In her medical practice as a family physician specializing in women’s health and fertility, Dr. Anne Nolte has often dealt with the incongruity of consoling a couple devastated by their inability to conceive and then walking into the next room where a perfectly healthy pregnant woman is considering an abortion.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Dr. Nolte of The National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility, the only pro-life Catholic women’s medical center in New York City. “If she could just realize the gift she’s been given.”
In America today, it can be difficult finding a doctor or anyone else in the medical community who holds that life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death.
Doctors often push the birth control pill (which can act as an abortifacient) on teenagers for everything from acne to irregular bleeding, sometimes even without parental consent. A married couple’s decision to avoid contraception is often sneered at by doctors. And fertility problems are hastily met with referrals for in vitro fertilization. In the end, many problematic pregnancies and even healthy pregnancies are ended by abortion.
But many pro-life doctors believe that things are getting better and that there are more options available than in recent years for those seeking to build a culture of life.
The Gianna Center is one such example. With offices in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and midtown Manhattan, New York City, Gianna is dedicated to providing a natural alternative to assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization, in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
For years, scientific research into fertility problems drew the attention from some of the brightest minds in the medical community, but with the onset of in vitro fertilization, research into correcting the underlying problems that cause infertility essentially stopped. “Many doctors just stopped researching the underlying problems,” said Dr. Nolte.
But not at Gianna, where the office billboard proudly displays over a hundred faces of smiling babies conceived naturally with the help of the staff there.
Mary Shay of New York, 40, had tried to conceive for five years and had sought out many doctors who simply told her to relax and drink a glass of wine, or counseled her to seek out IVF.
“When I began working with Gianna, the first step was a conversation—an in-depth conversation about what we had tried, what we knew, and their approach,” she said. “They focused on me and my struggle and they invited my husband to be a part of the conversation. They treated us as a team.”
“I learned so much about the process of conception,” she said. “And working with the RN counselor there, I felt empowered.”
After only one month with Gianna, Mary was able to conceive. “By focusing on what my body was doing, I was able to conceive after one month. One month—after five years of trying,” she said. “It was because they let my body run its natural rhythms and found the way that worked for me—just me. Now I can say that working with Gianna is the reason I have two little boys sleeping in the next room.”
She calls Gianna “an answer to many prayers.”
Dr. Nolte said she often tells women who have come to Gianna after years of consulting with other doctors, “There’s a reason you’re not conceiving. We can identify it, and then we can work to correct it and allow conception to occur naturally.”
It’s been estimated that about 10 percent of American couples have experienced trouble conceiving, and a cycle of in vitro fertilization costs approximately $10,000 to $15,000. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that in just 2011 alone, 163,039 assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles occurred in 451 American clinics.
Dr. Nolte said she worries that IVF’s profitability is “a powerful incentive to continue.”
She said that many patients initially come to Gianna because they’re Catholic, but she added that others simply are looking for an alternative to what’s typically offered. “Unlike other experiences in healthcare, the individual is respected, honored, and cared about at Gianna,” she said.
She’s noticed that, in recent years more women are questioning what they’re putting into their body. For years, she said there has been an incongruity in some women who boast about their healthy lifestyle and not eating any meat injected with hormones but never think twice about ingesting the birth control pill monthly. “The trace amount of hormones in beef is a fraction of what’s in a contraceptive pill,” she said. But now, many women are questioning what was believed by the previous generation.
To accommodate that demand, Dr. Nolte said that Gianna is on a mission to create a national network of Gianna centers. “We’re working with 14 different communities to establish Gianna centers,” she said. “If women have access to a positive alternative to IVF, contraception, and abortion, they’ll begin to see the difference and demand access to these positive alternatives.”
Culture of Life Family Services
Dr. George Delgado is the medical director at the Culture of Life Family Services, a Catholic family healthcare clinic and crisis pregnancy center in San Diego, California. He said that he, too, has noticed an increasing amount of people interested in methods such as natural family planning—not necessarily for religious reasons but for other reasons, such as the fear of using artificial hormones and their effect on the environment.
Dr. Delgado is also head of the Abortion Pill Reversal (APR) network that now includes over 200 doctors and has helped more than 400 women across the nation and in in six different countries (AbortionPillReversal.org). It was just a few years ago that Dr. Delgado recalls being asked to help a desperate woman who had taken the RU 486 pill administered by an abortionist but who had then decided she wanted the baby to live after all.
