By Mary E. Brown, New Hampshire State Representative
The following is excerpted from a speech Mrs. Brown gave on March 19, 1997, to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
August 1997 – What is a fetus? Let’s not forget the other party in this debate.
There are many moments in our lives that are so significant that they remain indelibly etched into our memories. I’d like to share such a moment with you.
It was January 1, 1974. The pregnancy had been short and difficult. The baby had to be born, there was no choice, or both of us would die. She was only 24 weeks gestation – five-and-a-half months.
“The baby’s chances are zero,” the doctor told my husband and me. “It won’t be a live birth.” But she was kicking and flailing about all through the birth process. I could feel her, as if she were saying, “No! No! I don’t want to go!”
At that moment all eyes in the room were on her tiny body. The doctor looked surprised as he held, literally in the palm of his hand, the tiniest baby I’d ever seen and she was still kicking and flailing her legs and arms. She was doing something else, too. She was crying at the top of her lungs. Wailing, just like any newborn baby, but you could barely hear her. Her vocal chords were not yet developed.
The doctor looked at my husband and me. “Her chances are slim, and even if she survives, she’ll probably be physically and mentally handicapped, blind or worse. Do you want to try and save her or dispose of her?” We both answered simultaneously, “Save her!” The nurses quickly wrapped the tiny infant in a receiving blanket and hurried her to the nursery where she was placed in an isolet.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what a fetus is, what a baby of 20, 22 or 24 weeks is like. Despite the uproar over Roe v. Wade going on at the time, I’d never thought about abortion. But the birth of our daughter forced me to examine this issue. Let me share my insights.
First, did you ever think a fetus in the second trimester felt pain? Did you know they actually cry? Our baby cried at birth. She was in pain and distress and showed it. How small was our daughter? The wrist bracelet used to identify newborns was moved to its smallest notch. It was way too big. So they put it on her ankle. She kept kicking it off! She was too small to nurse. A tube was inserted down her throat into her stomach. The formula was measured in grams. One feeding was equal to half a teaspoon.
I stood over her isolet, feeling helpless. I began to wonder about abortions. Her features were perfectly formed. She had fingernails and toenails, eyes, nose and mouth. When I realized that she was a second trimester fetus and how many like her are aborted each year, I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.
A nurse came over to encourage me. “She’s a fighter,” she said. “She’s going to make it. She wants to live.” What a revelation! Did you ever consider that a fetus has a will to live? I went to the library and got some books on premies. There had to be something I could do to help her win that fight. I found a study done in the 1940s. It wanted to know if it was better to isolate severely premature babies and avoid human contact and risk of infections. The babies without human contact died. The babies who interacted with people had a 20% survival rate.
The next day I couldn’t wait for the doctor to arrive. I told her what I’d found and she agreed. Nurses showed me how to scrub up and, donning mask and smock, I sat beside our baby’s isolet and stroked her face, held her hand and talked to her. I spent as much time as I could with her. When you hear the word “fetus”’ do you think of something that responds to love and nurturing?
We named our daughter Jessica. Later we found the name means “the Lord’s grace.” It’s a fitting name. Jessica taught us fetuses feel pain. They cry. They are unique individuals with their own personalities. Jessica taught us that fetuses have the will to live. They fight for their lives. They don’t want to die. Just like you and me, they want to live. And Jessica taught us that they respond to human contact and love. There’s no question about it.
And what happened to Jessica? On January 1, 1974, she made her startling entry into the world, three-and-a-half months ahead of schedule, a little over two pounds.
Last May, Jessica graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, a college that accepts only 5% of its applicants based on a formula of academic, athletic and leadership achievement. Obviously, the doctor’s p r e d i c t i o n did not come to pass. Can you imagine if we had listened to him and discarded her? I can’t imagine that. The doctor was wrong.
President Clinton handed Jessica her diploma and commission. Next time the partial birth abortion bill comes to him, I hope he’ll stop and think about what a fetus really is. It’s a human being.