Testimony of Brenda Pratt Shafer, RN - eye witness to partial birth abortions
Editor's note: The following are excerpts from Brenda Pratt Shafer's speech to NRLC '96. Shafer, an RN, participated in three partial birth abortions. Prior to that experience, she was "Pro Choice". She gave similar testimony to Congress during the Congressional investigations of the partial birth abortion.
...I worked for a nursing agency at the time and they did everything -- they staffed clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and I did the whole gamut. And they called me one day and they said, "Brenda, will you work in this abortion clinic in Dayton?" and I said, "Well what do they do?" They said, "Well they do abortions. They do D & C abortions." That's what they told me. I have never even heard of the partial birth abortion before I walked in there. So I told them I would do it. I didn't have a problem with it since I was pro-choice, and that's the way I felt about it. I was even interviewed when I got to the clinic about my views because they wanted to make sure, I guess, at that point that I wasn't a 'plant' there.
D & C Abortions
The first day I was there we did what's called D & C abortions. And it's a suction abortion of babies like six weeks and around that age. The thing that really sticks out in my mind that day, there was a 15 year old girl there having her third abortion and she laughed the whole way through. And I thought, you know, this could be my 15 year old sitting on this bed and having this abortion.
Late Term D & E Abortion
...The partial birth abortion is a three day procedure.... The first two days, the women are brought in and they do a process which they insert something that's called laminaria -- it looks like a tampon but it's made out of seaweed -- and they insert it into the cervix and when it gets wet, it expands, thus dilating the cervix. Because when a woman goes through labor and labor pains that's what happens, the cervix is dilating to enlarge it to bring the baby out. We also have to do it in an abortion because you just can't pull it out of an undilated cervix.... They came in, they had their laminaria inserted, and we sent them home or to an area hotel with an emergency phone number.
The second day, we brought them back in again and changed the laminaria, thus dilating it even more, and also on the second day they did what's called the D & E abortions. And in this abortion...they brought the ultra sound machine in and attached it to the woman's stomach, and you could see the baby, you could see the heartbeat. And these are up to four and a half months pregnant, that's about as far as they go on these. And I stood at the doctor's side, about three feet away from him and I watched them take a pair of forceps and go up inside the uterus and literally tear a baby from limb to limb. He went in and tore off an arm and threw it into the pan, went in and tore off a leg and put it into the pan. He continued until he got to the head then went up and with the forceps and crushed the head and pulled it out. And I'm standing there looking in the little pan that he had the body in, and I'm thinking to myself, wait a minute, where's the blob of cells, where's the mass of tissue? I see an arm, I see a leg, with toes and fingers on it, and it really started to bother me at that point.
And I started thinking about it...I came home and I thought, well, if this is as bad as it is on the second day, I hate to see what the third day's going to be like. And they did explain to me a little bit what was going to happen. The third day I went in, the first abortion I saw was a woman who was 26-1/2 weeks pregnant.
The baby had Downs Syndrome. And the nurse called her their special case. And I said, "Why is she a special case?" "Well, the doctor doesn't like to do them past 26 weeks and she's a little bit past."
Some women don't want abortions...
...This one particular lady didn't want the abortion. She had this Downs Syndrome baby, she was unmarried, her boyfriend didn't want the baby, and her parents didn't want the baby. She cried the whole three days she was in there. So we did her first to get her over with. We brought her in, prepped her, started an I.V. of Valium to calm her down. We did not use a general anesthesia and knock her out. ...We brought the ultrasound machine in and hooked it up to her stomach.
I could see the baby...
I could see the baby. I could see the heartbeat. And the doctor wanted me to stand right beside him, because he wanted me to see everything there was about partial-birth abortion. So I stood there. He went in, guided by ultrasound. He took a pair of forceps and went in and turned the baby because it wasn't in this position at the time. He found a foot and he pulled the baby's foot down through the birth canal, bringing it down and grabbed another foot, and literally started pulling the baby out, breech position, feet first. And he kept pulling it down, and I'm seeing this baby come pulled out of the mommy, his butt, his chest, and then, he delivered both these arms. And the lady's in stirrups, just like you have a baby or just like you're having an ob/gyn examination. And the baby, the only thing that was supporting the baby was the doctor was holding it in with his two fingers, holding the neck so the head was just inside the mommy.