Dr. Delgado recommended something that had only been done once before—the administration of progesterone to counteract the mifepristone and stop the abortion. Several months later, the woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
This method has been repeated many times, and Dr. Delgado published a medical protocol for reversing the abortion pill. To date, dozens of women have delivered babies with the help of this method, and dozens more are still pregnant with apparently healthy babies.
Dr. Delgado is currently reaching out to pregnancy resource centers, inviting them to join the APR network. However, the process, far from being heralded by pro-abortion rights advocates, is often ignored and criticized. “But they’re not really for women’s choice,” he said. “Women should have the choice to change their mind. This is giving the women more options.”
Instead, he said, many abortion centers tell women there’s no turning back after taking the first dose—that the risks of birth defects are too high. But in fact, Dr. Delgado said, there’s no apparent added risk of birth defects from the procedure.
Despite a widening appreciation for the sanctity of life from rank-and-file physicians, Dr. Delgado said he hasn’t noticed any support from most physician’s groups. “Most groups of physicians are strongly pro-abortion, more militant and less tolerant of pro-life views, especially institutionalized groups such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians,” he said. “However, in interacting with physicians in general, I see a softening, more tolerance.”
He said that many more physicians are beginning to view this institutional intransigence as unreasonable, and he predicts that in coming years more physicians will actively support a culture of life. “Our prayers and hard work are starting to pay off,” he said.
Life begins at conception
Donna Harrison, MD, belongs to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has 2,500 members and associates and is committed to educating abortion-vulnerable patients, the general public, pregnancy center counselors, and the medical community regarding the medical and psychological complications associated with induced abortion. She knows what it means to change her mind on the issue of life.
A Lutheran, Harrison was pro-choice growing up. “In college, though, my views changed,” she said. “It was very clear in biology class that life begins at conception.”
Her viewpoint change didn’t come without difficulty. Many of her friends in medical school were secretly pro-life but didn’t want to be vocal about it. “They were intimidated,” she said. “In medical school, your ability to progress is based on other people’s opinions of you.”
Even now, she says the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is “rabidly pro-abortion,” and many in their hierarchy publicly support or collaborate with Planned Parenthood. In fact, in 2013, ACOG along with the American Medical Association (AMA) filed a joint amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in support of Planned Parenthood’s challenge to a Texas House Bill that required abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges.
Past president of ACOG, Douglas W. Laube, MD, M.ED, was a member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and, according to the University of Wisconsin’s website, collaborated with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin to develop a Family Planning fellowship. The current president, Jeanne Conry, has co-written editorials in favor of the Affordable Care Act with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
Dr. Harrison recalls attending an international pro-abortion rights conference in 2007 called “Women Deliver.” Speakers, she said, delineated the major obstacles to their goal of legalized and subsidized abortion throughout the globe, including the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America and Africa, the religious influence in healthcare, healthcare workers right of conscience, and ultrasound (which they said, according to Harrison, “unfortunately turns the minds of the women to the humanity of the fetus”).
Since then, Catholic charitable organizations have lost federal grants because of their refusal to provide abortion internationally, conscience rights have been under relentless attack, and pro-abortion organizations and legislators have all but declared war on requiring ultrasounds before aborting a child.
“That conference clarified the focus and efforts of the pro-abortion movement,” said Harrison. But despite pro-choice successes, she takes comfort that the culture of life will win out. “In the 70s, the womb was kind of a black box, but now you can see the baby in an ultrasound from six weeks on,” she said. “It’s now obvious to even the most common layperson that there’s a little guy or girl in the womb. The issue is very clear. Now it’s a question of what we are willing to do about it.”
She believes there’s much reason for hope. “We’re three generations into this holocaust,” she said, “[but] the pro-life movement is younger and younger, and the pro-abortion movement is grayer and grayer.”
The former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America Nancy Keenan seems to agree. In 2012, she was shocked to see hundreds of pro-life advocates rallying against abortion in our nation’s capitol. “I just thought, my gosh, there are so many of them, and they are so young,” Keenan later reportedly said.
Dr. Delgado summed it up by saying, “People are starting to see the light. The best is yet to come.”