Grieving Parents' Morning Light
Advocates of abortion are tenacious in their demand that every pregnant woman be given “freedom of choice.” Women whose unborn children are diagnosed as seriously ill, however, often find that their doctors offer them no choice at all — abortion is presented as their only option.
Sadly, when these women turn to friends, family and even their church for support, many find inaccurate information and a lack of resources to help them continue a difficult pregnancy and bring their babies to term.
Morning Light Ministry, a Catholic outreach program based in Mississauga, Ontario, is working to change this troublesome reality.
The ministry was born after Bernadette Zambri suffered the stillbirth loss of her daughter, Stephanie, in 1996. Newly aware of the anguish parents experience when they lose their babies to ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death, she began reaching out to offer comfort and support.
Through her work with bereaved parents, Zambri became increasingly aware of the unique needs of those whose unborn children are diagnosed with fatal conditions such as anencephaly or Trisomy 18, or other serious birth defects such as Down syndrome or spina bifida. She discovered that the medical community strongly pressures parents to abort imperfect babies.
“We had several bereaved parents call Morning Light Ministry,” Zambri says. “Some had terminated their pregnancy through direct abortion or early induction of labor. We also heard from bereaved parents who had brought their baby to term with a fatal condition and found the journey to be a very lonely one.”
Additionally, Zambri says she was alarmed to find that in a number of cases in Canada and the United States, parents reported that priests they consulted gave them “permission” to abort babies with terminal conditions despite the fact that this is contrary to Church teaching.
Morning Light Ministry cites Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gosple of Life) as the Church's true teaching regarding abortion in these cases: “Prenatal diagnosis … all too often becomes an opportunity for proposing and procuring an abortion. This is eugenic abortion, justified in public opinion on the basis of a mentality — mistakenly held to be consistent with the demands of ‘therapeutic interventions' — which accepts life only under certain conditions and rejects it when it is affected by any limitation, handicap or illness.”
Unfortunately, by the time Mary (not her real name), a grieving parent from Kentucky, discovered Morning Light Ministry and its support for parents who receive an adverse prenatal diagnosis, it was too late. Nearly a year ago, then 19 weeks pregnant with her second child, she received news that the child she carried had anencephaly, a terminal condition.
“The doctor was just so cold about it,” Mary recalls. “She told us ‘You cannot carry a baby with anencephaly to term' and then offered us no resources. There was tremendous pressure from the moment of diagnosis to abort.”
As practicing Catholics, Mary and her husband immediately sought the advice of their parish priest.
“Over the phone he told my husband that if our baby's defect were truly fatal, my getting induced at 19 weeks' gestation was acceptable,” she says. “We really expected to be told that this wasn't acceptable but he kept telling us it was fine.”
Their priest's misguided advice coupled with pressure from their doctor ultimately led them to agree to end the pregnancy. Their priest then helped them to make funeral arrangements for their daughter, Cecilia.
Doubts about their decision continued to plague Mary, however, and she researched the topic on her own. A week later, she found a 1998 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that clarifies the Church's teaching that abortion of anencephalic children is not morally acceptable, even though the unborn baby is terminally ill.
“I can't begin to describe how terrible that was,” she says.
Father James Gould, chairman of the board of directors for Human Life International and spiritual director for the Catholic Medical Association, supports Morning Light's efforts to help parents bring their babies to term. He believes that cases like Mary's are doubly tragic. “Abortion in these cases is not just destructive of human life,” he says, “but destructive to the parents' souls as well.”
Although those who advise parents to abort unhealthy babies might be motivated by a desire to decrease suffering, Father Gould says, “In the end, choosing abortion always increases suffering, as these parents must live with what they did for the rest of their lives.”
Zambri believes there would be fewer tragic cases like Mary's if more parish priests were made aware of Morning Light Ministry as a resource for parents facing difficult pregnancies. She hopes to reach these parents and provide them with the information and resources they need before they choose abortion.
Toward this end, she has created a Morning Light information sheet and a decision-making booklet called “Hope in Turmoil” to distribute to parish priests throughout the United States and Canada so that they might be better prepared to counsel pregnant women who come to them for help. These materials are available to anyone who contacts Morning Light Ministry by telephone or e-mail to request them.
Christine Nugent of New York, another bereaved parent, also recognizes the importance of providing priests with information about Morning Light Ministry and the help that is available for parents of ill children. Last year, when Nugent's unborn daughter Grace was diagnosed with the terminal condition Trisomy 18, she and her husband were determined they would carry their daughter to term. Doctors provided little support for their decision and the priest they consulted was unhelpful.
Only when she found the Morning Light Ministry Web site did Nugent finally receive the support she needed to complete her pregnancy and enjoy her daughter Grace for the 62 days she lived beyond her birth.
“Spiritual help is needed to do this,” she says of bringing a child to term with a fatal condition. “It was my lifeline when I found the Morning Light Web site. They provided phone support, e-mail support and personal support. It gave me the strength to continue and know I was not alone.”
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.