Peter Baklinski

Be Not Afraid: hope for parents whose babies will likely die

Peter Baklinski
Peter Baklinski
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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, February 1, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – What do you do after finding out that your unborn baby has a defect that is ‘incompatible with life’? Many parents are presented with a dreadful choice: either get an abortion, or carry to term a diseased fetus, who will face untold medical complications and who will likely die anyway.

With the dilemma put like this, as many as 80-90% of parents with an unborn baby with a serious medical condition opt for abortion. However, a growing number are uncomfortable with this option. The question is, where do such parents turn for support to help bring their baby into the world?

Enter the Be Not Afraid Ministry (BNAM), a specialized pro-life ministry that stands side-by-side with such parents, providing a network of support to help them choose life…however short that life may be.

Monica Rafie, the co-foundress of Be Not Afraid, says that those in her ministry believe that there is essentially no difference between an unborn baby who has a poor diagnosis or a healthy one, since both share “the same dignity before God.”

She says she tells parents who have just received bad news about their child “to slow down and take a deep breath.” The most difficult part of the journey is simply receiving the diagnosis, she says. “As absurd as it may seem, the worst is already behind you.”

“Your baby hasn’t changed, you just have more information - it is the same baby you loved yesterday,” she tells parents. “The challenge now is to parent him or her to the best of your ability recognizing (if your baby’s diagnosis is fatal) that this precious time of pregnancy may be the only time you have with your baby.”

‘Precious moments’ with an angel

No one knows this challenge better than James and Elizabeth (names changed). After an ultrasound they were devastated to hear their doctor say that there were “bone fragments missing from the baby’s head.”

A specialist confirmed that the baby had anencephaly, a non-viable condition, presenting what Elizabeth remembers as an “ugly scientific picture” of what their baby would look like when born. With the baby having no chance of survival, the doctor gave the parents the option to abort, or to attempt to carry the baby to term.

While James and Elizabeth knew that their baby was not going to live after birth and that there was no cure for anencephaly, they decided to carry the baby with hearts “full of faith in the plan God had in store for us.” After deciding to treat their baby as a normal pregnancy, the parents remember feeling “so much better.” Another ultrasound revealed that they were going to have a boy.

While they were saddened that their son had anencephaly, they remember being simply happy that he was alive.

At the birth, “my husband cut the umbilical cord and the nurse wiped him off and put a warm little cap on him before I held him. I did not cry, I just held him, kissed and hugged him, and told him how much we loved our little angel,” said Elizabeth in her story, carried on BNAM’s website.

John Raphael lived 7 minutes. He weighed 7 lbs, 8 oz. and was 21 inches long.

A few years have now gone by. But James and Elizabeth say that they “don’t ever regret” their decision to carry their son to term. “It may sound strange but we actually feel ‘blessed’ to have brought our son to this world only to give him back to the Lord.”

To birth and beyond

The many testimonials collected by the Be Not Afraid team share this common theme: that opting for life allows the parents to respect and honor the life of their child, to continue to love and to hold him or her for as long as possible, and to say a natural and genuine ‘farewell.’

Be Not Afraid Ministry exists to help foster this kind of loving and accepting relationship between parents and their sickly baby by providing parents with a network of support.

“We cannot ‘fix’ the medical problems that are present with many prenatal diagnoses,” Rafie says she tells parents. “We wish we could, but we can make certain that you are not alone, that you are well supported in the experience of carrying your baby to term after a prenatal diagnosis.”

The Be Not Afraid team runs a website filled with resources, provides local service and support, and spreads education and awareness through media and at conferences.

But Monica believes that supportive relationships and person-to-person care are the “most important components” of the Be Not Afraid outreach. These are offered with the help of Tracy Winsor and Sandy Buck from Charlotte, North Carolina, and in collaboration with clergy, medical providers, and other community resources.

“What parents need most are on-going relationships with people in their own community who can provide practical guidance surrounding the specific issues they are facing with sensitive, compassionate care,” says Rafie.

Be Not Afraid Ministry is what Monica calls a “ministry of presence.”

Among other things, Be Not Afraid provides parents with phone communication support, meets with them in their home to draft birth plans around a kitchen table, travels with them to doctor visits, helps a family member or relative process their real and imagined fears, organizes meals for overwhelmed families, attends births, organizes prayer showers, advocates on the parents’ behalf for fully informed decision-making, and advocates for basic humane care for babies not expected to survive after birth.

While Be Not Afraid Ministry cannot be everywhere at once to minister to parents who have received a dire prenatal diagnosis, they have successfully partnered and collaborated with already existing support organizations such as Isaiah’s Promise to be present to parents who need support.

“Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without BNAM support,” said one woman who was pregnant with mono-amniotic twins who were connected to a single placenta and developing in the same amniotic sac. The mother was crushed when one of the twins succumbed after prenatal surgery.

