- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

What happens when a pregnant woman is told her unborn child has some ghastly defect?

A small army of doctors and genetics counselors arrive on the scene with one message: End the pregnancy and get one of those horrendous second or third-trimester abortions, where the child perches on the edge of viability.

Recently, I’ve become aware of a network of Catholics who are fighting such dire diagnoses with Web sites and support groups. Anna Lise “Cubby” LaHood was 13 weeks pregnant in the spring of 1988 when she was informed that her unborn son, Francis, had polycystic kidney disease. He would only live briefly outside the womb.

“The doctor led us to a certain conclusion as to where that pregnancy would go,” she said. “We agreed the best thing would be to abort our son.”

But her husband Dan, a fallen-away Catholic at the time, visited a priest who encouraged him, saying even the birth of a still-born child has meaning.

Meanwhile, Cubby’s Presbyterian minister was pressuring her in the other direction.

“Why make yourself have this pain?” he asked her. “The baby is going to die any way, and God will still love you.”

The LaHoods decided that while their son may die, it would not be at their hands. Reaction was swift; her family disinherited her and refused to see the child. The couple transferred their care to Georgetown University Hospital. “The pressure from the medical community to abort was severe,” she said.

Plus, what would they have told their oldest son, Joe, then 3? Would he think he, too, could be disposed of as well?

Little Francis was born Oct. 6, held by his parents, quickly photographed and baptized before he died a few minutes later. Cubby ended up in a support group for moms with infant deaths and encountered Nancy Mayer-Whittington, whose daughter, Angela, had Trisomy 18, a fatal birth defect. Angela lived only 10 minutes after she was born.

In 1997, the two women founded Isaiah’s Promise (isaiahspromise.net), which together with a Chicago-based Web site, benotafraid.net, offers a stunning amount of resources for women who refuse to abort.

And today, the LaHoods are lay Missionaries of Charity, the group founded by Mother Teresa, whose photos decorate the walls of their Silver Spring home. On a small $100,000 annual budget, they operate St. Joseph’s House, which provides respite and day care for severely handicapped children.

That is where I met them and Trish Stone, a Kensington mom who was told in her 20th week of pregnancy that one of her twin boys had hydrocephaly. She was encouraged to “reduce” the handicapped child, causing him to die in the womb.

“If you continue this pregnancy, you’ll compromise your healthy son,” doctors told her. But Trish had an older sister who is mentally handicapped and “I feel my life was enriched by her,” she said. Plus, “I know of two kids who were diagnosed [in the womb] with Down syndrome who turned out to be normal.”

Desperate for support, she sought out the LaHoods. Twins Mark and Patrick were born last summer.

As for Mark, “We were told he’d not see nor hear, but he sees and hears and claps and makes sounds,” Trish says. “He plays with toys. His cognitive language skills are doing way better.”

• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at Julia Duin

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