The pro-life case for pregnancy termination.

Science, technology, and life.
Feb. 11 2010 8:31 AM

Focus on Your Family

The pro-life case for pregnancy termination.

Tim Tebow. Click image to expand.
Tim Tebow

Focus on the Family certainly knows how to stir up an abortion debate. For two weeks, the country was buzzing about the group's Super Bowl ad. The ad, which featured college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, was expected to be preachy and controversial. Then Sunday arrived, and the commercial aired. What a letdown! Tim hugged his mom, they smiled, they said sweet things about love and family. Not a word about abortion. Liberals shrugged and moved on.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

But wait a minute. Let's throw a challenge flag and review the video. The 30-second spot that ran on TV was just a teaser. It drew people to the Focus on the Family Web site. There, Focus has posted a much longer follow-up video in which its president, Jim Daly, interviews Tim's parents, Pam and Bob Tebow. That's where you'll find the abortion preaching we were expecting in the TV ad.

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In the interview, Pam confirms and clarifies details of Tim's birth. Her pregnancy was every bit as dangerous as I inferred last week. She was 37 and working as a missionary in a remote part of the Philippines. "I was considered high-risk," she says. To make matters worse, "We lived in an area that didn't have great medical care." She recalls taking a pill and then realizing that its label said it could "cause severe birth defects."

In a previous account, Pam said she had been diagnosed with placental abruption, a premature—and often dangerous or lethal—detachment of the placenta from the uterine wall. In the Focus interview, Bob confirms that the abruption was serious. When Tim was born, "There was a great big clump of blood that came out where the placenta wasn't properly attached basically for the whole nine months," he says. "He was a miracle baby."

A severe abruption in a 37-year-old high-risk patient in the Philippine countryside in 1987 could easily have killed her. It's hardly surprising that Pam's doctor recommended an abortion to protect her life. But Pam said no. "We were determined to trust the Lord with the children that he would give us," she calmly explains in the interview. "And if God called me to give up my life, then He would take care of my family."

Wow. She was ready to sacrifice her life—and leave her children motherless—to give her fetus a chance at birth. That's serious commitment. But this isn't just a story. It's a message. Looking into the camera, Bob Tebow delivers the closing plea to women contemplating abortion: "Don't kill your baby."

Next to the video, Focus has posted a link offering more information. "Be a Voice for Life," it suggests. Click the link, and you get a list of ways to spread the pro-life message. The first link is for women who find themselves in situations like Pam's. "Hope for Families With an Adverse Prenatal Diagnosis," it says.

Follow that link, and you'll find yourself in the grim ward of doomed pregnancies. Here, pro-life women tell stories of loving and giving birth to fatally defective fetuses. The first story, written in diary form by a woman named Laura Huene, is about her unborn daughter, Pearl. Like Pam Tebow, Laura says she has decided "to honor Pearl's life by carrying her for as long as my body will allow. We trust that God is in control of a seemingly out of control situation." Laura's story ends this way:

I am approaching 32 weeks gestation, and the amniotic fluid increases rapidly. My doctor becomes concerned for my health. We have one therapeutic amnio to release the excessive amount of fluid in my uterus, and just five days later all the fluid is back, and more. It is time to meet Pearl. On June 5th, after a long, emotional labor, Pearl Jean Huene is born at 7:12 am. … Our time with her is unforgettable. We are able to lovingly release her into the arms of Jesus.

It's a beautiful story. But hold on. Thirty-two weeks is well short of full term. Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks  from the last menstrual period, and any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature. Delivery at 32 weeks is that much worse  for the baby. There's no mention of a medical need to extract Pearl at this point for her own good. Evidently, the doctor induced labor to protect Laura's health.

Should Laura have risked her life to complete normal gestation? Did she violate her faith by pushing Pearl out eight weeks early? Did she lose her trust in God? No. She simply interpreted God's will and the sanctity of life in a reasonable way: Carry your baby as long as you can, but safeguard your health so you'll be there for your surviving children.

Pam was willing to die, trusting God to take care of her family. Laura seems to have made a more practical decision. She had three children, and by expelling Pearl at 32 weeks, she survived to bear a fourth. "We recently began a new chapter in the life of our family," she writes. "Lucy Jean Huene was born on June 28, 2007, and is a picture of hope and God's redemptive plan for our lives."

That's wonderful. But if Lucy's birth was part of God's plan, then so was Laura's survival. And that means God wanted her to listen to her doctors when they said it was time to remove Pearl. There were other lives to think of.

Just above the gateway to Laura's story, you can click a link to "read other families' stories." There, you'll find the diary of Aimee Weathers, who had two children and discovered 15 weeks into her third pregnancy that the fetus had a fatal genetic flaw. That was Sept. 21, 2007. Four months later, she delivered her baby girl, Sophie Ann. "Due to complications with my blood pressure and fluid build up, Dr. Daniel has said it is time for our sweet Sophie to come," Aimee writes on the day of delivery. She exults: "God's timing is perfect. Today, January 22, 2008 is the 35th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Our little girl Sophie, wants the world to know that every life matters."

Again, it's a beautiful story. But Sept. 21 to Jan. 22 is an interval of just 17 to 18 weeks. Fifteen weeks plus 17 weeks is 32 weeks. Aimee, like Laura, pushed her baby out well before term to protect her own health. If this was God's timing, God was speaking through her doctor.

Induced delivery at 32 weeks isn't abortion. But it's a compromise. Sophie Ann lived nine minutes. Pearl, too, died quickly. We'll never know to what extent their prematurity shortened their lives. Their mothers, for all their love and devotion to life, couldn't save them. But Laura and Aimee could save themselves. By doing so, they could take care of their surviving children and give life to others.

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    These are the women held up by Focus on the Family as models of pro-life strength. Embrace their stories. Don't forget to honor their lives while you're celebrating Pam Tebow's. And don't forget that they loved life just as she did, even if, in the end, they trusted that God's will was to end their pregnancies early. "Don't kill your baby," says Bob Tebow. Don't kill yourself, either. Human Nature's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter:

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