“BNAM connected me to other moms who had lost a twin, even another mom whose pregnancy continued like mine beyond the loss of the first baby,” said the mother. “There were weekly visits and encouraging phone calls, assistance in preparing for the birth. … There were pints of ice cream and special remembrances of Layla, hugs and tears, and often laughter from my hospital room that compelled nurses on staff to see what was going on.”

Be Not Afraid Ministry has learned in their few years of existence that affirming the dignity of the unborn child and encouraging the parents to welcome the life entrusted to them is an approach that resonates with the desires of most parents.

“There is no diagnosis that will change our perspective of the value and dignity of any particular baby,” said Monica.

“We must always respond with the sense that no diagnosis is as important as the child’s dignity.”

Contact Be Not Afraid Ministry
Website: benotafraid.net
E-mail: info@benotafraid.net

Read inspirational stories from parents.

BNAM local services are currently available in Charlotte, NC, in the dioceses of Charleston, SC, and Richmond, VA. Services are being developed in Austin, TX, Providence, RI, and St. Petersburg, FL.


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Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." Shutterstock
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‘Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks

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By Dustin Siggins

Advocates on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as pro-life leaders, are slamming famed atheist Richard Dawkins’ statements made on Twitter earlier today that parents have a moral responsibility to abort babies diagnosed in utero with Down’s.

During a shocking Twitter rant, Dawkins responded to questioners saying that it was "civilised" to abort Down Syndrome babies, and that it would be "immoral" to choose not to abort babies diagnosed with the condition.

He said that his goal is to "reduce suffering wherever you can," indicating that unborn children cannot suffer, and that unborn children don't "have human feelings."

In addition to being scientifically challenged - unborn children can feel both pain and emotions - Dawkins' comments drew criticism for his callousness towards children with disabilities.  

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus"

"It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities," Live Action President Lila Rose told LifeSiteNews. "Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome.

"While many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born," she said. "Those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection."

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, told MailOnline that, contrary to Dawkins’ assertion, "People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society."

A spokesperson for the UK disabilities charity Scope lamented that during the "difficult and confusing time" when parents find out they are expecting a child with disabilities, they often experience "negative attitudes."

"What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information," the spokesperson said.

Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan agreed with Rose’s assessment. "Advocates of abortion for those 'weaker' than others, or of less physical or intellectual dexterity, should remember that each of us is 'lesser' in some or most respects," he said.

According to Donovan, "we deliver a death sentence on all of humanity by such cruel logic."

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus" he said.

One family who has a child with Down syndrome said Dawkins was far from the mark when he suggested that aborting babies with Down syndrome is a good way to eliminate suffering.

Jan Lucas, whose son Kevin has Down syndrome, said that far from suffering, Kevin has brought enormous joy to the family, and "is so loving. He just has a million hugs."

She described how Kevin was asked to be an honorary deacon at the church they attend in New Jersey, "because he is so encouraging to everyone. At church, he asks people how their families are, says he'll pray for them, and follows up to let them know that he has been praying for them."

It's not just strangers for whom Kevin prays. "My husband and I were separated for a time, and Kevin kept asking people to pray for his dad," said Jan. "They didn't believe that Kevin's prayers would be answered. Kevin didn't lose hope, and asking people, and our marriage now is better than ever before. We attribute it to Kevin's prayers, and how he drew on the prayers of everyone."

"I don't know what we'd do without him," said Jan.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Kevin said that his favorite things to do are "spending time with my family, and keeping God in prayer." He said that he "always knows God," which helps him to "always keep praying for my friends."

"I love my church," said Kevin.

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey , 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child.

Despite this, it is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

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President George Bush takes the ice bucket challenge in a video released this week.
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What’s wrong with the viral ‘ice bucket challenge’? A lot, say pro-life leaders

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By Dustin Siggins

Pro-life leaders in the U.S. are warning about ethical problems with the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" that has raised over $15 million for research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease since late July, making its way to the top of American politics, and the entertainment and business worlds in the process.

In recent days, former president George W. Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, TV hosts Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Fallon, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have all had ice-cold water dumped on their heads in support of the effort.

They have been joined by many thousands of everyday Americans eager to do their part to raise funds to find a cure for the fatal neurodegenerative disease.

However, pro-life leaders from Patheos blogger Father Michael Duffy to the American Life League (ALL) are all pointing out that the ALS Association, which is behind the wildly popular fundraising effort, funds and otherwise supports embryonic stem cell research.

Instead, they are urging that pro-life people who want to participate in the ice bucket challenge send their donations to other charities that don't have similar ethical issues.

Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of an unborn child. This is unlike adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, which are considered ethical.

A spokesperson from the ALS Association admitted to American Life League in an e-mail that while the organization "primarily funds adult stem cell research," they are "funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC)..."

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"It is noble to combat a deadly disease," Live Action president Lila Rose said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews, but added that "it's such a shame that the ALS Association...chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings."

"Embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of pre-born people, is inherently unethical and a violation of fundamental human rights, and even materialists must admit that promises of its benefits have failed to deliver," continued Rose. "There is no good reason to condone this practice; in fact, all it does is taint the ALS Association, whom I'd otherwise be happy to support."

In the email to American Life League, ALS Assocation Spokesperson Carrie Munk defended the organization, saying that the embryonic stem cell research is being funded by an outside donor, and "the stem cell line was established many years ago."

She added that "under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future," and that currently "donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project."

At least one Catholic archdiocese has spoken up about the problematic relationship between ALS Assocation and unethical research.

"We appreciate the compassion that has caused so many people to engage in the ice bucket challenge," said a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. "But it's a well established moral principle that a good end is not enough. The means to that ends must be morally licit."

Both Fr. Duffy and the archdiocese have recommended money be sent to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa. It is an organization that exclusively researches with adult stem cells. 

One D.C.-area Catholic, Robert Vega, wrote on Facebook that "in light of the absolute dignity of human life and necessity to defend it...I have taken down my Ice Bucket video, untagged myself from my nomination video, and encourage anyone to whom I may have spread the Challenge to do the same."

Embryonic stem cell research, which was a major controversy throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, has quietly, although decidedly, become less popular after many of the exalted promises of its proponents failed to materialize. As LifeSiteNews reported, in 2012 California and Maryland funded a fraction of the embryonic stem cell research projects that they did in 2007. Likewise, Maryland funded nearly twice as many stem cell research projects in 2012 as it had in the prior year -- but only one of the grants was done for an embryonic research project.

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Catholic couple fined $13,000 for refusing to host same-sex ‘wedding’ at their farm

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By Kirsten Anderson
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Robert and Cynthia Gifford

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) has ruled that the Roman Catholic owners of an Albany-area farm violated the civil rights of a lesbian couple when they declined to host the couple’s same-sex “marriage” ceremony in 2012.

Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, were ordered by DHR Judge Migdalia Pares and Commissioner Helen Diane Foster to pay $10,000 in fines to the state and an additional $3,000 in damages to the lesbian couple, Jennie McCarthy and Melissa Erwin for “mental pain and suffering.” 

Additionally, the Giffords must provide sensitivity training to their staff, and prominently display a poster highlighting state anti-discrimination laws.

The Giffords’ attorney, Jim Trainor, told LifeSiteNews that the two-year-legal drama and resulting fines all stemmed from a single brief phone call in 2012 that caught his clients off guard.

“The entire interaction between the Complainants and the Giffords transpired during a two to three minute telephone conversation which, unknown to Mrs. Gifford, was being tape recorded,” Trainor said.

“After communicating the fact that they chose not to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies at the farm because to do so would violate the Giffords’ sincerely held beliefs (that God intended marriage to be between a man a woman only), Mrs. Gifford invited the couple to visit the farm to discuss handling their wedding reception, which the couple refused.” 

The Giffords draw a line, Trainor explained, between a ceremony that solemnizes a homosexual relationship and a reception that celebrates the union after the fact.  To participate in the former, they argue, would be a violation of their own religious beliefs, especially because marriage ceremonies on the farm typically take place in and around the couple’s home, where they live full-time and are raising their two children. 

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But the Giffords are willing to serve gay couples in other ways – for example, they allowed another lesbian couple to throw a birthday party for their adopted child on the farm.

Trainor said he believes the decision by DHR goes too far in that it seeks to regulate what the Giffords can or cannot do in their own private home, even though state law only requires “places of public accommodation” to adhere to anti-discrimination laws.

“They consider the farm their home,” Trainor said. “They live there, they work there, they raise their kids there.”

Trainor also said that the Judge and Commissioner should have taken into account the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby ruling, which came down weeks before the DHR notified the Giffords of their decision.

“We're disappointed that neither the Administrative Law Judge nor the Commissioner considered the Gifford's Constitutional (1st Amendment) rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a ‘marriage’ ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor said. 

Trainor said he and the Giffords are evaluating their options for further legal action.

The Giffords could simply ask the DHR to reconsider their decision, but Trainor said he doubts that approach would be successful. In order to formally appeal the ruling the couple would have to go to the New York State Supreme Court. 

But there is another option: The Giffords could file a fresh lawsuit in either state or federal court challenging the constitutionality of the DHR ruling.

While religious liberty has been a hot topic in federal court lately, Trainor said New York’s state constitution “actually offers a lot” of protection when it comes to religious freedom. “Many people view it as more expansive than the U.S. Constitution in terms of religious freedoms.”

However, Trainor emphasized that the Giffords have not yet decided which avenue, if any, they are planning to take in terms of pursuing further legal action.

In the meantime, the Giffords will continue hosting wedding ceremonies and receptions at the farm, Trainor said. However, they are considering hiring a dedicated employee to handle the ceremonies in order to avoid having to directly participate in any future same-sex “weddings.”

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