"Don, I want you to go down to Ob-Gyn this morning. They're doing an abortion and I want you to see it."
My first thought after getting these directions from my nursing instructor was, Why me? I could remember asking previously to be present at a live birth if the opportunity presented itself, but I had no desire to see an abortion. But I went. I was in my final semester of nursing school. It had been a long grind. I wasn't going to make any waves at that point.
It was 1975 and I was not the fervent pro-lifer that I am today. Fact was, I hadn't given the subject of abortion much thought. Looking back, it seems inconceivable that I, a conservative Christian, would be so unconcerned. Was my attitude sexist? Did I view abortion as a "woman problem" that had nothing to do with me?
Perhaps. But I do know this: What I saw that day has stayed with me 23 years, and will stay with me until I go to my grave.
One scene in particular is as vivid today as on that May morning in 1975. It is with me always, both on a conscious level and in my dreams: a little hand...a little rib cage.
"We've given her a general [anesthetic]. She's about 11 weeks, so a dilatation and suction will be all that's necessary." The physician spoke very matter-of-factly as he sat on a stool between the stirrupped and draped legs of his patient. He was obviously very familiar with the procedure. He continued: "We're going to keep her longer this time. Last time she nearly exsanguinated on the way home."
I looked at the assisting nurse. She nearly bled to death last time? This isn't her first abortion? The doctor continued talking in his disinterested monotone, and I watched as the contents of the woman's womb came through a suctioning device and into a stainless-steel pail sitting at his feet. I stepped back and wiped the perspiration from my brow. "This is kind of gruesome," I said. "Was there some special reason she didn't want to have her baby?"
"She wanted an abortion," the nurse replied, "and we're required by law to do what she wants." The doctor had been listening to our conversation. As he stood up, he said: "At this point in a pregnancy, the products of conception aren't much." I knew the emphasis on "products of conception" was for my benefit.
Is that what you have in that pail? I thought. Does that make it easier for you? I did not have the courage to put into words what I was thinking. I've always regretted that.
I stepped forward and peered into the pail. This time I broke out in a cold sweat. I backed up and leaned against the wall, my eyes closed. Dear Jesus! I thought. I just saw someone murdered! And I just stood and watched! Why did I come down here? How will I ever put this out of my mind?
"Are you OK?" the voice of the nurse brought me back.
"I'm sorry," I smiled weakly. "I just never realized what it was like. Do you assist with these all the time?"
"More than I care to admit," the nurse said. "Actually I can handle one, but when they come back for the second or third time, it really gets to me."
As I left the operating room, I shook my head in an attempt to get the horrible vision out of my head. I couldn't. It was there; it would always be there: a little hand...a little rib cage.
For some years after that, I had a recurring dream. A little baby would reach out to me. I would try to get to the baby, but my legs were like lead weights. When I'd finally drag myself to the baby, he would be gone. I knew the dream was symbolic of the guilt I was feeling. I could not have stopped that abortion. I had not the courage or the authority.
I now no longer have the dream. God in His infinite wisdom set me free. But I still have the memory -- the little hand...the little rib cage. The difference now is, I don't want the memory to leave. It gives me strength.
From what I read, 25 million more babies have been aborted since the one I saw in 1975. That baby who was never given a chance would now be 23 years old. But I believe that little child has an immortal soul just as I do. He now resides with God. And nowadays, when I stand alongside the highway, holding my sign that reads Abortion Kills Children, I think of the soul of that baby and the tiny body that ended up in a stainless-steel pail at the doctor's feet. Then I hold my sign even higher, because I know that baby is looking down at me and is glad I'm there.