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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Lifesaving Option or Criminal Conduct?

November 26, 1995|ROBIN ABCARIAN

To be perfectly honest, what Claudia Crown Ades and her husband, Richard Ades, chose in 1993, 26 weeks into Claudia's pregnancy, was an elective abortion. Yes, they had already signed up for Lamaze classes. Yes, the shower invitations had already been mailed. Yes, the Santa Monica couple deeply wanted this baby. And yes, when it became clear--heartbreakingly clear--that the son Claudia carried was hopelessly malformed and destined to die, they elected to terminate the pregnancy.

Claudia and Richard could have waited. They could have waited for the baby to die in utero, possibly endangering Claudia's health, putting her ability to carry and deliver another child at risk. Or they could have waited for labor and delivery, and hold vigil over a child who, doctors assured them, would have died within hours, days or at the most weeks after birth. They could have opted for a Cesarean section, a surgical procedure that carries risks to the mother and is meant to save the life of a baby. But this baby, clearly, was doomed.

And Claudia and Richard desperately wanted another child.

So they elected to have the only procedure they felt would allow them their best shot at biological parenthood--"intact dilation and evacuation."

Over three days, Claudia's cervix was dilated. She was given enough anesthesia and analgesic that her baby was dead before he was delivered. To remove the fetus without irreparable harm to Claudia's womb, her doctor inserted a needle at the base of the baby's skull and drained fluid, allowing the head to be gently compressed in order to pass through the birth canal without damaging it.

What the Adeses experienced is the so-called partial birth abortion procedure that Congress may be on the verge of outlawing, the procedure that has been successfully and inflammatorily mischaracterized as the heartless slaying of the helpless with scissor jabs to the skull and a sucking out of the brains.

*

It's hard not to wince as you look at the illustrations that have been displayed on Capitol Hill and placed as ads by the National Right to Life Committee. A healthy-looking, Gerberesque and apparently full-term baby is being pulled from a womb, it's head impaled with scissors.

What's even harder to look at, what you will never see on C-SPAN and what is far more instructive: photographs of the real fetuses that have been aborted using this technique--fetuses with brains outside nearly nonexistent skulls, with faces that are unrecognizable as human, and so on. These are the kinds of third-trimester babies whose mothers' reproductive lives are being protected by "intact dilation and evacuation."

It was clear to the Adeses when they recently testified against the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee that many legislators somehow believe that cases like theirs would be exempt from the proposed law, already approved by the House and up for a Senate vote as early as this week.

But there are no exceptions under the proposed law.

It criminalizes a rarely used medical procedure, period. It does not bend to protect maternal health, even though the Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade that the government may not limit abortions--even after fetal viability--if the life or health of the mother is at risk.

On this basis (and others, including gender discrimination and undue burden) opponents argue the bill is unconstitutional.

If senators insist, as the House has done, in imposing themselves between doctors and patients, then it will be up to the President to restore the sanctity of that relationship. If he fails, then it will, once again, be up to the courts.

*

Claudia and Richard Ades tried to see Sen. Bob Smith, the New Hampshire Republican who introduced the Senate's version of the bill. He refused to see them, they said, but they did run into him in a hallway.

"I told him the procedure saved our lives," Richard said. "And he said, 'I disagree with you.' "

Coreen Costello of Agoura, who also testified against the bill, had a similar experience.

"I am a registered Republican," she told senators, "and very conservative. I don't believe in abortion. Because of my deeply held Christian beliefs, I knew that I would never have an abortion."

But last March, Costello discovered when she was seven months pregnant with her third child that the baby had a lethal neurological disorder.

Her doctors persuaded her that an "intact D & E"--yes, an abortion--was the best way to ensure her health.

"Our darling little girl was going to die," she testified. ". . . [The procedure] left open the possibility of more children."

She and her husband, Jim, elected to have the very procedure that abortion foes would jail doctors for performing. After telling her moving story to a Senate aide, she said he looked at her and said, "You had other options."

Any other option was replete with risks that the "intact D & E" avoids.

This couple's choice enabled them to hold their child, to sing to her lifeless body, to say goodby. It enabled Coreen Costello to tell senators she is pregnant again and expecting her fourth child in June.

Which seems to mean nothing to legislators bent on dismantling legal abortion . . . one "elective" procedure at a time.

* Robin Abcarian's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053. Send e-mail to HBZK23A@prodigy.com.

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