Resurrection Medical Center saving babies, mothers

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011

As a Catholic hospital, Resurrection Medical Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side does not participate in abortions.

But it does sometimes stop them. The hospital, part of Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care, inaugurated a program late last year that will help women who have started the process of a second-trimester abortion and then changed their minds and decided to carry their babies to term.

So far, four women have approached the hospital — two before the program was formally inaugurated — and three of them have chosen to continue their pregnancies.

The Bethlehem Project, which was formed in collaboration with the Pro-Life Action League and the Women’s Center, works because second-trimester abortions generally are two- or three-day procedures in which laminaria — strips of dried seaweed — are inserted in the cervix on the first day to soften and dilate it. The step is necessary to open the cervix enough to allow for a larger fetus to be removed. Once the cervix is open, the abortion can proceed.

But if the laminaria are removed before the cervix is fully open, the procedure can be reversed, said Resurrection Sister Donna Marie Wolowicki, the medical center’s chief executive officer.

Twice last summer and fall, women started the procedure at a clinic on North Elston Avenue, the only one in Chicago that performs second-trimester abortions, and then decided that they didn’t want to go ahead with the abortion.

The first woman approached two volunteers from the Pro-Life Action League, who were finishing up their weekly period of prayer outside the clinic, said Ann Scheidler from the league. She had started the procedure the day before, but changed her mind and didn’t know where to go for help.

The pro-life volunteers took her to the Women’s Center, a pregnancy resource center, where the staff sent them to Resurrection, the nearest hospital. An obstetrician/ gynecologist on duty removed the laminaria and the woman is believed to have carried a healthy baby to term, said Sister Donna.

The second woman seemed more confused, and after approaching pro-life volunteers and being taken to the hospital, there was more confusion as staff members tried to figure out what to do. Eventually, when hospital staff spoke to the woman alone, she said she felt she had been pressured to end the procedure and decided to leave, Sister Donna said.

After that, Scheidler, Sister Donna and representatives from the Women’s Center decided to work together to make sure there was a protocol in place for when women change their minds about a secondtrimester abortion.

From the hospital’s perspective, it was most important to make sure that staff on duty in the emergency room 24 hours a day know what to do to reverse the procedure. “Because we don’t perform abortions, our staff didn’t necessarily know how the procedure works,” Sister Donna said.

Then the hospital developed clear information to present to women and insisted that hospital staff meet with women on their own to make sure the women want to end the abortion procedure.

While Sister Donna would prefer that no abortions go forward, the hospital cannot stop the procedure unless workers are sure the woman wants to.

If women decide to continue their pregnancies but need prenatal care, the hospital connects them to its New Beginnings program, she said, because offering options means offering help throughout the pregnancy.

Some studies have shown that removing laminaria does not always work, and sometimes the woman miscarries anyway, Sister Donna said. However, if the only other option is that the fetus will be aborted, and the mother understands that risk, it is an acceptable chance to take.

Sister Donna said the women who have had their abortions stopped had not yet seen ultrasound images of their fetuses. Such ultrasounds must be done for the doctors to remove the laminaria.

They also haven’t had the opportunity to have someone really listen to them, she said. “They haven’t had the time or the ability to share their story with anyone,” she said. “The greatest contribution we can make is to take the time to really listen to their stories.”