Brazilian Anencephalic Baby Shatters Pro-Abortion Myths

Commentary by Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

MORRO AGUDO, BRAZIL, June 5, 2008 ( - In announcing that the Brazilian Supreme Court may soon rule on whether to permit abortions for anencephalic babies - infants born without a complete brain - Folha de Sao Paulo columnist Josias de Souza claimed that such children normally die within days of birth.

But tell that to Cacilda Galante Ferreira, whose daughter Marcela was born with anencephaly a year and a half ago in Morro Agudo, Sao Paulo State, Brazil.  The baby is very much alive, quite healthy, and responds to family members. 

"One week I had to go out and I left Marcela sleeping with my other daughter.  When I returned she was agitated and crying.  I can’t stay away from her for one minute," her mother told the newspaper A Cidade in February.

Although she was born without most of her brain, Marcela Ferreira has lived for a year and a half with little extraordinary care.  She receives oxygen supplementation and eats through a feeding tube inserted through her nose, but otherwise lives normally.  She interacts with family members and shows signs of consciousness. Her presence is a joy for all.

"My little dear, the little infant so small and fragile, is today strong and very much loved by everyone," her mother reportedly wrote in a diary entry.  "Little Marcela came into the world to touch our hearts and to show us the true meaning of life."

When Marcela was diagnosed with anencephaly, still in the womb, her mother was given the option to abort the child.  Her doctor, she says, "gave me a week to decide if I was going to continue with the pregnancy.  I responded that it is not right to be so cruel as to kill that small and innocent child."

Myths about anencephaly abound, and if Brazil’s recent decision on embryonic stem cell research is any indication, factual scientific errors about the condition could lead the justices of Brazil’s Supreme Court to condemn thousands of unborn children to an untimely death.

In the stem cell case, concluded last week, approving justices based their ruling on the claim that frozen embryos cannot survive after three years (see LifeSite coverage at  However, frozen embryos have been successfully implanted well after three years in storage, and scientists say that there is no known limit to the viability of frozen embryos.

Abortion advocates promote several fallacies about anencephaly.  The first and most obvious error, similar to the previous one, is that anencephalic infants are not viable outside of the womb.  However they can, and do, survive for weeks, months, even years after birth.  What may be the longest-living anencephalic baby, "Baby K", lived two and a half years in the United States, dying in 1995.

In fact, an ethics report issued by the American Medical Association in 1994 (CEJA Report 5 - I-94) which endorsed the brutal practice of removing the organs of anencephalic babies while still alive, nevertheless admitted that ten percent of such babies survive for more than a week after birth (see full text at

The report went on to confess that, "however, because these neonates often do not receive aggressive treatment, their potential lifespan is probably longer than their actual lifespan."

The report made a second admission that contradicts the conventional wisdom about anencephalic babies.  While abortion advocates claim that tests for anencephaly are absolutely reliable, the American Medical Association acknowledges that "misdiagnoses of infants as anencephalic have been documented in the medical literature and detected by surveillance programs".

The AMA admits that the "possibility of misdiagnoses cannot be entirely eliminated", but assures the reader that "the diagnosis of anencephaly is highly reliable". 

What the AMA is acknowledging is that a certain percentage of babies discarded in the waste disposal of the abortion clinic as "anencephalic" will not be sufferers of the disease at all.  However, the report calls the risk "insignificant".

Risks of misdiagnosis may seem "insignificant" to a doctor, but parents tend to have a different perspective.  A case in point is that of Brandon Kramer, who was diagnosed with a brain defect while still developing in the womb.  His parents, Becky Weatherall and her boyfriend Kriss Kramer were told that their son’s brain was malformed and enlarged, and that fluid had collected in his skull (see recent LifeSite coverage at 

Doctors told the couple that their son would be deaf and blind, and was unlikely to survive long after birth.  Although the pregnancy was at a late stage, they recommended an abortion, an idea that Weatherall and Kramer rejected.

Contrary to the doctors’ claims, the couple’s child was born completely healthy, and normal.

"I feel incredibly guilty thinking that I could have killed him," said Weatherall, "and then I find myself wondering how many other babies are killed who would have turned out to be completely healthy."

