The famous photo of baby Samuel’s hand reaching out from the uterus of his mother at 21 weeks’ gestation during fetal surgery has turned a veteran photojournalist hired by USA Today for the shoot into a pro-life activist. Michael Clancy, who snapped the photo after seeing the baby’s hand jut out of the hole in the womb made by the surgeons, now offers his image free of charge to pro-life groups.

Clancy explains that, “During a spina bifida corrective procedure at 21 weeks in utero, Samuel thrusts his tiny hand out of the surgical opening of his mother’s uterus. As the doctor lifts his hand, Samuel reacts to the touch and squeezes the doctor’s finger. As if testing for strength, the doctor shakes the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. At that moment, I took this ‘Fetal Hand Grasp’ photo.”

Clancy says he wants to “print the picture of Samuel on posters for donation to Crisis Pregnancy Centres,” and billboards are next on the agenda. “If you think you could help in putting the picture of Samuel on billboards, preferably next to high schools and abortion clinics, please e-mail me with your suggestions.”

In his own words by Michael Clancy

As a veteran photojournalist in Nashville, Tenn., I was hired by the USA Today newspaper to photograph a spina bifida corrective surgical procedure. It was to be performed on a 21-week-old fetus in-utero at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre.

At that time, in 1999, 21 weeks in utero was the earliest that the surgical team would consider for surgery. The worst possible outcome would be that the surgery would cause premature delivery, and no child born earlier than twenty-three weeks had survived.

The tension could be felt in the operating room as the surgery began. A typical C-section incision was made to access the uterus, which was then lifted out and laid at the junction of the mother’s thighs. The entire procedure would take place within the uterus, and no part of the child was to breach the surgical opening.

During the procedure, the position of the fetus was adjusted by gently manipulating him outside of the uterus. The entire surgical procedure on the child was completed in one hour and 13 minutes. When it was over, the surgical team breathed a sigh of relief, as did I.

As a doctor asked me what speed of film I was using, out of the corner of my eye I saw the uterus shake, but no one’s hands were near it. It was shaking from within. Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing. The doctor reached over and lifted the hand, which reacted and squeezed the doctor’s finger.

As if testing for strength, the doctor shook the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. I took the picture! Wow! It happened so fast that the nurse standing next to me asked, “What happened?” “The child reached out,” I said. “Oh. They do that all the time,” she responded.

The surgical opening to the uterus was closed and the uterus was then put back into the mother and the C-section opening was closed.

It was 10 days before I knew if the picture was even in focus. To ensure no digital manipulation of images before they see them, USA Today requires that film be submitted unprocessed. When the photo editor finally phoned me, he said, “It’s the most incredible picture I’ve ever seen.”