The Briefing 10-25-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, October 25, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see a remarkable testimony to human dignity in a prenatal operating room, we’ll note the inconsistency of a society that simultaneously saves and destroys unborn life, and we’ll look at a truly awful argument that won in court.
Breathtaking account of prenatal surgery highlights dignity of life, wonder of creation
One of the most emotionally moving news articles I have seen in a very long time was the front page of yesterday's edition of “Science Times.” That’s the science section, a weekly section of the New York Times. The headline in the article,
“The Patient Within.”
The four color photograph that dominated the full page in the newspaper was a picture of an operating suite, and the color was blue with green light indicating the light for the surgery. In one surgeon’s hands, a mother's womb, the womb still very much attached to her body, but pulled outside of her body. The inhabitant of the womb, a 24-week little boy, that is an unborn baby boy at 24-weeks of gestation. Prenatal diagnosis, it indicated that the baby has spina bifida, and surgeons are now able to do a procedure that previous generations of human beings could not even have imagined. They are withdrawing the woman's womb and then operating inside the womb without taking the baby out, doing delicate surgery on the spinal column of this baby then sealing the womb once again, putting the womb back where it belongs in the woman's body, closing up the woman's body and having the baby continue towards birth. In this case the baby is now due to be born on the 14th of January.
The article in the Times is by Denise Grady and in an editorial statement published in the front section of the New York Times she indicates that this was the very first time she had seen this kind of surgery. She's been in operating theaters many times before, but as she says,
“In a few decades of reporting on medicine, I had been in the operating room during brain surgery, cesarean sections, liver transplants, cardiac bypass, an eyeball cut out of its socket — but never an operation on a fetus.”
She says, and I quote,
“I learned about this when I contacted [the doctor] about a YouTube video in which he described the need for tiny tools to operate on fetuses. … In our conversation he mentioned spina bifida surgery, and I wanted to see it. Permission was not immediate: Doctors, patients and hospital officials had to consent.”
But once they agreed, a public relations person was assigned to accompany the reporter and a photographer in the operating room.
One of the most interesting statements made in the process of this surgery was a statement made by one of the assisting surgeons who said, and I quote,
“Fetal surgery is one of the few operations with a 200 percent risk of mortality."
The risk to the life of the unborn child and the risk of the life of the mother. In this case the surgery was considered to be successful, and both the life of the unborn child and the mother were preserved. The mother is now hospitalized for the rest of the pregnancy in order to enhance and encourage the opportunity for the baby’s successful birth.
Now, as I indicated from the beginning, this is a very emotionally moving article in ways that perhaps you would not expect. Consider, for example, this paragraph and I quote,
“Operating rooms are usually kept cool, almost chilly. But not for fetal surgery. If the temperature is too low, the fetus’s heartbeat can slow down too much, so this operating room was pretty hot. When the photographer and I were changing into scrubs in the women’s locker room, a nurse warned, ‘It’s going to be like a sauna in there.’”
Now there you have an indication of just what it means that God created such a perfect environment for the development of an unborn baby. The mother's womb is exactly the right temperature. In this case, to pull the womb somewhat out of the body in order to perform this delicate surgery the operating room itself, contrary to almost every other surgery, had to be warmed up rather than cooled down so that even in the environment of the operating surgical theater the baby would still feel very much at home.
The reporter Denise Grady continues to tell the story, she also identifies for us this rather remarkable surgical team led by Dr. Michael A. Belfort, the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, also an obstetrician and gynecologist as the chief of Texas Children’s Hospital. There are other doctors who were also involved: a pediatric neurosurgeon named Dr. William Whitehead. But as Grady goes on to tell the story, it becomes clear just how delicate, almost miraculous, this surgery is. She said this,
“The surgeons had made a wide incision in the mother’s lower abdomen, gently lifted out her uterus — still attached internally — and made two tiny, 4-millimeter slits. In one, they inserted a ‘fetoscope,’ a small telescope fitted with a camera, light and grasping tool. The second slit was for other miniature instruments.”
She then writes,
“Lit from within, the uterus glowed, red and magical in the darkened room.”
As the article continues, Dr. Belfort explains that the optimal time for this kind of prenatal surgery on a fetus with this diagnosis is between 24- and 26-weeks of gestation. We should also note that that timing is now well within what is considered to be fetal viability, but it's another thing to be able to describe surgery in which a woman's uterus is still internally connected but is pulled out of her body with these tiny instruments specially made for this fetal surgery in order to do what is an almost miraculous surgery, even described that way right here in a secular newspaper on the unborn child.