It is difficult to know how many false diagnoses of anencephaly and other birth defects occur annually because a high percentage of such children are aborted, resulting in a mutilated corpse that is not examined after the procedure. 

Approximately 95% of anencephalic babies are aborted before birth, according to the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. This rate is similar for other birth defects.  In northern California, for example, 95% of unborn children diagnosed with cystic fibrosis are aborted, according to the insurer Kaiser Permanente.

What may be the most devastating error regarding anencephaly is the notion that sufferers cannot possibly have consciousness because the parts of the brain in which thinking occurs are absent.  In reality, medical science has shown that a process known as neuroplasticity can "rewire" brain cells to change their function and compensate for the loss of other cells.

The Italian National Bioethics Committee has admitted that this effect could actually allow a degree of consciousness to develop in anencephalic babies, whose brain stem is intact.  Although the brain stem normally acts to maintain the functioning of the body’s organs, its cells could theoretically change function to compensate for the missing upper brain.

"The neuroplasticity of the brain stem could be sufficient to guarantee to the anencephalic infant, at least in the least serious cases, a certain primitive possibility of conscience," the Committee wrote in its 1996 report, "The Anencephalic Neonate and Organ Donation". 

The possibility of neuroplasticity provides a scientific explanation for the fact that little Marcela Ferreira exhibits many signs of consciousness.  According to Luiz Carlos Lodi da Cruz, a Catholic priest and pro-life activist, "Marcela reacts to the touch of her mother.  With her hand, she grabs the fingers of Mrs. Cacilda."

She reacts to light and sound, makes facial expressions, and cries. "When she doesn’t want a particular food, she spits it out.  She recognizes the voice of her mother," writes Lodi da Cruz on his website (

"Doctors will tell you that an anencephalic child can neither see nor hear, nor feel pain, that he or she is a vegetable," says Anencephaly-info, a website maintained by parents of anencephalic children (  "However, that does not match up with the experience of many families who have had an anencephalic child."

"The brain is affected to varying degrees, according to the child; the brain tissue can reach different stages of development. Some children are able to swallow, eat, cry, hear, feel vibrations (loud sounds), react to touch and even to light. But most of all, they respond to our love: you don’t need a complete brain to give and receive love - all you need is a heart!" the site’s authors write.

However, given the severe nature of anencephaly, the disorder is likely to be used by pro-abortion groups as a "wedge issue" to create a precedent for the legalization of abortion in Brazil.  Advocates of abortion for anencephalic babies, such as columnist Josias de Souza, are already disseminating scientific errors, distortions, and exaggerations regarding the issue.

For example, de Souza claims in his recent blog entry ( that anencephalic pregnancies present a "high risk" of harm to the mother.  Although it is true that there is an increased risk of certain complications during such pregnancies, the overall risk to the mother’s health is low.

"The diagnosis of anencephaly in the fetus poses a slightly increased medical risk to the mother," says the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin on its website ( The authors of Anencephaly-info acknowledge that there may be an excess of amniotic fluid and other minor complications, but that otherwise the pregnancy is "normal" and is not dangerous for the mother.

De Souza also highlights the short lifespan of anencephalic infants, and claims that "the possibility of diagnostic error" of anencephaly before birth "is close to zero".  "Close," however, will not be enough to protect the children whose lives will be lost in the false diagnoses that will inevitably occur.

More significantly, De Souza ignores the fundamental moral argument against abortion: that human beings have a fundamental right to live, regardless of their handicap or lack of development.  Pro-lifers contend that no one has the right to kill an innocent human being, because people are not objects to be manipulated and destroyed for the sake of convenience.

Instead of addressing the issue directly, de Souza makes an emotional appeal, disregarding such moral considerations and claiming that the baby is incapable of consciousness and will die shortly anyway. In other words, it doesn’t matter…much.

The difference between the rationale for abortion in this case and in other cases, such as the "psychological and social well-being of the mother" or even her "freedom to control her body" is merely one of degree.  A Supreme Court decision in favor of abortion for anencephalic babies is likely to act as a "wedge", allowing an increasing loosening of restrictions on abortion until it is effectively legal on demand.

