A congressional hearing on Tuesday was suddenly and dramatically cut short — by the president leading it.
His goal: to abort the attempt of a Republican congressman to present the very first photo of a person who is now 22 years old.
The scene was the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The title of the hearing: “Roe Reversal: The Impacts of Removing the Constitutional Right to Abortion.”
Republican Representative Gary Palmer of Alabama began asking a question of Dr. Christina Francis, CEO-elect of the pro-life American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“I want to show a poster,” Palmer told Francis, as a staff member behind him began to hold up a photo. “It’s world famous. Let’s go—”
A gavel slammed down fiercely on the front of the courtroom.
“…about all types of magazines—” Palmer tried to continue.
“The gentleman will suspend and the staff will remove this photo,” said Chair Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado.
“We’re going to take it down,” Palmer said calmly.
“In this committee,” she said, “we admit documents and photographs on the basis of unanimous consent, and that has not been…”
“I accept the president’s decision,” Palmer said.
“Excuse me,” DeGette said. “It has not been shown to the majority and it has not been accepted and there is no basis for it, and we will not allow it to be displayed and we will not allow it to be submitted for recording .”
“I’m not surprised,” Palmer replied.
“It’s the president’s decision,” DeGette said. “The gentlemen are recognized.
“I’m not at all surprised that you don’t want to show this photo of an in utero surgery in which the operated child grabs the finger of the doctor performing the operation. This photo was taken in 1999. And… “
“Having not seen the photo, I can’t say what it is,” DeGette said. “The gentlemen decided not to share it with the majority.”
And DeGette, obviously, had decided not to let his subcommittee be used as a place to share with the world.
“OK,” Palmer told DeGette. “But the individual in the photo is now 22. His name is Sam.”
A rather different scene – involving the same photograph – had unfolded during a hearing 19 years ago at the Senate Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee.
On September 25, 2003, the mother and father of the baby who had the surgery in utero testified along with the photographer who had been hired by USA Today to take pictures during the surgery.
“During today’s hearing, I would like to review some of the most recent advances in the fields of uterine surgery and fetal medicine,” the then-Republican senator said. Kansas’ Sam Brownback said at the start of the hearing.
“At week 15 of my pregnancy, our unborn son was diagnosed with spina bifida,” Julie Armas, the mother, told the hearing.
“In light of this grim diagnosis, we were told that at least half of all babies with spina bifida are aborted,” she said. “But abortion was never an option for us.”
“After many prayers and the support of family and friends, Samuel and I underwent maternal fetal surgery at Vanderbilt on August 19, 1999,” she said. “I was 21 weeks pregnant and he weighed about a pound.”
Michael Clancy, the photographer, explained to the subcommittee why he was in the firm that day and what he photographed there.
“As a seasoned photojournalist in Nashville, Tennessee, I was hired by USA Today to photograph a spina bifida corrective surgery procedure,” he said.
“The entire procedure would take place in the womb, and no part of the child was to go through the surgical opening,” Clancy told the subcommittee.
“When it was over, the surgical team breathed a sigh of relief, as did I,” he said.
“As the doctor was asking me what film speed I was using,” he continued, “out of the corner of my eye, I saw the uterus quivering, but no one was coming near it.
“He was shaking inside,” he said.
“Suddenly a whole arm came out of the opening and pulled back, until only the little hand appeared,” he said.
“The doctor reached out and raised his hand, which reacted and shook the doctor’s finger,” Clancy told the subcommittee.
“As if testing his strength, the doctor shook his little fist. I took the picture,” Clancy said.
“It took 10 days before I knew if the photo was even clear,” Clancy said. “To avoid any digital manipulation of the footage before they see it, USA Today requires that the film be submitted unedited.
“When the photo editor finally called me,” Clancy told the subcommittee, “he said, ‘This is the most amazing photo I’ve ever seen.'”
The photo published in the committee’s report on that hearing – published by the US Government Printing Office – shows a small human hand reaching through a cut in the mother’s uterus and appearing to grasp a surgeon’s gloved finger .
In a May 2, 2000 article in USA Today, that surgeon, Dr. Joseph Bruner, described the incident from a different perspective.
“Some abortion opponents have claimed the baby went through the womb and grabbed the doctor’s hand,” USA Today reported. “That’s not true,” said Bruner.
“The baby didn’t reach out,” Bruner told USA Today. “The baby was anesthetized. The baby was unaware of what was happening.”
“It was after the spine was repaired but before the amniotic fluid was returned to the uterus that Bruner raised Samuel’s hand and the picture was taken,” USA Today reported. “Bruner says he saw the hand ‘sort of appear in the incision’ on the uterus, and he ‘reached out and picked it up.’
“Why did I take my hand? Bruner told USA Today. “I have no idea why I did that. I looked and saw that hand, and I guess for me it was just a very human thing to do to reach out and shake hands. from someone.”
More than two decades later, President DeGette refused to let a photo of that moment be displayed during an abortion hearing.
Photo credit: hhach on Pixabay