Catholic Hospital Saves Pregnancies of Women Undergoing Abortions

A Chicago medical center has found itself in a controversial position, as the first Roman Catholic hospital in the country to help women halt an abortion midway through the process.

Resurrection Medical Center began the new practice after pro-life activists started bringing in women who, in the second trimester of their pregnancy, had gone to a clinic for an abortion and then changed their minds. The process used by the clinic for a second trimester pregnancy takes 2-3 days to complete, so by stopping the process early on, Resurrection doctors are hoping to preserve the pregnancy.

Corrina Gura, a “sidewalk counselor” for the Pro Life Action League, said she brought a woman to the hospital who came to her for help, after she saw Gura praying outside the health clinic.

“She was six-and-a-half months pregnant and during her pregnancy her boyfriend had been pestering her (to get an abortion) …and she had finally given in.” The woman, in her mid-30’s, already had two children, first agreed to an abortion and then changed her mind, Gura said. The baby was due in November, but Gura has had no contact with the woman since the procedure was halted.

Another of the four women who had apparently come to Resurrection changed her mind again, and decided to go through with the abortion. Resurrection CEO Sister Donna Marie Wolowicki said hospital staff won’t try to persuade or coerce a woman either way.

“We have our staff prepared to walk her into a private area to make sure that she has the opportunity to share what she really wants us to do or how to help her and what she understands. The first thing we want to make sure is that she understands what's happened to her thus far we want her to understand about her pregnancy … how far she is along with the pregnancy and what we can do to help her if she really wants us to stop this abortive process … We want it to be a free decision by her.”

A procedure for late-term abortions, which uses a dried seaweed called laminaria, is new and still unknown by many medical personnel. “They put in this so-called laminaria, which is made from seaweed, and they insert it into the cervix…and the concept is that, this seaweed will soften the cervix… and then after a period of time, 12 to 24 hours, sometimes longer, they take the woman back and they look in her cervix again to see if she's ready to have that abortion” said Doctor Shu Boung Chan, the chairman of quality at Resurrection Hospital.

Laminaria, he explains, is like a thin rod made of dried kelp that is inserted like a tampon. The laminaria is supposed to expand and dilate the cervix. Once brought to Resurrection, the laminaria is removed, with the hope the cervix will return to its normal state, saving the fetus.

Critics worry the hospital’s efforts could actually cause medical problems for the pregnant woman, and may result in a miscarriage. Doctor Chan also admits the method may not work, and that once the laminaria is inserted it is too late. “There is no guarantee that the woman will indeed stop the abortion procedure and there is actually a fairly good chance that the woman will still proceed to go on and have that spontaneous abortion even if she did not go on to that second stage,” Chan said.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois supports the hospital’s way of handling the situation. Vice President for Public Policy, Pamela Sutherland, said that as long as the women weren’t coerced into changing their minds, it seems they were treated well.

“Based on the statements made by Resurrection …regarding women who come to them to interrupt a second-trimester abortion in process, Planned Parenthood of Illinois agrees with the Hospital’s Standard of Care. We are very pleased that they are counseling women to be sure women are comfortable with their decision. And we support what we also consider to be good medical practice.”

Wolowicki claims Resurrection’s new practice has nothing to do with a recent incident in Phoenix, Ariz., where a hospital was stripped of its Catholic affiliation after doctors terminated a pregnancy to save the life of the mother. Still, critics wonder if the incident has pushed Catholic hospitals to be more diligent about following religious doctrine.

“Our commitment as a Catholic hospital's always to be there to help people in need whatever that need may be when they feel alone or helpless we should be opening our doors to help them and being very much concerned about helping mothers and babies especially this was a very important piece of what we do”, said Wolowicki.

All the national attention they’ve received over the new protocol has been a bit overwhelming, Wolowicki admitted, but she is proud of the fact that other Catholic hospitals around the country have started calling, looking for advice, saying they want to do the same.