La Verne Tolbert never worked in an abortion clinic, but she was a Planned Parenthood board member for five years. She was the only African-American member on the board during that time. She says of her first meeting:
“I attended my first board meeting filled with anticipation. It was quite a short bus ride from the mid-town office where I worked as an editor over to the Margaret Sanger Clinic, named after Planned Parenthood’s founder. Over time I noticed that several of the board members arrived in chauffeured limousines. Who were these men of wealth, I wondered, and why were they so interested in the people who lived in the inner city?
Once in the building. I walked past the clinic that served primarily African-American and Latino girls. The elevator took me upstairs to an imposingly large boardroom, and I took my seat with the striking observation that I was the only person of color in the room. The majority of board members were male, and the handful of women appeared to be much older than my twenty-seven years.
Early in my volunteer service on the board, I learned about the biggest challenge that Planned Parenthood of New York City faced. For every abortion that was performed, a death certificate had to be issued by the Department of Health. They wanted to reverse this law.Death certificates? Does that mean the babies were alive?Like millions of other Americans, I debated about when life really begins. When is the fetus viable? When can it live on its own? Abortion could not be murder if, indeed, all that was aborted was a “mass of tissue.”
Part of our responsibility as board members was to become familiar with abortion procedures. We read documents detailing how abortions were performed, and for me, that’s when the viability debate ended. I learned of two kinds of abortions—saline and dilation and evacuation, also called D&E. I would later learn about a third type, late-term or partial-birth abortion.
In saline abortions, babies inhale a salt solution that is introduced into the womb. The mother experiences premature labor and delivers a dead, burned baby. In instances where the baby is born still breathing, he or she is placed into a plastic bag, which is then sealed, and the baby is suffocated.
Note: this procedure is no longer performed today because it had such a high complication rate and also sometimes resulted in babies being born alive. Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden are two young women who survived saline abortions and went on to be adopted.
The dilation-and-evacuation abortion literally tears the baby apart limb by limb. The instrument used, insanely called a “straw,” is actually a powerful suction device. It is inserted into the mother’s uterus, where it searches for an arm or leg of the baby. Once it latches on, it tears that limb from the baby’s body. Each limb is subsequently torn apart and suctioned, or “evacuated.” Since the head is too large to pass through the nozzle of the “straw,” the doctor has to insert an instrument that looks much like a clamp. It grasps the baby’s head and crushes it into smaller pieces, which are then evacuated. A nurse puts all the pieces of the baby onto a nearby table, reassembling the body to make certain that all parts have been successfully removed from the uterus.
I was horrified. I came to the next meeting shaking with disbelief and filled with protestations. Holding up the papers, I said that these procedures were traumatic for both the mother and her baby.
An older woman sitting directly across from me looked me coldly in the eye and said in a low, rabid voice, “It is not traumatic!” I was stunned by her insensitivity and chilled by her icy stare.
I was on the verge of resigning from the board. Now that I understood what was really involved, I wanted no part in this abortion business. But the question, “Who will speak up if I leave?” kept me in a quandary. Eventually deciding to remain, I determined to be a thorn in their side and often cast the lone opposing vote.
Tolbert now says:
“Abortion stops a beating heart.A person who is pregnant is going to have a baby … it is not a mass of tissue.”
Tolbert is now a minister and pro-life activist on the Issues 4 Life board.
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