The first "wedge" was the Supreme Court’s approval of deadly embryonic stem cell research, which destroys human life at its earliest stage.  It remains to be seen if Brazilian proponents of abortion will be able to insert a second wedge into place.

Related Links:

The Possibility of Consciousness in Anencephalic Babies Acknowledged by Italian National Bioethics Committee (Portuguese Translation of Italian Original):
  The Anencephalic Neonate and Organ Donation, June 21, 1996 (Il neonato anencefalico e la donazione di organi. 21 giugno 1996, p. 11). (Portuguese Translation of Italian Original)

The Smiles of Marcela (Portuguese)

In perfect health, the baby doctors said would be born deaf and blind ...and live only a few hours—live-hours.html

Anencephaly Information (maintained by parents of anencephalic children)

American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs,
  The Use of Anencephalic Neonates as Organ Donors (Report 5 - 1-94)

Federal Supreme Tribunal Hill Judge the Interruption of Pregnancy in Cases of Anencephaly (Portuguese)

  Related Coverage:

Brazilian Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Abortion

Brazilian Supreme Court Upholds Deadly Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Close Vote

Brazilian Supreme Court May Approve Constitutionality of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Baby Born Healthy Defies Doctor’s Abortion Advice

FREE pro-life and pro-family news.

Stay up-to-date on the issues you care about the most. Subscribe today. 

Select Your Edition:

Share this article

Featured Image
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

Congressman: Give us Nucatola or we’ll subpoena

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Dr. Deborah Nucatola has become awfully shy since she became the first national Planned Parenthood figure featured in an exposé of its practice of harvesting, and allegedly profiting from the sale of, the organs of aborted children. Within hours of the video release by the Center for Medical Progress, she removed her social media accounts. 

Now, she is considering dodging a call to testify before a Congressional committee investigating whether she admitted to breaking the law during her covertly recorded cameo with actors posing as agents of a human biologics company.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee called her to address the committee by month's end. 

Roger K. Evans, Planned Parenthood's Senior Counsel for Law and Policy, responded by saying that asking her to speak to Congress "no later than July 31 ... is short notice given the number of questions raised." 

He instead offered to substitute Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley in Nucatola's place.

Faced with the possibility that Planned Parenthood would refuse to send its star witness, at least one congressman has said he will take steps to ensure the abortion provider shows up.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-PA, responded to Evans' letter by saying that the committee has called Dr. Nucatola to the witness stand before the end of the month, and she will comply or face the consequences.  

“If they say no, we’ll subpoena her,” the pro-life Republican said. 

The committee is focused on whether the process Dr. Nucatola - the doctor seen in the first video, eating salad and sipping wine - amounts to a violation of federal felony law forbidding the sale of human organs for "valuable consideration." 

Featured Image

Why selling ‘baby body parts’ has captured America’s attention (VIDEO)

By Pete Baklinski

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - A key player in last week’s startling video exposé of Planned Parenthood says that it took 30 months of strategic planning from numerous pro-life organizations to give the story the hard-hitting power with which it has walloped the abortion industry over its practice of harvesting the body parts of aborted babies. 

“We are seeing the fruit of a lot of careful thought, a lot of disciplined activities, and a lot of undercover work,” Rev. Frank Pavone, executive director of Priests for Life, told LifeSiteNews in an interview in Washington. 

Since breaking Tuesday of last week, the story has trended first place in social media platforms such as Facebook and has been given top priority on mega news aggregation websites such as Drudge Report. The first of now two undercover videos has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube. 

Pavone said that this is not the first time Planned Parenthood has faced the heat for what many considered to be a barbaric practice of harvesting human organs for profit. Similar investigations in the late 1990s into the practices of Planned Parenthood found that aborted babies were being dissected alive, harvested, and sold in pieces for research. 

“Now this is fresh evidence. Now this is evidence going to the highest levels of Planned Parenthood. We know that people at the national level of Planned Parenthood are aware of and are admitting that these baby body parts are being harvested, that transactions are taking place, that money is changing hands. And so, this is catching the attention of the American public because it brings the abortion issue down from the abstract level to the concrete,” he said. 

