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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 10, 1996
                      REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      ON HOUSE RESOLUTION 1833

The Roosevelt Room

5:22 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I have just met with five courageous women and their families, and I want to thank the Lines, the Stellas, the Watts, the Costellos, and the Ades all for meeting with me. They had to make a potentially life-saving, certainly health-saving, but still tragic decision to have the kind of abortion procedure that would be banned by HR 1833.

They represent a small, but extremely vulnerable group of women and families in this country, just a few hundred a year. Believe it or not, they represent different religious faiths, different political parties, different views on the question of abortion. They just have one thing in common: They all desperately wanted their children. They didn't want abortions. They made agonizing decisions only when it became clear that their babies would not survive, their own lives, their health, and in some cases, their capacity to have children in the future were in danger.

No one can tell the story better than them, and I want to call on one of them. But before I do, I want to say that this country is deeply indebted to them for being willing to speak out and to talk about the real facts, not the emotional arguments that, unfortunately, carried the day on this case.

So I'd like to ask Mary Dorothy Line to come up here and introduce herself and say whatever she'd like to say about why we're all here today.

MRS. LINE: My name is Mary Dorothy Line. My husband, Bill, and I are honored to be here today to speak for the many women and families who have also come forward to tell their stories in opposition to this terrible legislation.

Last April we were overjoyed to find out that I was pregnant with our first child. Nineteen weeks into my pregnancy, an ultrasound indicated that there was something wrong with our baby. The doctor diagnosed a condition called hydrocephalus. Every person's head contains fluid to protect and cushion the brain. But if there is too much fluid, the brain cannot develop.

As practicing Catholics, when we have problems and worries, we turn to prayer. As we waited to find our more from the doctors, our whole family prayed together. My husband and I were very scared, but we are strong people and believe that God would not give us a problem if we couldn't handle it. This was our baby. Everything would be fine. We never thought about abortion.

But the diagnosis was as bad as it could be. Our little boy had a very advanced textbook case of hydrocephaly. All the doctors told us there was no hope. We asked about in utero surgery, about shunts to remove the fluid, but there was absolutely nothing we could do. I cannot express the pain we still feel. This was our precious little baby, and he was being taken from us before we even had him.

This was not our choice, for not only was our son going to die, but the complications of the pregnancy put my health in danger, as well. If I carried to term, he might die in utero, and the resulting toxins could cause a hemorrhage and possibly a hysterectomy. The hydrocephaly also meant that a natural labor risked rupturing my cervix and my uterus.

Several specialists recommended that we terminate the pregnancy. I thank God every day that I had this safe medical option available to me, especially now that I am pregnant again and expecting a baby in September.

I pray every day, I really do, that this will never happen to anyone else. But it will. Those of us unfortunate enough to have to live this nightmare need a procedure that will give us hope for the future.

And I thank God for President Clinton; we all do here. the people who promoted this bill do not understand the real issues, but he does. It is about women's health, it's not about abortion, and certainly not choice. These decisions belong to families and their doctors, not the government. President Clinton listened to us and protected families like ours by vetoing legislation that would hurt so many people.

Thank you, Mr. President.


I'd like to ask Coreen Costello to come up and speak a little bit about her experience.

MRS. COSTELLO: My name is Coreen Costello, as you heard. I found out when I was seven months pregnant that my daughter was dying. She was dying inside my womb. The complications that she had posed severe health risks to me. One of the conditions she had was polyhydramnia, where the amniotic fluid puddles into the uterus.

I had over nine pounds of excess amniotic fluid. My daughter's body was rigid and it was stuck in a position that was as if she was doing a swan dive inside my womb. Her head and -- the back of her feet were touching the back of her head at the top my uterus. There was no way to deliver her.

My husband and I have always been extremely opposed to abortion. We consider ourselves very, very much pro-life, conservative Republicans. For us, terminating this pregnancy was not an option. For three weeks we attempted to turn my daughter so that I could deliver her vaginally and naturally. We had one hope, and that was that we would be able to hold our daughter alive for possibly an hour, maybe two.

Over the three weeks that we carried her we realized that that was not a possibility. She was dying and she would likely not survive any labor and there was no way I could deliver her. We had her baptized in utero. We named her Katherine Grace. We then realized that our only safe option was the procedure that is being outlawed -- is being attempted to be outlawed.

I am so grateful because today I am standing here before you pregnant again with a healthy child. I have two children. I have my health. I don't know how to tell you how important that is. This was such a tragedy, such a personal family tragedy. Our daughter will always be a part of our lives. There will always be someone missing in our family, and that's Katherine Grace. But I am so grateful for the ability to be able to go on and enjoy the two children that I do have, to be with my husband, to be with my family, and to be here today.

And that's what this is about. This is not about choice. We made a very different choice than what we ended up having to have. This is not about abortion, and it's not about choice. It's a medical issue. And I am so grateful for President Clinton and his ability to hear our stories, because we have been telling them for a long time and a lot of people haven't listened. But this is the truth, and this is what happened to us. And as painful as it is, we are all here to share that with you.

Thank you.


I would also like to thank Jim and their children, and William.

Would you tell them what you told me in the office? Can you do it? This is Tammy Watts.

MRS. WATTS: Hi, my name is Tammy Watts. I live in Tempe, Arizona. I simply told our dear President that my story is not so different from everyone else's. I have the heartache, I have the same tragic story. I have the loss in my heart, as does my husband and the rest of my family and friends.

The fact is this: I would have given my life and traded placed with my daughter, Mackenzie. And in fact, with my pastor, that is exactly what I prayed for for the three days we tried desperately to find something that could cure her. You simply look for a magic wand and it's not there.

