In 2009, there was a crisis in New Zealand when a number of nurses refused to assist in second-trimester abortions. In the article “More nurses opting out of abortion ops,” one person interviewed commented:
[It is] an issue of nurses expressing an unwillingness to continue contributing to this particular service. It’s not an area of practice where many staff choose or are comfortable to work.
An article in the Journal of Clinical Nursing sheds light on why. According to the article:
Second trimester terminations require the woman concerned to go through an induced labour, the result of which is a fetus in a very human form. (1)
Indeed, babies in the second trimester have a “very human form.” In these abortions, the baby is injected with poison to kill him or her, and then labor is induced. The woman in effect “gives birth” to a dead baby. In the U.S., third-trimester abortions are almost always done this way – by injecting the baby with poison (usually digoxin) and then inducing labor. (This method is also used in the second trimester in the U.S., although many second-trimester abortions here are done by D&E, where the baby is dismembered in utero.)
The nursing journal article goes on to say:
This event requires sensitive management as it has the potential to cause a great deal of distress for the women involved due to the psychological and physical impact of the procedure. However, health professionals involved can also find this a distressing clinical event due to the complex nature of the management and care required. (1)
One can imagine that coming face-to-face with the baby you just had killed could be a distressing experience. The image of one’s own child, killed by one’s own choice, can haunt the woman for the rest of her life. Indeed, this is what happened to NancyJo Mann, who had a similar type of abortion, and later started Women Exploited by Abortion, one of the first groups in the country to reach out to post-abortion women. (You can read her complete story here.)
In her testimony, she describes being lied to and given a sanitized description of the abortion procedure by her doctor:
After a quick examination, my abortionist told me that I would have to have the abortion done within the next 24-hours or I would be outside the limit of the law. Of course this wasn’t true, but I didn’t know that then. Abortions are legal throughout all three trimesters, right up to the day before birth, and I was still well within the second trimester. He just used this little lie to pressure me into making a quick decision.
The second lie [the abortionist told me] came during my “counseling session,” when I asked, “What are you going to do to me if I have this abortion?” All he did was look at my stomach and say, “I’m going to take a little fluid out, put a little fluid in, you’ll have severe cramps and expel the fetus.” “Is that all?” I asked. “That’s it.” “O.K.,” I said. It was only later, after the abortion had begun, that I was to learn that what he described as “cramps” was actually the labor process. These “severe cramps” were not just going to make my pregnancy magically disappear. Instead, I was going to go through all the motions of normal childbirth–water breaking, labor pains, etc. The only difference was that the baby I would deliver would be dead….
I was so naive. I trusted him. After all, he was a doctor. A respected and educated man. And like everyone else, I had always heard that legal abortion was “safe and easy.” It wasn’t until he had me on the table that I began to question these illusions. It wasn’t until he pulled out an enormous syringe that I became scared. The needle alone was four inches long. Suddenly I realized that this was not going to be as easy as he had implied.
Then NancyJo describes what happened to her and her daughter:
The first thing he did was withdraw 60 cc’s of amniotic fluid. At that point I started to feel afraid for my baby. I could feel her thrashing about, scared by this intrusion. I wanted to scream out, “Please, stop. Don’t do this to me!” But I just couldn’t get it out. I was petrified with fear.
After the fluid was withdrawn, he injected 200 cc’s of the saline solution–half a pint of concentrated salt solution. From then on, it was terrible. My baby began thrashing about–it was like a regular boxing match in there. She was in pain. The saline was burning her skin, her eyes, her throat. It was choking her, making her sick. She was in agony, trying to escape. She was scared and confused at how her wonderful little home had suddenly been turned into a death trap.
… There was no way to save her. So instead I talked to her. I tried to comfort her. I tried to ease her pain. I told her I didn’t want to do this to her, but it was too late to stop it. I didn’t want her to die. I begged her not to die. I told her I was sorry, to forgive me, that I was wrong, that I didn’t want to kill her.
For two hours I could feel her struggling inside me. But then, as suddenly as it began, she stopped. Even today, I remember her very last kick on my left side.
She describes seeing her daughter:
When finally I delivered, the nurses didn’t make it to my room in time. I delivered my daughter myself at 5:30 the next morning, October 31st. After I delivered her, I held her in my hands. I looked her over from top to bottom. She had a head of hair, and her eyes were opening. I looked at her little tiny feet and hands. Her fingers and toes even had little fingernails and swirls of fingerprints.
Everything was perfect. She was not a “fetus.” She was not a “product of conception.” She was a tiny human being. The pathology report listed her as more than seven inches from head to rump. With her legs extended, she was over a foot long. She weighed a pound-and-a-half, more than many of the premature babies being saved in incubators in every hospital in the country. But these vital statistics did not mention her most striking trait: She was my daughter. Twisted with agony. Silent and still. Dead.
It seemed like I held her for ten minutes or more, but it was probably only 30 seconds because as soon as the nurses came rushing in, they grabbed her from my hands and threw her–literally threw her–into a bedpan and carried her away.
Having read NancyJo Mann’s story, one can easily see why nurses might not want to assist with these abortions, and why it would be extremely traumatic for the people who have to “clean up” after them. Disposing of fully formed aborted babies is not a job many nurses like to do.
The nursing journal article then makes reference to a bizarre practice:
… nurses are frequently required to clean and dress the fetus, ensure transfer to an appropriate receptacle if the mother wants to see it, all the while supporting the woman as she goes through this process. This often occurs after a lengthy period when the women and nurses have been intimately connected, working through a range of decisions such as whether the mother wants to see, and perhaps name or photograph the fetus. Consequently, although women undergoing mid-trimester termination are ‘well’, this is a challenging clinical event that requires much from nurses in terms of physiological and psychological skill and expertise. (1)
Yes, some women like to see the baby in order to say goodbye to him or her. These women have come to terms with the fact that they have indeed killed their own children; they are not in any kind of denial and have even given their babies names. In some of these cases, the woman might be terminating a wanted pregnancy – wanted, that is, until it is discovered that the baby will be disabled.
Doctors can sometimes do a good job of convincing a woman that her disabled child will suffer a terrible life and that, therefore, abortion is the kindest choice. Sometimes doctors are affected by elitist beliefs that disabled children do not have lives worth living. Sometimes the coercion to abort can be blatant.
But nothing changes the cold hard fact that these abortions kill a fully developed child. The concept of taking fully formed aborted babies away from their mothers, who have just gone through a grueling process of labor, and either throwing them away like trash or dressing them in little outfits for a macabre ritual (and then throwing them away like trash) is disturbing to anyone who possesses a sense of right and wrong.
The fact that this is a “challenging clinical event” is an understatement. The emotional scars that these nurses must carry, dealing with this day after day, must be beyond belief.
(1) ANNETTE D. HUNTINGTON RGON, BN, PhD “Working with women experiencing mid-trimester termination of pregnancy: the integration of nursing and feminist knowledge in the gynaecological setting” Journal of Clinical Nursing, 2002, 11 273-279