Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Hearing on The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (HR 1833)
March 21, 1996
Editor's note: The following testimony is from almost eleven years ago but is being re-printed here in light of a partial-birth abortion case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Please be aware that the descriptions are graphic and troubling.
Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the Judiciary Committee, I am Brenda Pratt Shafer. I am here before you, at the request of the Committee, to relate to you my experience as an eyewitness to what is now known as the partial-birth abortion procedure.
I am a registered nurse, licensed in the State of Ohio, with 14 years of experience. In 1993, I was employed by Kimberly Quality Care, a nursing agency in Dayton, Ohio. In September, 1993, Kimberly Quality Care asked me to accept assignment at the Women's Medical Center, which is operated by Dr. Martin Haskell. I readily accepted the assignment because I was at that time very pro-choice. I had even told my teenage daughters that if one of them ever got pregnant at a young age, I would make them get an abortion. They disagreed with me on this, and one of them even wrote an essay for a high school class that mentioned how we differed on the issue.
So, because of the strong pro-choice views that I held at that time, I thought this assignment would be no problem for me.
But I was wrong. I stood at a doctor's side as he performed the partial-birth abortion procedure — and what I saw is branded forever on my mind.
I worked as an assistant nurse at Dr. Haskell's clinic for three days — September 28, 29, and 30, 1993.
On the first day, we assisted in some first-trimester abortions, which is all I'd expected to be involved in. (I remember that one of the patients was a fifteen-year-old-girl who was having her third abortion.)
On the second day, I saw Dr. Haskell do a second-trimester procedure that is called a D & E (dilation and evacuation). He used ultrasound to examine the fetus. Then he used forceps to pull apart the baby inside the uterus, bringing it out piece by piece and piece, throwing the pieces in a pan.
Also on the first two days, we inserted laminaria to dilate the cervixes of women who were being prepared for the partial-birth abortions — those who were past the 20 weeks point, or 4 1/2 months. (Dr. Haskell called this procedure "D & X", for dilation and extraction.) There were six or seven of these women.
On the third day, Dr. Haskell asked me to observe as he performed several of the procedures that are the subject of this hearing. Although I was in that clinic on assignment of the agency, Dr. Haskell was interested in hiring me fulltime, and I was being given orientation in the entire range of procedures provided at that facility.
I was present for three of these partial-birth procedures. It is the first one that I will describe to you in detail.
The mother was six months pregnant (26 1/2 weeks). A doctor told her that the baby had Down Syndrome, and she decided to have an abortion. She came in the first two days to have the laminaria inserted and changed, and she cried the whole time. On the third day she came in to receive the partial-birth procedure.
Dr. Haskell brought the ultrasound in and hooked it up so that he could see the baby. On the ultrasound screen, I could see the heart beating. As Dr. Haskell watched the baby on the ultrasound screen, the baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen.
Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms — everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus.
The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall.
The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out. Now the baby was completely limp.
I was really completely unprepared for what I was seeing. I almost threw up as I watched the doctor do these things.
Mr. Chairman, I read in the paper that President Clinton says that he is going to veto this bill. If President Clinton had been standing where I was standing at that moment, he would not veto this bill.
Dr. Haskell delivered the baby's head. He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw that baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he'd used. I saw the baby move in the pan. I asked another nurse, and she said it was just "reflexes."
I have been a nurse for a long time and I have seen a lot of death — people maimed in auto accidents, gunshot wounds, you name it. I have seen surgical procedures of every sort. But in all my professional years, I had never witnessed anything like this.
The woman wanted to see her baby, so they cleaned up the baby and put it in a blanket and handed the baby to her. She cried the whole time, and she kept saying, "I'm so sorry, please forgive me!" I was crying, too. I couldn't take it. That baby boy had the most perfect angelic face I have ever seen.
I was present in the room during two more such procedures that day, but I was really in shock. I tried to pretend that I was somewhere else, to not think about what was happening. I just couldn't wait to get out of there. After I left that day, I never went back. These last two procedures, by the way, involved healthy mothers with healthy babies.
I was very much affected by what I had seen. For a long time, sometimes still, I had nightmares about what I saw in that clinic that day.
That's why, last July, I wrote a letter to Congressman Tony Hall of Dayton, in support of the bill, telling what I had seen. And that led to me being asked to tell others what I'd seen, just as I am doing here today.
Mr. Chairman, since I wrote that letter to Congressman Tony Hall, I have been subjected to some strange attacks on my credibility, and I would like to address these briefly.
Last July 12, I sat in the audience as the full Judiciary Committee debated this legislation, and I heard Congresswoman Schroeder read a letter from Dr. Haskell to the Judiciary Committee (also dated July 12) in which he said, "I have examined our records and found no evidence of a Brenda Shafer working for us during 1993."
Fortunately, I had previously provided the Constitution Subcommittee with the pertinent payroll records from Kimberly Quality Care, including their invoice to Dr. Haskell's clinic. After these documents were circulated, Congresswoman Schroeder withdrew that particular allegation, explaining it away as resulting from confusion over my married name. But it seemed peculiar to me at the time that neither she nor her staff had contacted me, or the subcommittee staff to request documentation, before she basically called me a liar in front of everybody. But there was much more of that sort of thing to come.