“This is not just about viewpoints, it’s about victims. It’s not just about beliefs, it’s about bloodshed. When people see and hear terms like ‘eyes, livers, hearts’ it’s like, ‘What are we talking about here? This is ghoulish disgusting activity,’” he said. 

Pavone praised pro-life activists such as Operation Rescue president Troy Newman and Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher for helping the exposé along, giving “strategic input, guidance, and advice.” Pavone highlighted the hard work of lead investigator David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress for going undercover to film meetings with high profile Planned Parenthood employees and attending numerous Planned Parenthood conferences.

Pavone believes the story has received so much traction in social media outlets like Facebook because it gives people a platform to express outrage over the injustice of abortion in response to mainstream media’s unwritten rule of silence and apathy on abortion. 

Traditional media outlets are “in the pocket” of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, he said, adding that they “don’t want to say a bad word about Planned Parenthood.”

“Social media has become the engine for those who feel so frustrated that things we have known for years that the abortion industry is doing, and yet we can’t seem to get the word out, now these people are taking this and running with it. And I think you’re seeing years and even decades of frustration being channeled in productive ways to say, ‘We’ve got to shout this from the rooftops.’ And social media is the perfect rooftop,” he said. 

When asked what the undercover videos released so far reveal about the abortion industry and the people who work in it, Pavone responded: 

When an abortionist dehumanizes the baby that he or she is about to kill, the abortionist also dehumanizes himself. And this is what we are seeing in these people. We see it in Deborah Nucatola sipping the wine and eating the salad and talking about the body parts. We see it in the newest video [about] Dr. Mary Gatter. We saw it in [jailed abortionist] Gosnell.

What’s wrong with [these people]? There are two things wrong. Number one, these people are dehumanized. They are deeply damaged by the abortions they perform. Because when you perform your first abortion, a voice of protest rises up within you saying, ‘No. Stop. You can’t do this.’ But then if you ignore that voice, and go ahead and do that abortion, then the next time you have to explain to yourself, and to everybody else, why you ignored that voice. And so, the voice of protest gets buried under layer, and layer, and layer of excuses and rationalizations. And in doing that, you are becoming disconnected from your own conscience.

How can these people talk about this with apparent peace on their face? It’s because they are disconnected from themselves, from their own conscience.

Pavone said that new undercover videos to be released in the coming days will continue to shed light on the gruesome practices happening at Planned Parenthood abortion centers across the nation. 

“We want to defund Planned Parenthood and get them to stop what they are doing. This is a very concrete way of doing that. We want to end Planned Parenthood because they are the largest abortion business in the world, and we want that to stop,” he said. 

Already a Congressional investigation is underway, but so far, Planned Parenthood is refusing to cooperate with the demands of the Committee investigating. 

Featured Image
Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon

The Planned Parenthood scandal shows the power of exposing abortion’s grotesqueness

Jonathon van Maren Jonathon van Maren Follow Jonathon
By Jonathon van Maren

July 23, 2015 (UnmaskingChoice) -- If there’s one thing that confuses me about how many pro-lifers decide on strategies to change hearts and minds on abortion, it’s the fact that they seem to believe that we have to approach the most controversial issue there is without controversy—that somehow, we have to take an issue that people have incredibly strong feelings about and ensure that none of those feelings surface during a discussion.

As our postcard campaign nears our record-breaking mark of one million postcards delivered to one million homes, reactions have been widely varied—we have phone calls from people “horrified” by the postcard, who don’t seem to realize that the action depicted is much more horrifying. We have people who demand to know what they are supposed to say if their children see the picture of “the dead baby”—who don’t seem to realize that with their own words, they have admitted that we live in a country where dead babies are tossed in garbage cans behind government-funded clinics. We also have people who call us to thank us for the information, and express anger that such barbarism could be happening in Canada. We have people who phone to tell us that the postcard has changed their vote, and the votes of their neighbors. And we have people like the old man who wanted to shake my hand because he was encouraged to see that “some people cared about things.”

Huge numbers of Canadians have no idea that abortion decapitates, dismembers, and disembowels a pre-born human being. Huge numbers of Canadians are being exposed to that tragic and horrifying fact.

