Americans are buzzing with the news of President George Bush’s decision to fund existing embryonic stem-cell research, and neither end of the issue’s spectrum appear to be happy with his conclusion.
Embryonic stem-cell research has been the crucible for debating the beginning of life: Is a days-old embryo – with no organs or limbs – human life, or is it just the potential for life?
Yet while the debate rages, many men and women are making trips to Wichita, Kansas, where their unborn babies – well beyond the embryonic stage – are aborted.
What’s so special about Wichita? That’s where Dr. George Tiller specializes in late-term abortions, ending the lives of unborn babies up to 38 weeks of gestation diagnosed with various debilitating or life-threatening diseases. And when the abortion is over, parents are invited to hold memorial services for their dead infants, dressing them in tiny clothes, having their hand and foot prints taken, and even photographs with the family.
It’s the stuff urban legends are made of, except this one is much more than an infamous Internet rumor.
Women’s Health Care Services has earned an international reputation for performing abortions on babies in their second and third trimester. Run by Tiller, the clinic specializes in late-term abortions for parents of unborn babies diagnosed with various “fetal anomalies.” Those “anomalies” have included kidney disease, spina bifida, Down’s Syndrome and a “variety of other very significant abnormalities.”
The clinic also provides “elective” late-term abortions up to the time a fetus is viable, meaning it can live outside the mother’s womb. Post-viability abortions are allowable under Kansas law when continuing the pregnancy is deemed detrimental to a mother’s health.
The clinic’s claim to fame is the unique grief-management services it offers. According to the Women’s Health Care Center website, those services include:
- Viewing your baby after delivery
- Holding your baby after delivery
- Photographs of your baby
- Baptism of your baby, with or without a certificate
- Footprints and handprints of your baby
- Certificate of premature miscarriage
- An urn for ashes
- Arrangement of burial in either Wichita or your home state
- Arrangement of amniocentesis/autopsy
- Medical photographs and x-rays for your health-care professional
When attempting to obtain comment, WorldNetDaily was informed by clinic staff that, as a rule, Women’s Health Care Services does not respond to press inquiries. The policy is intended to assist in maintaining the clinic’s low profile, a staff person said. The clinic’s website, however, offers abundant information about Tiller’s philosophy and includes quotes from the abortionist. Regarding grief-management services, the website said staff will attempt to accommodate individual requests to the best of its ability.
“Everyone approaches this experience with their own unique emotional, spiritual, and cultural background. There is not a right way or wrong way, just ‘your way.’ Once the process of healing has begun, you may want to consider a token of the precious time you and your baby had together,” the website reads. “Grief is a very complex emotion which is expressed in many different ways.”
Interestingly, the website refers to fetuses as “babies” – a huge public relations faux pas in the view of most pro-abortion organizations. But Tiller puts a compassionate face on his chosen profession, choosing to identify with parents who have opted to end a wanted pregnancy.
“We recognize your decision to come to our center is distressing. We understand that many of our patients are experiencing the most difficult situation of their lives. All of our services are oriented around our philosophy that the easy part of the process is the premature delivery of a stillborn – the hard part is saying goodbye to the hopes, dreams and relationships that you have with your baby,” the website states.
“Premature delivery of a stillborn” is how Tiller characterizes his late-term abortions of babies with “fetal anomalies.” The procedure is known as “labor and delivery” in which sponge-like sticks are repeatedly inserted into the woman’s vagina over a one- to four-day period to open her cervix. When the cervix has dilated, labor is induced. The woman is sedated and given anesthesia during labor.
“On the first day of the process, an injection of a medication is made into the baby to assure that it will be stillborn and will not experience any discomfort during the procedure,” explains the clinic’s website.
After the baby is delivered, suction devices commonly used to perform “early” abortions are used to remove the placenta and remaining tissue. When it’s all over, most patients are able to leave the next morning. Over 80 percent of Tiller’s patients receive labor-and-delivery abortions.
But while some parents choose to abort their babies diagnosed with spina bifida — one of the “fetal abnormalities” listed by Tiller as a reason some parents abort their children – a relatively new procedure has given other parents hope. Although the in-utero surgery performed on pre-born babies does not cure the disease, it can reduce the disease’s effects. Perhaps the most famous recipient of the operation is “Baby Samuel.”
On Dec. 2, 1999, a Cesarean section was performed, bringing “Baby Samuel” into the world with new hope – he had been diagnosed with spina bifida just weeks after his conception. Samuel’s parents, Julie and Alex Armas, chose to subject mother and child to a revolutionary procedure before he was born.
At the conclusion of Baby Samuel’s in-utero operation, the surgeon held the 21-week-old fetus’ tiny hand outside the womb for a photo. The picture helped renew the abortion debate and ultimately resulted in the cancellation of journalist Matt Drudge’s Fox News Channel show.
The debilitating disease damages the spinal cord, which can cause paralysis or weakness of the legs, bowel and bladder incontinence, neurological impairments and learning disabilities. Nearly all children born with spina bifida must undergo surgery to implant permanent shunts – thin tubes that remove excess fluid that could otherwise cause brain damage.
While only time will tell how successful the surgery was, Samuel was born healthy and, as of February 2000, is home with his parents. The Armases have steered clear of media attention since their son’s birth, but in a handful of rare media appearances early last year, the parents talked about Samuel’s condition.
Since last report, he had not developed hydrocephalus, the potentially dangerous build-up of fluid in the brain that is a common complication of spina bifida. The latest ultrasound test of his head “was almost completely normal,” said Armas, who has worked as an obstetrical nurse.
