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Wendy Davis and Karen Santorum: Two Pregnancies, Two Problems, Two Points of View

Wendy Davis and Karen Santorum: Two Pregnancies, Two Problems, Two Points of View September 7, 2014

In 1996, Texas Democrat Wendy Davis learned that the child she was carrying in her womb had a severe and life-threatening abnormality.

That same year Karen Santorum, wife of then-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), learned that the child she was carrying in her womb had a severe and life-threatening abnormality.

How the two women dealt with their “problems” exposes the chasm which divides pro-life and pro-abortion Americans.

* * * * *

WENDY DAVIS

Wendy Davis (D-Texas) burst onto the national stage in June 2013, when she led a 13-hour filibuster opposing proposed restrictions on abortion. Her campaign to prevent the Texas Legislature from imposing life-saving restrictions (such as requiring an abortionist to have admitting privileges at a local hospital) made her the hero of pro-abortion voters, and her jaunty pink tennis shoes became a symbol for women’s reproductive rights.

Davis has just released a new memoir which reveals, among other things, her 1996 abortion and another, earlier abortion which was necessitated by an ectopic pregnancy. In Forgetting to Be Afraid, Davis describes how she learned in the second trimester that the fetus developing in her womb had a severe brain abnormality. The brain of the fetus had essentially divided—developing without connections between the right and left sides. Doctors told Davis and her former husband Jeff, already parents of two young girls, that if the child survived birth it would be deaf, blind and in a permanent vegetative state.

Had Davis understood Catholic teaching regarding the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God, she might have decided to pray, and to trust God to give her the child He had created–either as a precious memory (if the child died) or, if she lived, as a special-needs child with extraordinary gifts who would require heroic care and who would elicit from her parents and society an expansive love.

But no:  Davis chose instead to be “god” to her developing offspring, taking upon herself the right to decide whether her child should live or die. In Forgetting to Be Afraid, Davis justifies her choice to kill the child in her womb:

I could feel her little body tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her, and I knew then what I needed to do. She was suffering.”

Now it becomes easier to understand Davis’ passionate defense of abortion rights before the Texas Legislature.  Only if the choice to kill one’s child is a “difficult but necessary decision” is Davis exonerated for her own action.  

Someone, I am sure, will insist that it was Davis’s selfishness, her reluctance to accept the profound responsibility of parenting a disabled child, that motivated Wendy Davis to procure an abortion. I don’t know that to be true, and I prefer to take her at her word:  She believed the child would prefer death over disability; and she believed that as the child’s mother, she had the right to implement that ruthless choice.

But the inevitability of that choice is negated by another story which unfolded that same year, the story of Gabriel Michael Santorum.  (I told the story of Gabriel’s birth and reported on the Catholic Church’s institution of a special Blessing of the Unborn Child here.)

In 1996, just as Senator Rick Santorum was leading the charge against partial birth abortion in the U.S. Senate, Rick and his wife Karen learned that their unborn child, too, suffered from an irreversible and deadly defect.

KAREN SANTORUM

Karen Santorum was in the 19th week of pregnancy when a routine sonogram revealed that the child had a fatal defect and was going to die. Gabriel Michael Santorum, the unborn son of the Santorums, suffered from an obstruction of the urinary tract called posterior urethral valve syndrome. The Santorums consulted with specialists who offered several options—among them abortion.

Rather than ending the life of their child, however, the Santorums elected to attempt a long-shot intrauterine surgery to correct the obstruction. Despite a high risk of infection through an incision in the womb, Karen underwent rare “bladder shunt” surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. The surgery did, in fact, lead to infection; and two days later, with a 105 degree fever, Karen was rushed to the high-risk pregnancy unit in Pittsburgh’s Magee-Women’s Hospital. Unless the source of the infection (the fetus) was removed from Karen’s body, they were told, she would likely die.

Agonizing over the decision whether to hasten delivery for the developing but not-yet-viable child, thus saving Karen’s life, the Santorums had their answer when the antibiotics which fought Karen’s infection also caused her to go into labor. Doctors delivered tiny Gabriel Michael, and Rick Santorum baptized his newborn son. Rick and Karen held his tiny body in their arms, rocking him and singing to him, for two hours until he died. Then they did something rarely seen: They took his small body home so that their two older children could see their brother, could hold him and pray for God to welcome him into his heavenly kingdom.

Like Wendy Davis, Karen Santorum went home with empty arms to grieve the loss of her child. The difference, though, was that whereas Wendy had chosen death, believing death by abortion to be preferable to the uncertain life of a disabled child, Karen had chosen life—even subjecting herself to a painful and risky surgery, in an attempt to save the child God had given them.  Perhaps her baby would die–in fact, she knew he would die–but it would be God’s will, not hers, that would ultimately end the heartbeat of this precious child and take him home to heaven.  The Santorums’ faith in the sovereignty of God meant that they accepted his divine will, regardless of whether their unborn child, God’s beautiful creation, lived or died.

Throughout her pregnancy, Karen Santorum wrote letters to her unborn son—never expecting that they would someday be published. Those poignant and heart-warming letters, recounting the story of Gabriel Michael’s brief but meaningful life, have been collected in Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. With great tenderness, Karen Santorum expresses the ineffable bond between mother and child.

Letters to Gabriel is a powerful tribute to the sanctity of life, the deep faith of the Santorums, and strong family values.  If you didn’t read it when it was first released, it’s not too late.

 

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