For most of the past 15 years, registered nurse Lorraine Keess has worked in the general and pediatric wards of Calgary hospitals. She is the mother of a boy, nine, and a girl, three, and the wife of a city businessman. A year ago last month, she took a job in the pathology laboratory of a hospital which performs abortions. Until then, she says, “My views on abortion were noncommittal. I was a fence-sitter.” Last June she stopped working in the lab. In the following account Nurse Keess describes her “metamorphosis of attitude about abortion” which began the first day she walked into the laboratory:
On the counter sit a dozen or so clear plastic suction bottles holding cloth bags filled with the previous day’s POCs (products of conception). Inside each one the liquid formaldehyde is now stained dark red with blood. I am told it’s my job to open each bottle and examine the contents, then to prepare tissue for a microscope to verify a successful abortion. No one warned me this was to be my gruesome task, I thought in silent protest. Why should I have to look at them?
I remove the bag from the first bottle and cut it open with scissors. In a bed of mulched and bloody tissue I immediately recognize tiny parts…human parts…arms, legs, intestines, rib cage, lungs, liver and heart…perfect parts. No one in the lab is aware I am numbed by the sight. Methodically, I cut off a piece of placenta then choose an arm and cut off a hand for the microscope. I encounter a case in two bottles, marked A and B. I open the first bag and sense my heart quicken, my chest and throat tighten…This one is enormous. In the entangled mess is a dismembered arm. The fingers are positioned so naturally, they look like those of a sleeping infant. My eyes flood with tears so, to offset the embarrassment, I remark that the fumes are burning. I hold the well-developed hand in mine and notice that it is large enough to grasp my small finger. He’s a boy, I discover. His spinal column is jutting out of the heap of tissue. It is hard and strong so by now the mother surely felt his movements.
I open the second bag. I find an eyeball the size of a marble and the baby’s face envulsed from the rest of the head, giving the grim appearance of a moduled rubber mask. I am sickened. “12 weeks gestation” is boldly written on the requisition that should have read 19 or 20.
I complete my task for that first day, as I will for the next 179 working days. At an average of 10 per day, just 20 minutes work, I will dissect approximately 1,800 abortions. The popular argument of the age – that it is the right of a woman to do as she wishes with her own body – seems incomprehensible as I stare into the face of a dead child. Those mothers don’t have to look. Even the abortionists needn’t look.
I also dissect spontaneous miscarriages and tubal pregnancies. I contemplate the conflicting attitudes, circumstances and emotions of those undergoing therapeutic abortions and those suffering spontaneous abortions. At tremendous emotional and monetary expense, we strive to sustain the lives of very premature infants. Yet in the same building we snuff out the lives of unborn children, many close to the gestational age of those we struggle to save.
Upstairs in the hospital I envision the hustle and bustle of the preemie nursery: doctors consulting with anxious parents as they agonize for tense and unbearable hours, nurses rushing to adjust equipment and to answer the calls of the alarms from umpteen machines, respirators and incubators. I imagine the wails of parents when their child dies, their agony and the pain of those who tried to help. Then, I envision the room where abortions are being performed and see doctors sucking babies out of their mothers as if these tiny beings are non-entities, removing them like cancerous growths to be pitched into the garbage.
Is ripping a child from the life-giving womb any different from starving it to death? From refusing medical care when it is born prematurely? From leaving it in the street garbage bin after it’s born? There is no difference.