Nurse haunted by instruction to treat late-term abortion survivor ‘like a specimen’

Gail Graham nursing school graduation photo. 48 years ago, as a young nurse in California, the now-retired RN from Calais was handed a breathing survivor of a late-term abortion and told to send it to the pathology department – where ‘specimens’ were put in jars of formaldehyde.

by Gail Graham

As a retired surgical nurse, I have experiences with abortions in California when abortion laws were changed.  Prior to the change in laws, we occasionally had to deal with the results of failed (illegal) abortions, but those are stories for another time.

Working in California once the laws changed, I was required to assist with early term abortions, as I was not Catholic. I dealt with it professionally. I specified with management of surgery that I wished not to assist with late term abortions. At that time, some physicians were performing “saline injections” as a means to induce labor to terminate the pregnancy. This leads to my horrific experience.

I was working the late shift on the particular day, so I was assigned to assist as the scrub nurse with a scheduled “C-section.” Initially, I was not aware of all of the reasons for the C-section, but soon learned when the OB surgeon started the procedure. Apparently, the saline injection had not been completely successful, but most likely caused serious damage to the fetus. Thus, the reason for this “emergency C-section”! Though I was not happy being in that situation, I had no choice at that point, as I would have been charged with abandoning my patient if I stepped out.

The “procedure” was happening very quickly, and the fetus was delivered, and handed off to me. Pardon me, but there is no delicate way for me to describe the scenario. My primary point here is that the fetus was viable, meaning the fetus was breathing. It was my worst nightmare in my nursing career. I had no support, especially not from the surgeon and his assistant. I did not know what to do, so I asked the circulating nurse that was my assistant, to call the pathologist and ask how I was to care for the fetus.

I was ultimately advised to treat it like any specimen! Usually, a specimen that is removed is placed in a container with formaldehyde, and sent to the pathology department to be examined and evaluated. This was 48 years ago, but I have never forgotten. Writing this is very painful.

To the best of my recollection, I watched it stop breathing, and there was nothing I could do, but hold it – I guess. I have managed to block some of the details between the delivery from the womb to transfer to pathology. I do not recall how we did that, exactly. I was so upset that it was stillborn and going to pathology. Possibly pathology cared for it appropriately, but I’ll never know.

I approached management in surgery, but they all turned a blind eye. I am sharing this so as to address the issue of medical personnel, nurses, who are forced to assist with such procedures, against their wishes, whether it be religious or ethical. It doesn’t matter.

I am concerned about a recent situation at UVMMC, as well as  continued discussion about not acknowledging any reasoning. That is wrong. We medical folks have been trained to safe lives, and have taken oaths to do so, to the best of our ability.

The author is a retired registered nurse and Calais resident.

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5 replies »

  1. God Bless Nurse Graham for sharing this sad story in Vermont at this time. We should pray for all involved and our legislators who permit such conduct in Vermont.

  2. Abortion is murder, plain and simple and never pretty. This is a stain upon and an unconscionable wrong within our country. How a nation can not only allow such atrocity, but enable and encourage it is beyond my personal comprehension. It is pure evil and has facilitated even more & more evils to enter our domain: abolition of the family, communism, godlessness, prostitution, child abuse, wanton drug use & addiction, etc.

    Even in tiny VT, evil has made its home here & effects are evident every single day now. Evil is not an abstract, it is a supernatural force which enters and destroys people, states, and entire nations.

    Fight this with all your might: Write “letters to the editor”, organize and/or participate in rallies, initiate conversations with family & friends, email this article to many, pray. In the end, we already know that God wins — work to see that in our lifetimes.

  3. We hate to put down a pet struggling with a cancer? To ease the pains

    But we can march a living breathing BABY aborted, down the hall to the coroner!

    How many barren parents, unable to conceive, would give a wonderful life to that Child ?

    Are We Monsters?

  4. You people that run UVMMC, does it ever occur to you that maybe one reason that you are short of nursing staff is because you do late term abortions and that any abortion is abhorrent to nurses that are trained to save lives?

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