I am so thankful to our doctors, who were able to perform this very safe medical procedure, save our health, save our families. And I am particularly thankful to our President, without whom we would not be here. And he is a true blessing in all of our lives.

Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mitchell -- and those are the prints of your baby, right?

MS. WATTS: Yes, this is my daughter Mackenzie's handprints and footprints. This is something that is very special to us, and is something that we would not have if we did not have this very safe procedure.

THE PRESIDENT: Vikki, do you want to say anything?

MRS. STELLA: My name is Vikki Stella, and I'm from Chicago, Illinois. My story is basically the same thing. We're like a family now. And at 32 weeks I found out that my son wasn't growing properly, and when everything was all done and said and the ultrasounds were in and I had the answer, I found out my son had nine major anomalies, one including no brain. It did not show up on the amnio because it was a closed neural tube defect, so those things don't show up. That's for genetic research.

And I miss my son. But the one part I want to stress is I needed this for health reasons. I'm a diabetic. Other procedures would not have been what I needed. I don't heal as well as other people, so other procedures just were not the answer. I could have gone on and maybe tried to give birth to a child that would not live.

I didn't make the decision for my child to die; God made the decision for my child to die. I had to make the decision to take him off life support.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. And you have a baby here.

MRS. STELLA: Yes, I have a little boy here.

THE PRESIDENT: You have a three-month-old little boy here.

MRS. STELLA: Nicholas.

THE PRESIDENT: Claudia, would you like to talk?

MRS. ADES: Much like everyone else -- we've all had similar circumstances -- I was six months pregnant, 26 weeks into my pregnancy and happier than I had ever been in my entire life when, in a routine ultrasound, we found out that there was something terribly wrong with our son. He had fluid in his brain that was keeping his brain from developing. He had a hole in his heart, a hole between the chambers of his heart so that there was no normal blood flow.

He had -- I won't go on with the details, but horrible, horrible anomalies, and he stood no chance of survival. It was something -- it was a chromosomal abnormality, called Trisomy-13. It was actually the same condition that Tammy Watts's baby had.

Again, like everyone else, we begged for a cardiologist or a neurosurgeon or someone that could fix my baby's brain or the hole in his heart. And when we got the news -- I say this for the people that say that we don't care and for the people who say we don't want our children, and for the people that say we have no spirit or no soul or no religion.

My husband and I are Jewish and we got the news on Rosh Hashana. And when we finally had the procedure, the third day of this grueling procedure, it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. And Yom Kippur is the day that you mourn those that have passed, and it's the day that you pray that God will inscribe them in the Book of Life.

We'll forever, and for the past four years and forever we will mourn our son. We are very -- since that pregnancy, unfortunately lost five more, but we are very blessed that in July we're going to adopt a baby and we're going to be parents, and we're going to have the child we so desperately wanted.

And we are all here, my husband, myself and all of the other people standing behind me, we are all here as we have been for months, fighting in Congress. I just actually came back with Mary Dorothy from Sacramento, where we were testifying, where it is now in the State of California. And we are all here for the women that follow us, because all women deserve the finest medical care that exists. And we are the blessed ones and we want that for them.

And like everyone else, I just want to thank the President, because it's an enormous, enormous responsibility that he's taken. And we're all here to back him up -- it's so, so important what he's doing.

Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

Thank you. Thank you, Richard. Thank you, Mitchell.

Ladies and gentlemen, I asked these families to come here today to make a point that I think every American needs to understand about this bill. This is not about the pro-choice/pro-life debate. This is not a bill that ever should have been injected into that.

This terrible problem affects a few hundred Americans every year who desperately want their children, are trying to build families, and are trying to strengthen their families. And they should not become pawns in a larger debate, even though it is a serious and legitimate debate of profound significance.

I hope that we can continue to reduce the number of abortions in America. When I was governor I signed a bill to restrict late-term abortions, consistent with the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, only cases where the life or health of the mother is at risk. When I asked the supporters of the bill here to try to take account of this, they said, well, if we have a health exception you know you could -- the doctor and the mother could say anything -- they can't fit in their prom dress, that's a health exception -- some terrible things like that.

And I said, no, no, no, I will accept language that says serious, adverse health consequences to the mother. Those three words. Everyone in the world will know what we're talking about. We're talking about these families. I implored them. I said, if you want to pass something on this procedure, let's make an exception for life and serious adverse health consequences so that we don't put these women in a position and these families in a position where they will lose all possibility of future child-bearing, or where the doctor can't say that they might die, but they could clearly be substantially injured forever.

And my pleas fell on deaf ears. The emotional power of the description of the procedure -- which I might add did not cover the procedure these women had and did not cover all the procedures banned by the law -- but the emotional power was so great that my plea just to take a decent account of these hundreds of families every year that are in this position fell on deaf ears. And, therefore, I had no choice but to veto the bill. I vetoed it just a few minutes ago before I met with these families.

I will say again, if the Congress really wants to act out of a sincere concern that some of these things are done, which are wrong, in casual ways, then if they will meet my standards to protect these families, they could pass a bill that I would sign tomorrow. But these people have no business being made into political pawns.

As I said, and as they said, they never had a choice. This affects staunchly pro-life families as well as people that are pro-choice. They never had a choice. And I cannot in good conscience see their lives damaged and their potential to build good, strong families damaged.

We need more families in America like these folks. We need more parents in America like these folks. They are what America needs more of. And just because they happen to be in a tiny minority to bear a unique burden that God imposes on just a few people every year, we can't forget our obligation to protect their lives, their children, and their families' future.

That is what this veto is all about. And let me say again how profoundly grateful I am to them for coming here today and having the courage to tell their stories to the American people.

Thank you. Thank you all very much.

END 5:40 P.M. EDT