In an excerpt from he and his wife’s new book Bella’s Gift, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum shows that standing for life can put you in the center of battles — both political and personal.
February 24, 2015 (Bound4Life.com) — My children Gabriel and Bella were both candidates for abortion. Both infants’ obstetricians felt compelled to advise us that the most popular option for parents carrying children like Gabriel and Bella was termination — in other words, abortion.
In a world that values abilities, either physical or mental, a child that is disabled is less valued, particularly in the womb. I witnessed this debate firsthand before either Gabriel or Bella were born.
When I came to the United States Senate, I had a 100 percent pro-life voting record in my four years in Congress, but I never took to the floor to debate the issue. In fact, I had made up my mind that I would never cross that red line in politics where I would be marginalized as a pro-life zealot. In all likelihood, one or two speeches on abortion would not draw the wrath of the abortion-supporting media and interest groups… but coming from a lean Democratic state like Pennsylvania, why risk it?
That was the game plan. But in my first year in the Senate, I went through a spiritual transformation. I often say I came to the Senate and found the Lord! Many people think He has long abandoned that place, but in fact, I found many people of faith not only in the Senate but also in ministries devoted to helping people working in the Capitol.
It just so happened that this spiritual transformation was occurring at the time the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was being debated in Congress. This bill sought to ban an abortion procedure performed on babies that were at least twenty weeks old.
I was appalled to learn it was legal for a twenty-week-old fetus to be deliberately delivered alive in a breech position, then killed by the doctor as he or she held the baby and thrust pointed scissors into the base of the baby’s skull. I was shocked even more by watching senators defend this horrific procedure. I could no longer stay silent. I decided to rise and speak against the gruesome practice.
The debate was as intense as a debate over life and death should be. Even though I was trained as a lawyer, I had done very little criminal work other than an internship at a public defender’s office during law school. During that debate, I felt I had to bring the passion of a defense attorney who was trying to save an innocent client from being executed. But it wasn’t just one, but hundreds of victims, who would die a brutal death if I failed.
This was the ultimate moral and spiritual battle playing out on an unlikely stage. As a thirty-eight year-old first-term senator talking publicly about this grave issue for the first time, I should have felt chastened or even overwhelmed. I didn’t. Thanks to prayers of support, I had never felt more in the zone.
President Clinton had vetoed a few bills from the Republican Congress, but this was the first congressional attempt to override a veto. That was front-page news in every paper in America. As expected, the House had easily overridden his veto, so all the coverage was on the debate in the Senate, where the result was uncertain.
This debate was not just about the bill at hand; the coverage was going to shape public opinion in advance of an election and provide the arguments for candidates running against opponents of the ban in key Senate races around the country. The debate on the Senate floor really mattered.
In the closing hours of the debate, I was struck by the defense mounted by the pro-abortion senators.
Senator Dianne Feinstein from California succinctly advanced their argument: “Some women carry fetuses with severe birth defects late into pregnancy without knowing it.”
She and other senators were using examples of children with disabilities (some with problems that are treatable) to justify their opposition, suggesting that the government should not stand in the way of parents who want to kill their children once they find out their babies aren’t perfect.
While this stance came as a shock to me, particularly from some senators who had taken the lead in advancing the cause of the disabled, in retrospect it shouldn’t have. I knew that a very high percentage of parents who find out about disabilities through prenatal testing abort those babies. Some studies have put the abortion rate in such cases as high as 90 percent.
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Let’s set aside the fact for now that, according to doctors who performed this procedure, 99 percent of these abortions were performed on healthy babies; let’s wrap our minds around the idea that dozens of US senators, including, later on, Hillary Clinton, opposed the partial-birth abortion bill because it protected disabled children from death.
I don’t recall any of these senators during the course of six debates over eight years ever citing the case of a healthy baby to rationalize their opposition. This bias drove me to respond: “Think about the message we are sending to the less-than-perfect children of America and the mothers who are right now dealing with the possibility of delivering an abnormal baby.”
“My wife is due in March. We haven’t had a sonogram done. We are hopeful that everything is fine. What message are you sending to me in looking at that sonogram in a week or two, if the doctor says to us that our child isn’t what we want?”
Even though we lost the political fight, I felt certain I was following God’s will. I was devoting more time at home to Karen and our three little ones, and my prayer life was better than ever. Less than a week later, Karen, the kids, and I walked into that sonographer’s office, and that doctor, in fact, did tell us that Gabriel was going to die.
I had followed what I thought was God’s will to defend the lives of these little babies from a horrible death, and He kicks me in the head? My son’s condition could have been an example used by Senator Feinstein as a reason to abort.
I was now forced to decide whether I was going to be true to my words, which had been so easy to speak on the Senate floor.
Rick Santorum, a native of Pennsylvania, was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president of the United States in 2012. He served in the House of Representatives from 1991 to 1995 and in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and is the author of several books, including the 2005 New York Times bestseller It Takes a Family. His most important role and love in life is being a husband and father.