And the baby was kicking his feet, hanging there, moving his little fingers and his little arms. I couldn't believe -- I don't know what I thought killed it in three days, but he was moving and I kept watching that baby move. And I kept thinking to myself, this isn't happening and I thought I was going to pass out. And I kept telling myself, I'm a professional, I can handle this, you know, this is right, this is supposed to be, and I supposed to handle this, I'm a nurse. He then took a pair of scissors and jammed them into the back of the baby's head. And the baby jerked out, like a startle reflex, like a baby does if you throw him up a little bit and he jumps. And then the baby was real rigid. The doctor then opened up the scissors to make a hole. He took a high powered suction machine with a catheter and stuck it in that hole and suctioned the baby's brains out. And the baby went completely limp.
I've seen that in my mind a thousand or more times...
And I have seen that in my mind a thousand or more times, of that baby, watching the life just drain out of it. And like I said before, I've seen babies die in my hands, I had people die in my hands. But it wasn't anything like seeing that vision of watching this abortion. And I almost threw up all over the floor. I was literally just breathing and saying, "Don't throw up, don't throw up, you're gonna be embarrassed if you do this." So I tried not to.
He pulled the head out, he cut the umbilical cord and threw it in a pan, and delivered the placenta and threw it in the same pan, he covered it up and took it out. Well, this mommy wanted to see her baby. And the doctor told us ahead of time, he said, "Try to discourage her from seeing the baby." He doesn't like that. But she had the right to see it. So they cleaned it up and we cleaned her up, and we walked her out of the operating room, and took her to a room and handed her the baby.
The mother held her dead baby in her arms...
...She held that baby in her arms and she screamed and prayed to God...to forgive her, and for that baby to forgive her, and she held it and rocked it, and told him that she loved him. And I looked in that baby's face, and he had the most angelic perfect face I've ever seen, and I just kept thinking, he's an angel now, he's in heaven. And I couldn't take it. In all the years I've been a nurse, [for the first time] I lost it. And I pardoned myself and excused myself and I ran to the bathroom and I cried and prayed.
...I saw two more that day, about 25 weeks. But I was in shock. I stood there and I knew what was happening but I didn't want to be there. I was walking on a beach in Hawaii somewhere, trying to get myself out of that room. ...The other ones were perfectly healthy mothers with perfectly healthy babies. One was a 40 year old woman who had a 19 year old son and she was getting a divorce so she didn't want the baby. The other was a teenage mom who hid the pregnancy from her parents, and then, her parents found out and made her abort the baby.
President Clinton vetoed the partial birth abortion ban bill ....
President Clinton vetoed this bill (the Partial-birth abortion Ban Act). I wish President Clinton had been standing where I was standing. I don't think he would have vetoed the bill.
...A lot of people out there say I didn't see what I saw. Believe me, I saw it and I've had a lot of nightmares. And this is one way of healing, of trying to get over this, and teach people the truth about what really does go on. I wish I hadn't seen what I saw, in a way, because it was very terrifying. What I saw that day shouldn't be allowed in this country.
People ask me why I've done this and why I've gone through with this and my husband's always told me, "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." And that's what I'm trying to do, is light one candle. And hopefully from my candle I can light someone else's candle and they'll light someone else's and so on. Because one person can make a difference. And that's the big thing. Every one of you can make a difference. Whether it's you telling one person, your neighbor, and they tell one person, we got to, we've got to get the truth out and we've got to tell them.
And one of these days every person in here is going to stand before God and He's going to ask you, "What did you do for Me on Earth?" And you're going to say, "Lord, I didn't do much, but I lit one candle." And He's going to say to you, "But oh, how it shines."(Testimony by Brenda Shafer, RN)