The article continues identifying the parents of this unborn child. The mother and father, Joshuwa and Lexi Royer. He 29, she 28. They are described as being a young couple who, after they got married, desperately wanted children. They weren't sure they were going to be able to have them. Then came the good news of this pregnancy. Then came the diagnostic test indicating that there was a problem. The problem in this case diagnosed as spina bifida. Then there came the encouragement from some to terminate the pregnancy. As the article says,
“Termination was offered as an option, and Mrs. Royer felt that doctors were pushing it.”
That might be their only chance to have a child, was the parents’ response. In other words, here we are told that this mother felt that the doctors were pushing termination. They were pushing abortion, but that's one group of doctors. Meanwhile, on the other hand, there is another group of doctors seeking to innovate in this kind of surgery. Surgery never done in terms of human experience before in previous generations, and a surgery that even now is described in such breathtaking terms in this article that is portrayed with such a wonder-inducing photograph in the newspaper. A surgery that requires the specialization and invention of these tiny little tools for successful surgery on such a tiny little body inside the womb.
To be honest you don't usually expect to be so emotionally moved in an article in the science section of the New York Times. The science section comes every week, it arrives with regularity, it brings us all kinds of news. Some of it interesting. Some of it commonsensical. Some of the controversial, but rarely an article like this that comes with such an emotional power. My guess is that even many readers of the New York Times, who are unsettled in their own minds about the dignity and sanctity of human life, reading an article like this have to be moved by the absolute dedication of medical doctors to try to perfect this kind of surgery, the intuition and the impulse to save and to enhance the life of this baby once born, they have to look at the photographs and the almost poetic description of this surgical procedure in the context, they would have to be moved — moved as I was by reading the editorial comment by the reporter who talked about the fact that this particular surgical suite had to be warmed rather than cooled in order that the suite itself might approximate the very hospitable and warm environment of the mother's womb for the baby, and then we see the words of the reporter, again, speaking of what she saw in the course of the surgery. I quote her as she said,
“Lit from within, the uterus glowed, red and magical in the darkened room.”
In the course of the article, Denise Grady warns us that there could be complications with this kind of surgery. There are complications from filling the mother's cavity with carbon dioxide in order to allow the uterus to be pulled partly out, complications in terms of the baby. This is clearly surgery that would only be used with a rather remarkable medical condition in terms of diagnosis and the ability surgically, at least it is hoped, to do something about it. But what's especially noteworthy in the article is that it is written in the sense that just about everyone who would see this article would think this is a good thing. This is a very important medical development. This is a sign of perhaps what medical science and surgeons can do in the future.
Chink in pro-abortion armor exposed as life is celebrated in New York Times science section
Now when it comes to some of these diagnoses that can be made prenatally, perhaps there is something that can actually be done. A surgical intervention to save the life of the child, to preserve the life of the mother, and to enhance the life of the child once born. This surgery is almost surely unbelievably expensive. It is even now considered experimental. It is wondrous; it is virtually miraculous; even medically speaking just to see. But here's the issue. This article is presented in just this way, this surgery is presented in just this light, the photograph of that wondrous, glowing uterus, lighted for surgery inside a surgical suite. The knowledge that this medical expertise is being directed toward saving and enhancing the life of this unborn child right now, at 24-weeks of gestation. But this appears in the very same newspaper, and is celebrated by the very same culture that insists that all that is the distinction between this unborn child and an unborn child at the very same stage of development that is to be aborted, just perhaps feet or yards away, is that this child is wanted where that child is not. Just to state the matter as simply and as bluntly as is required, that cannot possibly be sane, it cannot be morally sane to rightly celebrate the preservation and enhancement of this life by such remarkable surgery; it cannot be sane to celebrate the view of this woman's womb, lighted internally for surgery on this unborn child; it can't be sane to celebrate this surgery — even though celebrate, we must — if at the same time this society, and even the editorial board of this same newspaper, is determined to oppose any limitation on abortion whatsoever and to virtually celebrate abortion as its self the great moral good.