By the polling numbers, we see many people influenced against abortion—even if they don’t like us, the image stays with them, and they like abortion even less. Even if only ten percent of people were influenced against abortion because of postcards depicting abortion imagery, I would point out that that is still a far bigger number than any other pro-life strategy even claims to impact. For the first time, statistically significant portions of the population are being exposed to the reality of abortion—and they are reacting to that reality.

Pro-lifers are often tempted to run scared because they believe what the pro-abortion movement says about our best evidence—that it will “turn people” off. It will, of course. In the words of one abortion activist: “Your pictures turn people off of abortion.” If people get angry with us, but are still influenced against abortion, we have accomplished exactly what we set out to do. That being said, people only focus on the angry commenters that they see—a handful of social media posts, and the same tired news story from each and every single media outlet. I’m not sure if most journalists are unimaginative or just lazy, but most seem unwilling or incapable of even visiting a few websites and trying to find out what the rationale behind the strategy is. Most of them, I suspect, have pre-written stories and just call around to get the quotes they want. We know, for example, that reporters have specifically ignored people who have received the postcard and offered to comment positively—that is not, they openly say, the story they are looking for.

The abortion movement, on the other hand, can’t decide whether the imagery we use is extremely effective, or very ineffective. Canadian abortion blogger “Fern Hill” is usually babbling the talking points about how what we’re doing is so counter-productive, and that we’re obsessed with “gore porn,” and then calling us a bunch of names. (If pro-abortion groups really did believe that what we were doing strengthened support for abortion so much, I suspect that they’d be a lot less angry about what we’re doing—after all, we’re just doing their job!) But a couple of days ago, after responding to pictures of the dozens of lovely young women on our staff by snapping that they were all one unplanned pregnancy away from being pro-choice (such a depressing world these people live in), she tweeted an article at me that I found interesting.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

It was a piece on David Daleidan of the Center for Medical Progress, the man behind the recent exposes of Planned Parenthood. He’s captured video of Planned Parenthood employees casually discussing not only the abortion procedure, but also how to best pillage the corpses of these dead children in order to sell their body parts for profit. The videos have horrified people across North America, and reaction has been swift. Amanda Marcotte, a pro-abortion blogger who often writes for Slate, has responded to the new scandal in an article called “Grossing people out can have short-term impact, but does it matter in the long-term?” She quotes Michelle Goldberg over at The Nation:

Further, it’s a way for the anti-abortion movement to focus the abortion debate on the graphic details of rare, late-term procedures, about which there is less public consensus than there is about early abortion. It serves the same purpose as the ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion,” and as blown-up pictures of bloody fetuses. It induces disgust, a very politically potent emotion, since most people associate things that are gross with things that are immoral. In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt describes how researchers asked students at Cornell University to fill out surveys about their political attitudes while standing either near or far from hand sanitizer. Those standing closer to it became temporarily more conservative. If something that minor can affect people’s politics, then a video like this one is sure to have a visceral impact.

Amanda Marcotte goes on to say that while abortion imagery and exposes are very potent, that the impact of them is not long-lasting. Why? Because, she writes with hilarious immaturity, most things in life are gross—sex, going to the bathroom, surgery—and we all get over those things, don’t we? So surely abortion pictures will also be forgotten.

She’s forgetting something—abortion pictures aren’t powerful because they’re “gross.” Abortion pictures are powerful because they show the results of abortion—a dead, butchered human being. The power in the imagery is that people recognize that, and something in them responds to this injustice. It’s why even the people angry with our postcards have responded to the media by talking about the postcards depicting the “dead babies” or the “slain babies” or the “torn-up babies.” No-one thinks that what they’re looking at is a removed appendix. No one thinks that what they’re looking at is bodily waste. Everyone knows, almost immediately, that what they’re looking at is a dead human.

That is why the impact of abortion pictures doesn’t just disappear. One more piece of evidence? Almost everyone I know in the pro-life movement was convicted to join the pro-life fight because they saw a picture or a video of abortion, including myself. As Marcotte herself pointed out, that was what convicted David Daleidan as well. We now have over forty young people on our staff, all convicted by seeing what abortion does to babies and what they can do about it.

The movement is just getting started.

Reprinted with permission from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.


Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook