By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
GREENSBORO — When U.S. District Court justices hear the case against the state’s new Woman’s Right to Know Act, they may hear directly from women harmed by abortion, as well as from medical experts and pregnancy care centers, all defending the constitutionality of the new law. At least that’s the hope of Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project which filed a motion Tuesday to intervene in the case to protect the rights of every Tar Heel mother to be fully informed before deciding whether to abort her baby or carry it to term.
Included in the filing are written declarations from three doctors, four post-abortive women and employees at two pregnancy medical centers, all giving passionate and detailed evidence as to why the Woman’s Right to Know Act should be fully implemented.
“I did not meet the abortionist until after I took some pills and was being sedated with a gas mask. I do not recall him ever speaking directly to me or asking me if I had any questions. … I never saw the abortionist again,” wrote Lanita Wilks, 28, from Ayden, N.C. “Following my abortion, I was so confused and hurt that I shut down inside. For years I cried every single day and begged God … not to be angry with me for making such a horrible mistake.”
Pregnant at 15, Wilks shared in her written declaration her experience at a Planned Parenthood clinic where she was not given the option of viewing her ultrasound. Now the founder of Restoring the Heart, a Christ-centered organization for women and girls, she described years of flashbacks, loneliness, depression, suicidal thoughts and a self-destructive lifestyle that followed her second-trimester abortion.
Similarly, in her declaration, Danelle Hallenbeck, who had an abortion in 1993 in Chapel Hill, said guilt immediately descended on her when she realized she had traded “convenience for torture, love for pain, joy for shame, happiness for sorrow…”
She was not shown an ultrasound image and, according to her written testimony, when she asked how far along she was, she was told that “at 8 weeks it is only tissue.”
Hallenbeck developed complications with her next pregnancy and had her baby six weeks prematurely by C-section.
Later, when she became involved with Operation Outcry, she helped collect affidavits from other women hurt by abortion and presented 2,000 such written testimonies, 211 from North Carolina women, to the House Judiciary Committee when it took up the Woman’s Right to Know Act.
“Only 7 of those 211 North Carolina affiants said their abortionists had fully informed them of the nature of their abortion, what it was and what its risks and adverse consequences could be,” Hallenbeck reported.
Tracie Johnson, a 24-year-old divorced mother living in Charlotte at the time of her abortion in 1995, was definitely among the uninformed, according to the declaration she submitted with the legal motion.
“Entirely coerced” by her boyfriend, who dropped her off and paid for the procedure, Johnson wrote that she was given medication to calm her nerves in the waiting room of the abortion clinic and remembers little else until she was being driven home.
“A woman can be too sedated to make a truly voluntary and informed decision about what an abortion is and what risks and adverse complications can arise from abortion,” she added.
Chimere Collins, a former Miss Fayetteville State University who became pregnant at the end of her senior year in high school, remembers more of her abortion experience but attests that she was never told about the development of her baby.
According to her written testimony, an older cousin posed as her mother over the phone, made an appointment at an abortion clinic and drove her there in order to keep her pregnancy secret. She said she was never asked her age and was told little more than that a “ball of tissue” was going to be removed. Only later during a class at FSU did she see a clear picture of a 7-week-old fetus and learn that “by that time the heart is pumping the embryo’s own blood to the brain and body, and the beginnings of the arms and legs can be seen and fingers are beginning to form on the hand.”
“No one at the abortion clinic ever told me or showed me this information before performing my abortion,” she wrote.
All three women make clear in their signed declarations that had they been provided the information required in the Woman’s Right to Know Act — including the ultrasound image and a an accompanying medical explanation of what was depicted — they would have left the abortion clinic that day still pregnant.
Consistent with their statements are testimonies from Deborah Wood of Asheville Pregnancy Support Services, and Erin Forsythe of Pregnancy Resource Center of Charlotte, both of whom work with pregnant and post-abortive women on a daily basis and have seen the difference an ultrasound image and accurate, complete information can make.
Wood wrote that with the addition of free limited obstetrical ultrasounds at APSS, client visits grew by 40 percent as women sought information about their baby. Her center performs roughly 250 ultrasounds each year and surveys women afterward. Between 2007 and October of this year, Wood reported that only 22 percent women answered “No” to the question “Did the ultrasound provided influence your decision regarding this pregnancy?” and that the vast majority of those who answered negatively did so because they had already determined to carry to term.
According to Forsythe’s declaration, PRCC performed more than 800 ultrasounds last year and has served 50,000 women since 1982. She reported that the organization regularly receives calls and communications from women surprised by the negative consequences they are experiencing after their abortion.
Both agencies expect the number of women they serve to increase with the full enactment of WRTK as some family planning centers will refer women to them for informed consent certifications.
Finally, if the motion to intervene is successful, judges will hear expert testimony from neonatologist Martin McCaffrey, who will discuss the dangers of premature births, from long-term disabilities such as mental retardation and cerebral palsy to lung problems, vision and hearing loss and how prior abortion is often a factor in these cases.
A Clinical Professor of Pediatrics in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. McCaffrey explains in his declaration the fact that “medical literature over the past 30 years has identified that a previous abortion is associated with a 63 percent increased risk for a very preterm birth in a future pregnancy.”
“Abortion is associated with prematurity, but Planned Parenthood and The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have yet to inform American women,” he wrote. “… As a result, many women who elect abortion do so in ignorance of any future risk to childbearing.”
Further, McCaffrey makes clear his own legal interest in the case in that, if the plaintiffs were to prevail and the WRTK Act be declared “unconstitutional because the Statute required non-truthful, vague or misleading facts or mere ideology,” he could be subject to legal action for supplying what he knows to be accurate information to his own patients.
Similarly fellow UNC School of Medicine professor Dr. John Thorp, who has authored 18 book chapters and published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, expressed his concerns regarding the outcome of the suit opposing WRTK.
“Elective termination of pregnancy (TOP) is unique in medicine in that two patients are involved,” Dr. Thorp wrote in his declaration, which discusses in depth the necessity of informed consent and the value of ultrasound.
“Plaintiffs argue that the ultrasound speech and display requirements of the Act will cause trauma, distress and other adverse reactions in a TOP patient. There is no credible evidence to support these allegations,” he added.
Even if the truthful and complete medical information does cause stress for some women, Dr. Greg Brannon, a Cary obstetrician and gynecologist, believes that is no reason to omit what is “vital for considered decision-making.”
His declaration, also attached to the motion to intervene, says “for a physician to not display nor discuss these images would convey an improper and unethical message of medical paternalism at its worst.”
Dr. Brannon also points out that “informed consent of a patient concerning the removal of an organ or tissue cannot be obtained unless the patient fully understands the function of that tissue and what information is available for diagnosing the condition of that tissue.”
“In the case of an abortion, the tissue to be removed is a separate, unique living human being who is genetically different from the mother,” he wrote. “All obstetricians and gynecologists know this biological fact. This information is not commonly understood by all women, however, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy, and is directly relevant to their decision-making.”
In making the case for the defendants to be allowed to intervene, the motion asserts that post-abortive women, licensed health care providers and pregnancy care centers “possess and are bringing to the court the very evidence that actually contradicts the factual allegations and expert medical opinions which this Court deemed ‘uncontradicted’ by Defendants” in Judge Catherine Eagles’ Oct. 25 order enjoining the Right to View portion of the law. It also points out that medical professionals and PMCs are the entities regulated by the Act and that those filing the motion “have experienced, some first-hand, the great harm caused by failure to comply with the Act.”
Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project and its co-counsel, the Alliance Defense Fund, are defending the new law passed this year by the N.C. General Assembly and immediately challenged by pro-abortion forces. Already in effect are the WRTK Act’s 24-hour waiting period and its requirement that women be provided a range of information about the risks of both abortion and carrying a pregnancy to term as well as services available to them in their communities. However, Judge Eagles’ ruling halted, at least for now, the part of the law requiring abortionists to give a woman a chance to view “real time” ultrasound images and have them explained to her before deciding whether to maintain or abort her pregnancy.
“Law of Life Project’s clients, taken together, are uniquely and expertly poised to present the more than reasonable medical, humanitarian and legal reasons why the Act is constitutional and should be permitted to go into full effect,” according to a press release issued by the Washington, D.C., based organization.
“We trust the Court will grant our motion permitting our clients to intervene as parties with full rights on behalf of the entire pro-life community in North Carolina and all ill-informed ‘victims’ of abortion, including North Carolina’s women, the fathers of their children, their families and health care providers …” said Samuel Casey, general counsel for the Law of Life Project and lead trial counsel for the intervenors.
The case could come before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina as early as next month.