Leg weakness is another complication of spina bifida, and Samuel is receiving physical therapy to improve his leg function. Although he may eventually need braces below the knees to help him walk, “his orthopedist is very pleased with the way he’s coming along,” Armas said. “That really made us feel better.”
“He’s a typical little baby, keeping us up at night,” his mother said at the time.
The operation was performed just 21 weeks after conception – weeks before Samuel, the youngest child ever to undergo the procedure, could have survived on his own outside the womb. Full term is about 40 weeks.
For parents who choose to abort their babies with spina bifida and other complications, a web-based support group has been formed. Called “A Heartbreaking Choice,” the group’s website includes posts from women who have undergone the procedure, though not necessarily at Tiller’s clinic.
Describing the labor-and-delivery process used to abort late-term babies, “Nancy W.” writes, “Most babies are so young that they do not survive the process, but be aware that some babies do survive the labor and delivery.” She added, “If the baby is born alive, you can hold and comfort your baby until he or she dies.”
In one eerily morbid section, Nancy gives advice to families whose babies are aborted by dilation and extraction, or D&E, as opposed to labor and delivery.
“If you have a D&E, you will not be awake for the procedure, so your choice of memories to make isn’t as long. Plus, your baby’s remains may not be intact after the procedure, so you may not get to hold and spend time with your baby. But there are still options: a blessing beforehand, sometimes a carefully posed picture shot by staff, sometimes that is not possible. Sometimes footprints or handprints are possible, especially if you bring the stuff for it. And you can bring a special blanket or stuffed animal, just because. Ask the staff ahead of time and tell them you are making some memories,” she writes. “Think of what you do as a way of honoring your little baby’s brief presence in your lives!”
Tiller’s website includes a link to “A Heartbreaking Choice.” He has provided abortion services since 1973, and is said to have “pioneered the use of sonogram imaging during surgery and other procedures that have been adopted as the standard of care for abortion providers nationwide,” according to his clinic’s site.
Tiller is a diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice Physicians and is described on his website as having “vast experience [with] over three decades of family medicine practice, both inpatient and outpatient.” That experience helps him “bring the excellence of diversity into focus on this very specialized area of medicine and women’s health care.” He has received numerous awards, including the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, the “Christopher Tietze Humanitarian Award” and the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights’ “Faith and Freedom Award.” (RCAR is now known as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.)
Regarding his controversial profession, Tiller has said, “Women and families are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and ethically competent to struggle with complex health issues – including abortion – and come to decisions that are appropriate for themselves.”
More than 81 percent of the women who make the decision to come to Tiller’s clinic are married, 77 percent of them are white, the vast majority have graduated from high school, and more than a third have college degrees.
Tiller takes pride in his clinic’s “unparalleled record of safety” in late-term abortions, saying he has “more experience in late abortion services over 24 weeks than anyone else currently practicing in the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Australia.”
“Wherever you are in the North American continent, someone from your area, state or country has been a patient at Women’s Health Care Services. By providing our professional and compassionate Fetal Indications Termination of Pregnancy Program services to hundreds of women, we have developed an international reputation for excellence and safety,” reads the website.
Though most of the aborted babies from Tiller’s clinic are not used for special study, more than 18 percent of the babies are given autopsies, have tissue samples taken, or have tests on their chromosomes, amniotic fluid or fetal blood, according to Tiller’s website. And despite the opposition to abortion by Catholic and Protestant Christians, nearly 70 percent of Tiller’s patients identify themselves as such.
“He’s self-deluded. He thinks he’s doing great and wonderful work, and that’s not how we see it all,” she said. “George Tiller represents everything that is wrong with the abortion industry. He holds himself out to be this professional who offers this wonderful service to women he says are in need. But what he’s really dealing out is death and misery and horror, taking advantage of women in a very vulnerable state and convincing them that they are doing the right thing by killing their children and then salving their conscience,” said Hawkins, by bringing in ministers who console them with memorial services.
She added that Tiller provides grief-management services to help parents mourn the loss of something he would otherwise not recognize as a baby.
According to Hawkins, the least-expensive known price tag of a Tiller abortion is $5,000. Given the number of late-term abortions performed only on patients of his Fetal Indications Termination of Pregnancy program over a 12-and-a-half year period, and assuming each is performed for a fee of $5,000, patients have paid an estimated $9.9 million to Tiller’s clinic.
“This is an industry,” stated Hawkins. “He’s making a ton of money, and he’s making a ton of money at the expense of these poor women who he’s deluded into thinking he’s doing them a service.”
From January 1989 to May 2001, Tiller reports that 2,006 patients – some as young as 13 – had their critically diagnosed babies aborted at his clinic. Of those abortions, 42.9 percent were performed because the baby had a problem with its central nervous system, 19.4 percent because of genetic abnormalities, 9.5 percent because of skeletal abnormalities, and 5.4 percent due to cardiac problems. The average gestational age of the aborted babies is 27 weeks, though the range is from 15 to 38 weeks.
Hawkins said there are typically sidewalk counselors outside Women’s Health Care Services most days the clinic is open, pleading with women not to go through with the abortion. Last year, a new crisis-pregnancy center opened next door to the clinic, giving patients a visible choice before entering Tiller’s building.
The contrast between the two facilities is dramatic, said Hawkins, who described the crisis-pregnancy center as a small home. The area is dominated, however, by Tiller’s fortress-like compound that is surrounded by fencing and surveillance equipment.
“He’s not an icon of the community, as he would portray himself to be,” she added. “We’re very saddened to have him in our state, giving our state the notorious image of being the late-term abortion capital of the world. We are ashamed to have him in our community, but we continue to pray daily for his conversion.”