In his July 12 letter, Dr. Haskell said also said that my account was "inaccurate," because "she describes procedures at 26 1/2 weeks and 25 weeks…. This is contrary to my own self-imposed and established limit of 24 weeks." But in recent times I've seen an article published in American Medical News for July 5, 1993 — just a few months before I worked for him — in which Dr. Haskell said that he performs the procedure "up until about 25 weeks," which conflicts with his letter to the Judiciary Committee.
Also, in Dr. Haskell's 1992 paper describing the partial-birth procedure, "Dilation and Extraction for Late Second Trimester Abortion," which you have all seen, he wrote, "This author routinely performs this procedure on all patients twenty through 24 weeks LMP [i.e., from last menstrual period] with certain exceptions. The author performs the procedure on selected patients 25 through 26 weeks LMP." Keep in mind that this 26 1/2 week little boy had Down syndrome, so this was a "selected patients" case.
Later, I learned another letter had been produced by Dr. Haskell's operation, dated July 17, this one signed by Christie Gallivan, a nurse. This letter was cited by opponents of the bill before and during the House and Senate floor debates, and was even entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Barbara Boxer.
In this letter, Christie Gallivan acknowledged that I had worked at the clinic for three days, but went on to claim that since I was a temporary nurse, I "would not have been present" at such a procedure — or, then again, in the alternative, that if I did see such a procedure, then my memory must be faulty, or else that I must be deliberately "misrepresenting" what I saw.
Well, as I've said from the beginning, although I was assigned by a temporary agency, Dr. Haskell needed another surgical nurse — I was told that he was having a hard time keeping them — and he seemed to be interested in hiring me on a permanent basis. He wanted me to observe the procedure.
Christie Gallivan was the surgical nurse and she spent those three days giving me an "orientation," as it says on the Kimberly Quality Care invoice. But what is striking to me is how blatantly inconsistent Nurse Gallivan's letter is, not only with what I saw, but with what Dr. Haskell himself has written and said elsewhere.
Christie Gallivan wrote, "Dr. Haskell does not use ultrasound in the performance of second-trimester procedures." Then she went on, regarding my account, "Therefore, her entire description of her experience with viewing the second-trimester abortion, which includes Dr. Haskell using the ultrasound while doing this procedure, is clearly questionable."
Yet, in Dr. Haskell's paper explaining how he performs the procedure, he clearly states that the surgical assistant "places an ultrasound probe on the patient's abdomen and scans the fetus, locating the lower extremities." And a little further on, referring to the forceps, he wrote, "When the instrument appears on the sonogram screen, the surgeon is able to open and close its jaws to firmly and reliably grasp a lower extremity."
So when Christie Gallivan writes that I could not have seen a baby moving, you can evaluate that statement in the light of her other statements on these points on which there is such a clear written record. And you should notice that she never tries to explain, in this letter, why anyone should believe that these babies supposedly don't move. I've been given a copy of a transcript of the tape-recorded interview with Dr. Haskell conducted by the American Medical News in June, 1993 — only three months before my time at his clinic — in which he explicitly acknowledged that most of these babies are alive when he pulls them out.
On November 17, I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Kennedy asked me why it had been reported, in a nursing newsletter, that I was employed by the National Right to Life Committee. As replied, and I tell you know, I've never been a member of, or a donor to that organization, and certainly in no sense an employee.
Certainly, since last summer I have cooperated with National Right to Life in their efforts to make my experience more widely known, because I think it's important that people know the truth about this matter. But National Right to Life has not paid me for anything, and nobody else has paid me for anything in connection with this subject either, beyond reimbursing travel and accommodation expenses. By the way, the editor of the nursing newsletter subsequently retracted the erroneous claim.
Most recently, I got a copy of a letter sent to a constituent by Congresswoman Lynn Rivers of Michigan, written in longhand, in which this distinguished member of Congress claimed that I "was unwilling to testify under oath or submit herself to cross examination in front of Congress — even though she was sitting in the hearing room while testimony was being taken."
Of course, Mr. Chairman, that is all pure fiction. By the time I heard of your bill and wrote my letter to Congressman Hall, on July 9, you had already concluded the hearing on your legislation. I was present for the July 12 markup, and spoke with various members of the committee and the press informally, but of course there was no opportunity for me to formally testify on that occasion, although I certainly would have welcomed the opportunity.
In November, when Senator Hatch invited me to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I accepted immediately and without qualification. During the question period, Senator Kyl asked me if I would be willing to testify to these things under oath and I replied, "Yes, sir, I would. Or under a lie detector or anything else I need to do." [Senate hearing record, p. 63] And I tell you the same thing.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for indulging me in unburdening myself on these points. It is been frustrating to hear, and hear of, these attacks on my truthfulness, and not be able to respond.
It is still amazing to me that certain individuals who hold high elective offices, offices for which I hold great respect, have been so willing to publicly spread this kind of blatant misinformation about me, without making the slightest effort to investigate or look at any of the documentation.
Mr. Chairman, these people who say I didn't see what I saw — I wish they were right. I wish I hadn't seen it. But I did see it, and I will never be able to forget it. That baby boy was only inches, seconds away from being entirely born, when he was killed. What I saw done to that little boy, and to those other babies, should not be allowed in this country.