Church & World: Nurse Who Witnessed Partial-Birth Abortion Now Travels Nation to Condemn the Practice

ST. PAUL, Minn. (EP) — Nurse Brenda Pratt Shafer opened some eyes last year on Capitol Hill. Her eyewitness account of partial-birth abortion convinced even some normally pro-choice lawmakers to vote to ban the procedure. Now, Shafer travels the nation sharing her experience with pro-life groups and encouraging lawmakers to ban the brutal procedure. In mid-February, she appeared in Minnesota to support a pending bill that would outlaw partial-birth abortions.

Shafer, who has been a registered nurse for 15 years, witnessed partial-birth abortions when she was sent to work at an abortion clinic in September of 1993. Shafer, who has worked as a surgical nurse and in emergency rooms, said, “I’ve seen people maimed in accidents, I’ve had babies die in my hands…but nothing that I ever saw could have prepared me for what I saw in an abortion clinic.”

Shafer, who was a single mother for 10 years, said she had considered herself to be pro-choice and had told her teenage daughters that if they got pregnant she would make them have abortions. Her nursing agency sent her to work for Dr. Martin Haskell at the Women’s Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. Haskell pioneered the partial-birth abortion procedure. During her first two days, Shafer assisted with standard abortions, and helped prepare women for partial-birth abortions, a three-day procedure that requires mechanical dilation of the mother’s cervix.

On the third day she assisted with three partial-birth abortions. The first patient was nearly 27 weeks pregnant and didn’t want an abortion, but was being pressured to have one by her parents and boyfriend because her child had Down’s Syndrome. “She cried the entire time she was there,” recalled Shafer.

“We brought her into the operating room and put a gown on her, and started an IV of Valium to calm her down,” Shafer said. “The doctor came in with the ultrasound machine and hooked it up to her, and I could see the baby moving around and I could see his heart beat. I stood right beside the doctor because he wanted me to watch him. He went up with a pair of forceps and grabbed a leg and turned the baby in utero and brought a little foot down through the birth canal and grabbed it, and then went up and grabbed the other foot and brought it down through the birth canal, to where he had both feet outside.”

“He grabbed hold of both of these little feet with his hands, and he started pulling the baby outside the mother, feet-first, breech position, until he had delivered the entire body except for the head,” Shafer continued. “As I stood there this doctor held the head in with his two fingers, making sure the head didn’t slip out, because if the head slips out at this point and he kills it, it’s murder. But as long as he leaves the baby’s head just inside—three inches, three seconds from being born and being called a person in this country, and being protected under all of our laws—no matter how he kills it, it’s called an abortion in America.”

“As I stood there I watched the little baby kicking his feet and moving his little hands and fingers hanging from his Mom. The doctor then took a pair of scissors and plunged them into the back of the baby’s head right there, and when he did that, the baby jerked down in a startled reaction like a newborn baby does if he thinks he might fall The doctor then opened up the scissors to make a hole, and he took a high-powered suction machine and stuck it in that hole in the back of the baby’s neck, and suctioned his brains out.”

“[The baby] went limp and [the doctor] pulled the head out and he cut the cord. I stood there and fought back the tears and tried to keep myself from passing out.”

The mother wanted to see the baby, so Shafer and the doctor cleaned up the mother and the tiny corpse, took the mother to another room and gave her the body. “She looked down in his little face and she screamed for God to forgive her. And she held him and she rocked him, and she begged the baby to forgive her,” Shafer said. “And I lost it. I ran to the bathroom and I screamed to God and I said, ‘Why are you letting this happen in this country? You’ve got to do something about this!’ And my kids tease me now and say, ‘Mom, God did do something; He sent you.’”

Shafer assisted with two more partial-birth abortions that day. One patient was a 40-year old woman with a 19-year-old son; she was aborting her 25-week-old unborn child because her husband had left her. The other patient was a 17-year-old girl who had tried to hide her pregnancy from her parents, then was told to get an abortion at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“There were seven of those done that day,” notes Shafer. “Of the seven, one baby had Down’s Syndrome. The rest of them were done on perfectly healthy babies and perfectly healthy mothers.”

Though supporters of partial-birth abortion insist that the procedure is used only in rare instances to save the life of the mother, Shafer explained that the doctor who invented the procedure is a family practitioner, not a specialist, and that the procedure takes place in a clinic with limited emergency equipment, not in a hospital. “Two hours after this procedure is done the woman goes home—not to intensive care or to a floor where she can be monitored—she walks out of the clinic and goes home; yet they want to tell you this is done to save her life,” said Shafer.

Shafer noted that the breech position required for the procedure poses dangers for the mother, and that mothers facing breech births are generally given emergency caesarean sections. She also explained that while advocates of partial-birth abortion say the procedure may be indicated to preserve a woman’s fertility, a common result of the procedure is cervical incompetence: the artificial and lengthy dilation of the cervix for partial-birth abortion may cause the cervix to lose its ability to maintain a healthy pregnancy. “The press doesn’t tell you that one of the five women who stood with President Clinton when he vetoed this bill has had five miscarriages since her partial-birth abortion.”

Shafer added, “There are a lot of lies being told. Please, I ask you, start asking questions. Try to find out what the truth is. The pro-choice side has all kinds of things they come up with, and it’s all lies. Dr. Martin Haskell himself said that 80 percent of these abortions were done for purely elective reasons; 20 percent were done for non-elective reasons, and the number one non-elective maternal reason was depression. The number one fetal reason was Down’s Syndrome.”

Shafer urged people to inform friends and neighbors about the procedure, noting that according to polling data, 71 percent of Americans don’t know what a partial-birth abortion is. “When I testified before the US Congress and tried to alter some of their views and feelings about abortion, many congressmen and many senators voted to outlaw this procedure because they said this has gone too far, this is infanticide. And it is; that’s exactly what we’re doing. Hopefully one of these days our kids are going to look back on us and say, ‘I can’t believe they murdered babies when you were younger.’”