"I CANNOT GIVE YOU a fancy speech," Navy gunfire technician Denny Edwards, 22, told a congressional subcommittee this spring, "because I am just a simple man who is trying to do a job and provide a living for my family. All I can do is tell you what has happened to us, and pray you'll understand and try to do something so that we or anyone else will not have to go through the same type of ordeal again."
Denny Edwards and his wife Donna, 25, came from their home in Virginia Beach to Washington to implore Congress to ease its restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortions of military patients. "I am not a pro-abortionist, but neither am I anti-abortionist," Edwards told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense. "I believe that each case should be judged on its own merit. The best way I have to show you that belief is to let you know what my family and I have been through."
Then he told the subcommittee the story of how his wife was forced to carry to full term and give birth to an anencephalic daughter, a child born without a brain or skull or spine, a child born to die. Donna Edwards was forced to continue the pregnancy after the fetus was diagnosed because language in the Defense Department appropriations bill restricts federal funds for military abortions to cases in which the mother's life is in danger, or to pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or to ectopic (tubal) pregnancies.
Doctors suspected around the fourth month of the pregnancy that the fetus might be deformed and began conducting tests.By the 29th week of the pregnancy, the tests showed conclusively that the child was an anencephalic who could never live. Abortions that late in a pregnancy are very expensive, Denny Edwards found out. And he found the military health coverage he had as a Navy man would not cover abortions of deformed fetuses. He and his wife had no other health insurance. He got estimates from doctors that it would cost him anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to terminate the pregnancy in a civilian hospital. The Edwards did not have that kind of money.
"What a couple of doctors would have done was to take Donna, put her in the hospital, run their own tests and then induce birth over a period of days, running into money for the hospital stay, doctors' bills, tests and operating room expenses. That's why the amount would have been so exhorbitant."
Denny Edwards appealed the Navy's refusal to do the abortion to the Navy surgeon general, to his senator, to the president. The answer he got from Assistant Secretary of Defense Vernon McKenzie was: "I am sorry for your situation but there is nothing I can do to help you."
"Do any of you have any idea as to the pain and hell that a pregnant mother goes through when she feels her child move and kick inside her and knowing all the time that there is no hope for her child and that child will die?" Edwards asked the subcommittee. "Let me tell you, I have seen that pain on my wife's face and seen that pain almost kill her. And I pray that no other woman in the world has to go through it."
"I had an idea of what she was going through," Edwards said last week. "I knew that in order to keep her from breaking up, I had to remain strong. We concentrated all of our efforts into writing congressmen and senators to draw it out: how can you people let this happen?" It gave direction to their torment.
"I relied on my husband an awful lot," says Donna Edwards. "The doctors gave me sleeping pills, but I didn't want to take them because I have a 3-year-old who might wake up and need me during the night. I did a lot of praying and a lot of hoping that maybe the doctors were wrong after all.
"I guess what consoled me is that, when she was born, she wouldn't be going through anymore. It would be over for her. Every day (of the pregnancy) was like years. When I went into labor I just felt subconsciously I didn't want to admit it was labor because I didn't want her to die that way. I didn't want to go into labor. I knew she was able to live inside of me but I knew she couldn't live outside."
Their daughter, Patricia, was born Dec. 22, 1978. "I cannot describe to you what I saw when I went to her side after death," Denny Edwards told the appropriations subcommittee. "Let me just say Patricia was my daughter, and I love her very much . . . but seeing her there with a perfectly formed face but no brian was a very grotesque and terrifying sight.
"The autopsy report showed afterward that not only did she not have a brian, skull, or spine but that her pelvis was separated into two separate pieces, she had bad kidneys, and some of her other organs were not completely formed. So you see, she never even had the slightest chance for survival."
Donna and Denny Edwards have been told by their doctors that the longshot odds of having an anencephalic child are now, for them, 1 in 20. It is a chance they are unwilling to take. "How can we possibly try to have another child knowing that if the next one is an anencephalic that we will be forced to carry it to full term, again knowing the baby will die, simply because the government will not allow money for military doctors to take the baby in a case like this?" asks Denny Edwards.
Capt. Peter Flynn of the Defense Department estimates that some 350 babies (out of 160,000) born to military parents each year have serious birth defects. He says there are now about 70 such serious defects that can be detected well before birth. The Defense Department does not want restrictions on the use of money for abortions in military patients, and the appropriations bill sent to Congress by the administration has no such restrictions.
This is policy that Congress decided on last year, and there is every reason to believe anti-abortion forces in Congress will introduce restrictions this year as they did last year. Already, the House last week adopted the Hyde amendment restricting the use of Medicaid funds to cases in which the life of the mother is endangered.
The stage is set for another fight between the House and the more liberal Senate over restricting federal funds for abortions in both the Health, Education and Welfare appropriations bill and the Defense Department bill.
There is a strong argument that can be made for restricting federal funding of abortions. A large segment of the taxpaying American public cannot tolerate the moral implications of terminating a pregnancy. That segment has every right to try to prevent its tax dollars from being spent on actions it views as morally reprehensible.
Yet there are points within this emotional controversy in which the pro- and anti-abortion forces can find common ground. Donna Edwards was carrying a fetus that had absolutely no chance to survive. It was conclusively diagnosed as a fetus that would be born to die. There is no issue here of the sanctity of human life and no issue here of survival.
This is the kind of case in which there is no moral justification for forcing the mother to complete the pregnancy. There is every humane consideration for allowing the use of government funds to help her terminate it.
"I am not here to change every mind on the issue of abortion," Denny Edwards testified. But he asked the subcommittee members to review their feelings, to place themselves "in our place. . . . I beg of you to convince your colleagues that in the issue of abortion if there are exemptions allowed then certainly there should be language that would protect families such as mine."