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Does the ‘pro-life’ label apply to this case?

Issac J. Bailey Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Sun News

H is name is Thomas Willis, and here’s his story.

After I tell you this, you can retreat back into rigid philosophical corners about abortion. Or you can squeeze your kids a little tighter and realize the issue isn’t as cut and dried as provocative sound bites make it seem. As I did.

But not before I tell you about Thomas.

He was born Jan. 26, 1996, in Marion County, S.C. In the womb, his heart formed, as did his liver and his fingers and toes and most everything else every parent silently prays would develop during those nine delicate months.

But most of Thomas’ brain decided not to. At least not the parts that control speech and movement and thought and the ability to interact with others. His skull, now big as a pumpkin, is filled mostly with water. He can’t move. Can’t think. Maybe he can’t see. No one knows for sure.

He does feel pain.

He has to be turned over every two hours or he’d develop bedsores, something his mother and grandmother have successfully avoided for almost nine years with around-the-clock care.

They may face another six decades of work. Of feeding him through a tube. Of periodically suctioning water from his brain. Of handling all his bodily functions. Of moving around his dead weight.

Of hoping against hope that he knows mama and grandma love him, of believing he really does enjoy “Sesame Street.”

Thomas may die young or live until he’s 70.

He’s special. He was born with a severe form of the rarest of conditions, maximal hydrocephalus. The likelihood a fetus will develop such a condition is about two out of 1,000.

Thomas beat those odds to win this lottery called life and has become the central figure in a case that reached the S.C. Supreme Court and has national implications. The court, like those in 27 other states, recently ruled he and other children like him have no right to sue their doctors for “wrongful life.”

The court said a jury would need to have the wisdom of Solomon to decide whether life in Thomas’ current state is worse than having no life at all.

The defense argued such a suit could open up a slippery slope. How imperfect must a child be to not have a right to life? Courts in Washington, New Jersey and California said children in those states can sue. A ruling in California said damages are not appropriate but expenses for care might be.

Myrtle Beach, S.C., attorney O. Fayrell Furr Jr. and his daughter, attorney Karolan Ohanesian, essentially argued that Thomas’ prenatal doctor was negligent because he didn’t tell Jennie Willis about her son’s diagnosis early enough.

If she had known before 24 weeks, the cutoff for legal abortions in South Carolina, she would have opted for an abortion.

“Even people who oppose abortion have to know that in certain circumstances it would be reasonable for a mother to make a choice to not let her child be born,” Furr said. “This child has no joy, doesn’t know God, can’t know God, can’t love his mother, can’t do anything except lay there.”

The court ruled against Thomas, but his mother is continuing to sue for “wrongful birth.” She’s hoping to receive enough money to provide for his care, an estimated $5.2 million for care in a facility and $9.6 million for in-house care.

Thomas’ father isn’t around. Jennie is on welfare now. She can’t keep a job. Thomas is sick too often and needs her at home. That trial begins in May. I won’t argue it here. The jury will have a tough enough time.

But here’s what I think after learning about Thomas: I think I’m still pro-life or anti-abortion or whatever the label that fits a person who believes unwanted pregnancies should be rare and abortions rarer.

I think I’m blessed. My wife and I twice declined pre-screening tests designed to detect incurable genetic conditions in the womb because abortion was not even a slight consideration for us.

We have two healthy children.

I think South Carolina has among the most reasonable abortion laws in the country. The state doesn’t allow late-term abortions unless the mother’s health is in danger. The state doesn’t allow minors to have abortions without parental consent but does if they can prove they are in an abusive home situation.

I think South Carolina legislators and Gov. Mark Sanford should reconsider the inflexible restrictions on late-term abortions in extreme cases such as Thomas’. I think I believe in miracles. But if I do, why don’t I feel abortion in this case would have been wrong?

And I think that it isn’t enough to say the sanctity of life must be protected at all costs, particularly knowing three lives in Marion County — not just Thomas’ — are at the mercy of his condition.

“It would be nice if people opposed to abortion would pitch in and help out in this situation,” Furr said. “None of the pro-life people have come out to help her.”

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