was… [I wonder,] what motor senses did that baby use for his fist to come flying up?” But what did Dr. Bruner and medical science learn that day? Says Clancy, “Not to let a photographer in [to the operating room]!”
What Clancy saw in that operating room was all the proof he needed to change his life. “Samuel proved to us that the child is a reactive human being – it’s as simple as that and it is important to fight for!”
“I want to prove that this picture is real because it is history. Someday, it is going to happen again, and people will look back and say that I was telling the truth the whole time!”