Baby's 'angelic' face haunts former abortion nurse

WASHINGTON (BP)--Brenda Pratt Shafer witnessed a partial-birth abortion. It was an experience she would rather forget, but cannot.

A registered nurse, Shafer in 1993 worked for three days in an abortion clinic in Dayton, Ohio, under abortion doctor Martin Haskell, who popularized the procedure.

Shafer's testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in 1996 helped strengthen the push to ban partial-birth abortion and has been recounted often by senators and representatives in congressional floor debates. President Bush signed the ban into law Nov. 5.

"[B]ecause of the strong pro-choice views that I held at that time, I thought this assignment [in Haskell's clinic] would be no problem for me," she told the subcommittee in her 1996 testimony, according to a transcript. "But I was wrong."

On her third day in the clinic Shafer said she witnessed three partial-birth abortions -- the first on a young mother with a Down syndrome baby, the latter two on healthy mothers with healthy babies.

She described in detail the procedure on the Down syndrome baby, which she said was six months (26 and a half weeks) along. The procedure startled both her and the mother.

"Dr. Haskell brought the ultrasound in and hooked it up so that he could see the baby," Shafer testified. "On the ultrasound screen, I could see the heart beating. As Dr. Haskell watched the baby on the ultrasound screen, the baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen.

"Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms -- everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus.

"The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall."

The abortion was nearly complete.

"The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out," Shafer said. "Now the baby was completely limp. I was really completely unprepared for what I was seeing. I almost threw up as I watched the doctor do these things.

"... Dr. Haskell delivered the baby's head. He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw that baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he'd used. I saw the baby move in the pan. I asked another nurse and she said it was just 'reflexes.'"

Shafer said she had been a nurse more than 10 years and had witnessed many graphic procedures, but described this as the most shocking.

"I have been a nurse for a long time and I have seen a lot of death -- people maimed in auto accidents, gunshot wounds, you name it. I have seen surgical procedures of every sort. But in all my professional years, I had never witnessed anything like this.

"The woman wanted to see her baby, so they cleaned up the baby and put it in a blanket and handed the baby to her. She cried the whole time, and she kept saying, 'I'm so sorry, please forgive me!' I was crying too. I couldn't take it. That baby boy had the most perfect angelic face I have ever seen."

Shafer concluded her testimony by noting the baby was "only inches, seconds away from being entirely born, when he was killed."

"What I saw done to that little boy, and to those other babies, should not be allowed in this country."


Following is a partial transcript of Brenda Pratt Shafer's testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on the Constitution from March 21, 1996. A complete transcript is available at: http://www.house.gov/judiciary/215.htm.

"Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the Judiciary Committee, I am Brenda Pratt Shafer. I am here before you, at the request of the Committee, to relate to you my experience as an eyewitness to what is now known as the partial-birth abortion procedure.

"I am a registered nurse, licensed in the State of Ohio, with 14 years of experience. In 1993, I was employed by Kimberly Quality Care, a nursing agency in Dayton, Ohio. In September, 1993, Kimberly Quality Care asked me to accept assignment at the Women's Medical Center, which is operated by Dr. Martin Haskell. I readily accepted the assignment because I was at that time very pro-choice. I had even told my teenager daughters that if one of them ever got pregnant at a young age, I would make them get an abortion. They disagreed with me on this. And one of them even wrote an essay for a high school class that mentioned how we differed on the issue.

"So, because of the strong pro-choice views that I held at that time, I thought this assignment would be no problem for me.

"But I was wrong. I stood at a doctor's side as he performed the partial-birth abortion procedure -- and what I saw is branded forever on my mind.

"I worked as an assistant nurse at Dr. Haskell's clinic for three days -- September 28, 29 and 30, 1993.

"On the first day, we assisted in some first-trimester abortions, which is all I'd expected to be involved in. (I remember that one of the patients was a 15-year-old girl who was having her third abortion.)

"On the second day, I saw Dr. Haskell do a second-trimester procedure that is called a D & E (dilation and evacuation). He used ultrasound to examine the fetus. Then he used forceps to pull apart the baby inside the uterus, bringing it out piece by piece and piece, throwing the pieces in a pan.

"Also on the first two days, we inserted laminaria to dilate the cervixes of women who were being prepared for the partial-birth abortions -- those who were past the 20 weeks point, or 4 1/2 months. (Dr. Haskell called this procedure 'D & X', for dilation and extraction.) There were six or seven of these women.

"On the third day, Dr. Haskell asked me to observe as he performed several of the procedures that are the subject of this hearing. Although I was in that clinic on assignment of the agency, Dr. Haskell was interested in hiring me fulltime, and I was being given orientation in the entire range of procedures provided at that facility.

"I was present for three of these partial-birth procedures. It is the first one that I will describe to you in detail.

"The mother was six months pregnant (26 1/2weeks). A doctor told her that the baby had Down syndrome and she decided to have an abortion. She came in the first two days to have the laminaria inserted and changed, and she cried the whole time. On the third day she came in to receive the partial-birth procedure.

"Dr. Haskell brought the ultrasound in and hooked it up so that he could see the baby. On the ultrasound screen, I could see the heart beating. As Dr. Haskell watched the baby on the ultrasound screen, the baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen.

"Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms -- everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus.

"The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall.

"The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out. Now the baby was completely limp.

"I was really completely unprepared for what I was seeing. I almost threw up as I watched the doctor do these things.

"Mr. Chairman, I read in the paper that President Clinton says that he is going to veto this bill. If President Clinton had been standing where I was standing at that moment, he would not veto this bill.

"Dr. Haskell delivered the baby's head. He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw that baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he'd used. I saw the baby move in the pan. I asked another nurse and she said it was just 'reflexes.'

"I have been a nurse for a long time and I have seen a lot of death-- people maimed in auto accidents, gunshot wounds, you name it. I have seen surgical procedures of every sort. But in all my professional years, I had never witnessed anything like this.

"The woman wanted to see her baby, so they cleaned up the baby and put it in a blanket and handed the baby to her. She cried the whole time, and she kept saying, 'I'm so sorry, please forgive me!' I was crying too. I couldn't take it. That baby boy had the most perfect angelic face I have ever seen.

"I was present in the room during two more such procedures that day, but I was really in shock. I tried to pretend that I was somewhere else, to not think about what was happening. I just couldn't wait to get out of there. After I left that day, I never went back. These last two procedures, by the way, involved healthy mothers with healthy babies.

"I was very much affected by what I had seen. For a long time, sometimes still, I had nightmares about what I saw in that clinic that day.

"That's why, last July, I wrote a letter to Congressman Tony Hall of Dayton, in support of the bill, telling what I had seen. And that led to me being asked to tell others what I 'd seen, just as I am doing here today."

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