This is the internal contradiction of our age. It is one of the saddest contradictions of human society at any stage in its development. It is a form of undisguised moral insanity, but before we leave it at that, let's be thankful, genuinely thankful, for what we see here. What we see here is a chink in the pro-abortion armor. What we see here is irrefutable evidence, even visual as well as verbal evidence, of what it means that that unborn life in the womb is a baby. You will note that it doesn't make sense to describe the smallest patient in this story as merely a fetus. This is not merely a fetus; this is a child. This is a baby not yet born. We should be thankful here that it is clear in the presentation of this article, even in the editorial note offered by the reporter in the front section, it is clear that this kind of surgery is to be celebrated according to this article. This is good news. It is a moral good, of course it is, it should be recognized as such. So even as we celebrate the development of this kind of surgery and even as I'm thankful for the way this surgery found its way into yesterday's science section of the New York Times, even as I am thankful not only for the article, but even for that amazing photograph that appeared here on the front page of this section, my hope is that the words of this article, the meaning of the article, even the emotional, the rational impact of this picture, will reach people about the dignity of every single human life at every single point of development, at every single stage of life, under every condition of life, and, in this case, especially when it comes to the life of those not yet born, who are even now amongst the tiniest patients ever to receive surgery in an American surgical theater. There simply was no question this time, at this moment, in this operating room that the tiniest patient in the room was not just a fetus but a baby. It tells us something that in this context, and in this story, that truth simply could not be denied. When an article appears like this in the New York Times with language — let me remind you of this sentence,
“Lit from within, the uterus glowed, red and magical in the darkened room.”
Then the truth is now being affirmed that simply can't be denied. It's there in the words of the article. It is there in that photograph that accompanies the article. It is there in that editorial statement in the beginning of the newspaper about the article. And in that statement we meet one of the grandmothers of this baby, a grandmother who says about the surgery,
“We’re strong believers in God, and we’re at peace. This baby,”
“is going to be so loved.”
Just hang on to those words: This baby.
Awful argument wins as federal appeals court rules government must facilitate abortion
But next, in terms of a related story we have already mentioned on The Briefing, news came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal that a divided federal appeals court had yesterday ruled that the Trump Administration must allow an undocumented teenager to leave government custody so that she may seek an abortion, described by the Wall Street Journal, as a major swing in a case that touches on two highly divisive political issues. Those two highly divisive political issues are abortion and immigration, but the biggest issue here from a Christian concern is the sanctity of human life and the fact that now you have a major federal appeals court, the most important federal appeals court other than the Supreme Court of the United States, ruling in a very ideologically predictable pattern that the federal government must now facilitate, which means that the US taxpayer must now facilitate an abortion for a young woman who is, in this case, not even a citizen of the United States, she is an undocumented immigrant. But of course the big issue here has to do with the fact that for some people immigration, or even the immigration status of the young woman, is the crucial issue at stake. It’s not irrelevant to the controversy or to the question, but the biggest issue here has to do with what this demonstrates about the absolute insistence of so many in the pro-abortion movement that abortion must be extended now, even with the facilitation of the federal government, to any woman who might demand an abortion who can somehow get just to the territory of the United States.
At the intersection of politics, the worldview issues, and of course the moral issues at stake in this particular case it is interesting that Brent Kendall of the Wall Street Journal tells us,
“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with nearly all active judges participating, voted 6-3 along ideological lines in favor of the teen, with liberal-leaning judges in the majority and conservatives in dissent.”
One of the paragraphs in the article tells us something about our culture we need to hear, and I quote,
“The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the teenager and argues the administration’s refusal to allow her to travel to an abortion clinic for the procedure is at odds with Supreme Court precedent that bars the government from placing an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion.”
The shocking reality of that language is the fact that the ACLU made the argument and prevailed with the argument that this invented right of a woman to an abortion now applies even to this particular case, but that's also explained by the absolute conclusion of the article where we read,
“Tuesday's [contrary] ruling by the full D.C. Circuit Court in favor of the teen underscored how [much] the court has moved more in a more liberal direction."
Now that's a political judgment. The term in this case ‘liberal’ is used as the opposite of conservative; the left-right distinction. You can make that even a partisan distinction, by extension, but the big issue here is the fact that that is the language that’s indispensable to the reporting on this story, and that points to the fact that these two issues are always inextricably linked in terms of a representative democracy. The politics eventually determines and reflects the morality; there's no other way around it. And the great worldview divide in America will come down to whether or not the decision of this court is condemned or celebrated; given issues at stake, it’s pretty easy to recognize there really is no middle ground.
Thanks for listening to the Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.