Couple's faith, commitment impact Senate hearings on abortion

by J. Gerald Harris, posted Thursday, January 22, 2004 (15 years ago)

DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. (BP)--Millions of Americans who embrace the pro-life cause are familiar with the remarkable photograph of the unborn infant who extended his hand to clasp the finger of the surgeon performing in utero surgery.

That was the hand of now 3-year-old Samuel Armas, son of Alex and Julie Armas of Douglasville, Ga., who testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee last year.

The hearing, which focused on advances in intra-uterine medical procedures from the pro-life perspective as alternatives to abortion, could contribute to the development of future pro-life and fetal-surgery legislation.

In an interview with The Christian Index, Julie Armas shared about God's protection and blessing of her family as He raised them up to bear witness for the protection of the unborn.

Julie Armas grew up in Lithia Springs, Ga., in a devout Christian home, the youngest of three daughters. She came to know Christ at age 12 and attended only Christian schools until her sophomore year in college. She lived a protected, happy life.

When Julie was 19 she met Alex, who was a fellow employee at an athletic shoe store. What began as a friendship became a dating relationship, then an engagement and ultimately a marriage on June 19, 1993. Alex accepted Christ during their courtship and became a zealous, committed Christian.

"Our marriage began just as my life had always been ... pretty much perfect," Julie said.

In 1996 Julie and Alex began trying to start their family. A year later Julie became pregnant but had a miscarriage 10 weeks into the pregnancy.

"We were devastated," she said. "This was the first trial of any real significance in my life, and I had to determine if the faith I professed was of my own or just something I had inherited from family and tradition."

The next year Julie miscarried again.

"We began to seek medical help but bitterness began to set in," she recounted. "I knew that the Bible is full of women for whom God opened the womb, yet He wouldn't for me. I worked as an OB nurse and saw many 'undeserving' women have children who they seemed to take for granted."

After multiple medical procedures and thousands of dollars, Julie became pregnant for the third time. The Armases were excited, but cautiously hopeful.

Fourteen weeks into the pregnancy Julie began to experience some symptoms of miscarriage again and went to see her doctor, who ordered an ultrasound.

"We could see our little baby moving and his heart beating. I was happy to know that he was alive, but didn't notice that the technician wasn't sharing our enthusiasm."

Subsequently, the Armases were called into the doctor's office and told there was an abnormality in the shape of their son's head that could signify spina bifida. Days later, a higher resolution ultrasound indicated an opening in the baby's spine. The doctor described the possible consequences of this kind of birth defect: brain damage and an inability to walk and to use the bathroom normally.

Julie was in despair.

"I felt like I was trapped in some sick dream, that my womb was cursed, and God was very, very angry at me."

But she recalled that Alex comforted her by saying, "Julie, we wanted a baby and this is the one God wants us to have."

In spite of Alex's encouragement, the doctor said fetal surgery would probably not be an option and that such surgery would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Julie said the doctor stopped just short of suggesting abortion.

"Abortion is not an option for us," Julie said. "I discovered and clung to Psalm 139 which literally discusses the Father's awareness and protectiveness of the embryo. And in Job's words I also found great help: 'Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord [basically my whole life up to that point] and not bad?' (Job 2:10).

"Somewhere along the way I decided that my faith was in the Lord and that I would, through the power of the Holy Spirit, show the world how a Christian deals with such a nightmare. It became easier when God began to give us signs that fetal surgery was His will for our precious child.

"Our insurance company was the only provider at the time to cover fetal surgery for spina bifida. We never received a bill of any kind, and furthermore, they reimbursed our travel expenses to Nashville where the surgery was performed at Vanderbilt University Hospital."

The week before Julie's surgery, she was contacted by Vanderbilt and asked if she and Alex would be willing to be interviewed by USA Today. The newspaper wanted to do a feature article on the surgery. At first Julie thought about declining the interview because of the stress she already was experiencing and because she had no interest in becoming "famous."

"But the Lord touched my heart and seemed to say, 'What an opportunity to show the world that you value your unborn imperfect baby. What a way to let others know there are options other than abortion for those in your situation. Trust me. I am in control.'"

Julie and little Samuel underwent surgery at Vanderbilt on Aug. 19, 1999. She was 21 weeks pregnant. Samuel weighed less than one pound. Freelance photographer Michael Clancy was in the operating room for the newspaper and took the photo of Samuel's hand grasping the finger of the surgeon.

Clancy has stated in interviews that the famous photo has had a profound impact upon his own life. He once considered himself pro-choice but now is pro-life.

"I know abortion is wrong now -- it's absolutely wrong," Clancy stated to NRL News of the National Right to Life Committee.

It was Clancy who sent the photo to his congressman, Daniel Manzullo, R-Ill., who circulated the picture to his colleagues during last year's debate on partial-birth abortion. Sen. Sam Brownback saw the photo and invited the Armases to testify before the Senate subcommittee he chairs.

According to Julie, Little Samuel was asked if he had seen the photo of his hand, to which he replied, "The doctor fixed the boo-boo on my back."

The Armases were asked about their response to seeing the photo for the first time. Julie recalled that Alex said, "All I could think of was, 'That's my boy'."

Samuel was born 15 weeks after the fetal surgery on Dec. 2, 1999, by planned C-section at 36 1/2 weeks gestation. He never went to the NICU and was discharged home with his mother four days later. He is paralyzed below the knee but has avoided many of the more serious problems of spina bifida, namely hydrocephalus (excessive fluid on the brain).

Samuel has hit all of the developmental milestones on time, with the exception of walking independently, which he did at 22 months in leg braces. He still faces some significant surgery, but, "Samuel is a sweet-tempered, sensitive, happy little boy who has brought joy to all who know him," Julie said.

"He loves looking for and catching bugs, construction equipment, and Thomas, the train. We cannot fathom our lives without our precious son."

Julie, who gave birth to a second child Jan. 8, and Alex are members of Ephesus Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga.


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SPEAKING UP and SAMUEL'S WORLDWIDE REACH.

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