NRL News

Reflections on the March for Life: Part One of Three

by | Jan 24, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

There was a forecast of freezing rain this morning for the Washington, DC, area and as a result (a) the federal government opened two hours late, which meant (b) I was able to cruise into work in half the time it would ordinarily have taken. As it happened, there was no freezing rain, although later in the day there was a steady drizzle as the 60,000 to 90,000 nonetheless enthusiastic pro-lifers participated in the March for Life.

Other members of the National Right to Life staff were speaking at our National Press Club press conference. ( See “NATIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE ANNOUNCES PRIORITIES FOR 2012.”) I was doing what I always do the morning of the March for Life: try to get sense of the atmosphere as the massive crowd trickles in. Over the last few years I have also begun the day by attending a conference of pro-life bloggers hosted by the Family Research Council.

The roster of speakers was superb. I am going to focus on just three: photographer Michael Clancy and Julie and Samuel Armas.

Virtually all pro-lifers are aware of the photo Clancy took on August 19, 1999, (who also spoke at the 2011 National Right to Life Convention) commonly referred to as “The Hand of Hope.”

When he took the photo Clancy was a freelance photographer  working for USA Today. Unborn baby Samuel Armas had been diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which occur when the spinal column fails to fuse properly, leaving a lesion (or opening) that is highly susceptible to infection. A team at Vanderbilt University was operating to close the lesion and Clancy was there to take photos.

After the incision was made in mother Julie Armas’s abdomen, her uterus was removed and laid on her thighs. An opening was made in the uterus, and the surgeons were supposed to operate on Samuel without any part of his body emerging from inside.

However, as Clancy eloquently describes on his web site,, “out of the corner of my eye I saw the uterus shake, but no one’s hands were near it. It was shaking from within. Suddenly, an entire arm thrust out of the opening, then pulled back until just a little hand was showing.

“The doctor reached over and lifted the hand, which reacted and squeezed the doctor’s finger. As if testing for strength, the doctor shook the tiny fist. Samuel held firm. I took the picture! Wow! It happened so fast that the nurse standing next to me asked, ‘What happened?’ ‘The child reached out,’ I said. ‘Oh. They do that all the time,’ she responded.”

The amazing photograph of Samuel reaching out to his doctor appeared in USA Today and The Tennessean September 7, 1999. Although Clancy never sought notoriety, his work immediately caught the attention of the media and of people around the world. The difficulty was that the surgeon insisted the picture was posed, rather than spontaneous.

Mr. Clancy talked about his determined decade-long effort to get the truth out, including a book he has written. Mrs. Armas and Samuel also came, adding  more poignancy and additional insights. Mrs. Armas, a registered nurse, affirmed her strong pro-life convictions.

Mr. Clancy remarked that “the photo” was the inspiration for several television programs, including “House.” I wrote about that at the time, and the response my  review generated was second to none (see Fetal Position.)

Mr. Clancy’s riveting photo of Samuel tiny finger grasping the surgeon’s much larger finger (which Clancy says happened so quickly he wasn’t sure the photo  would come out) is a dramatic “shock of recognition” that, he tells us, has saved many babies’ lives.

To be sure that kind of irrefutable moment of clarity is rare but illustrates a profound truth never to be forgotten. Once the hazy fog of euphemism is burned away by the heat of the truth, that provides each and every one of us with the opportunity to be a pro-life educator.

And you find, more often than not, very receptive students.

Categories: NRLC