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June 3rd, 2009
11:59 AM ET

360° Interview: 'Why I chose not to have a late-term abortion'

Editor's Note: Dr. George Tiller, whose Kansas women's clinic frequently took center stage in the U.S. debate over abortion, was shot and killed while serving as an usher at his Wichita church Sunday morning. His murder has ignited debate and curiosity over late-term abortions and why they're performed. On Monday, we spoke to Lynda Waddington, who had a late-term abortion when she discovered her baby would not survive due to a genetic defect. That prompted Diane Elder to get in touch with us to share her story. Read this 360° interview to learn about her experience.

Anderson Cooper interviews Diane Elder, about her decision to not have a late-term abortion.
Anderson Cooper interviews Diane Elder, about her decision to not have a late-term abortion.

AC360°

Anderson Cooper: Diane Elder chose not to have an abortion even though she had every right to. She joins us now. Diane, thanks for being with us. You actually sent me an e-mail earlier today because of an interview you read that we had on last night. We had a woman on who, in the 20th or 21st week chose to have a late-term abortion because her baby had a severe genetic defect. You had a similar situation, you made a different choice. Why?

Diane Elder: I wanted my baby to have a natural death. I did not want my child to die at my hand.

Anderson Cooper: What did your baby have?

Diane Elder: My baby had a syndrome called Trisomy 18 which is a very severe chromosomal abnormality that is incompatible with life. That's the phrase doctors used.

Anderson Cooper: You found this out at what stage of the pregnancy?

Diane Elder: I was somewhere in the fifth month of pregnancy.

Anderson Cooper: And obviously, I mean, devastating news.

Diane Elder: It was devastating. I found out on Mother's Day. And all I can remember is collapsing to the floor because I had been trying for this baby for a very long time. So it felt like almost a cruel joke to me that this happened. And so I went forward with the pregnancy another four months. Probably the most difficult four months of my life. We were prepared for basically a monster because we were told she was going to not have a brain, and she was going to have possibly cleft palate, club feet. And she was born with all those things. She was born missing part of her brain. She had one club foot, one rocker bottom foot. She had just everything that goes along with that condition, which is bad. But we were very taken aback when we found that when she was placed in our arms, we were happy. We were incredibly happy. My husband was with me. A lot of family and friends showed up right after the birth. She was passed around from arms to arms. I told the hospital I did not want any extraordinary measures taken because I wanted what happened to her to be natural. I didn’t want to try to force her to stay alive with needles and tubes if that would cause her pain and just prolong a very difficult life but I did not want to kill her either. So I just decided to completely turn myself over to nature and let it take its course. And the resolution was really a very good resolution. She never suffered.

Anderson Cooper: How long did she live?

Diane Elder: 12 hours. The nurse woke me up at 5:00 a.m. and said, "Diane, I think you might want to get up now. The baby's having trouble breathing, and this might be her time." And she put Angela into my arms.

Anderson Cooper: You named her?

Diane Elder: Yes. Angela Diane Elder. And Angela - she was able to make eye contact with me and it seemed as though she were looking into my eyes. I could hear her breath becoming more and more shallow, sort of a rattling breath. And then she took two large breaths and then a very large breath literally sat up and then fell back, and she was gone. And it was a very difficult moment even at this time.

Anderson Cooper: Do you regret it, looking back on it?

Diane Elder: Not it in one - not one minute of it. She died peacefully with no pain. The suffering was ours for two weeks, of course, at least two weeks. Really a whole year. We were in mourning for her, as you would grieve over any loved one who dies. That's a normal part of life. You can't get away from the fact that people die and people get sick and they die. But we felt very clean when it was over. And as though the situation was - there was closure. There was a resolution.

Anderson Cooper: Obviously, other women, other families in that situation make choices. Do you believe that women should have the right to make that choice?

Diane Elder: When a baby is a fully formed, living baby, I don't think that really we've ever had the choice to take a life at that stage. I think that that's a fully formed baby. I mean, I think you had some of the pictures up there. You saw her. She was a fully formed baby. She was born early, by the way. She came out at eight months.

Anderson Cooper: And when you heard about Dr. Tiller's death, your thoughts?

Diane Elder: Oh, I think that was awful. No one has the right to do that, particularly not someone who considers themselves to be an advocate for life. How can they take another life? It’s inexcusable.

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. beth brewster

    Who is this woman's doctor? What kind of OBGYN tells their patients this horrible news on Mother's Day, a Sunday.

    June 3, 2009 at 6:42 pm |
  2. Peggy Bowman

    We in the pro-choice community totally support this woman's right to not choose to have an abortion. The primary difference between them and us is that while we support their right to choose, most of those identifying themselves as "pro-life" do not support our right to choose.

    June 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm |
  3. Madeleine

    Anderson: What a touching story. Thank you for showing the other side to the abortion issue.

    Ms. Elder: Thank you for telling your story. It was very brave of you. I am so sorry for the loss of your child. It was clear from the photo with your family that your baby was very much loved. I

    Madeleine

    June 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  4. Susan

    Anderson:

    Thanks so much for allowing Ms. Diane Elder to share her experience with your viewers.

    She is a very courageous and inspirational women and mother.

    Her words had an impact on me that I was not expecting.

    June 3, 2009 at 4:49 pm |
  5. jessica r

    This piece was misleading, because it was introduced/qualified as being an attempt to be fair to and to supposedly present "both sides' of an issue. This is not the other side of Ms. Waddington's story.
    This is not the other side of why it is terrorism to murder one of the 3 remaning doctors in the country to serve women in a legal, private medical manner. This piece was an anti abortion piece. Diane's story is one where women still think their societal roles involve sacrificing their own safety and health in order to fit a mythical role of martyr.
    It is disrespectful of CNN to think that this anti abortion message piece has anything to do with the previous night's coverage. The fact that Diane believed she should have the baby has no legal or moral bearing on the right of women to have jurisdiction over their own bodies and their own decisions. What is right for Diane may very well not be right for me. Trust women to decide for themselves. If not, we have no equal rights.

    June 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm |
  6. rupa

    this interview brings tears to my eyes, am speechless....

    June 3, 2009 at 4:32 pm |
  7. Ashley

    Mrs. Elder was a strong woman and her decision was right. I'am 19 yrs. old and I got pregnant in highschool. When I found out I was preg. there was no doubt in my mind that i was having my baby. I'am very strong about my views on abortion. I think its used today as a form of birth control and i dont see why people do not see it. I'am very against abortion and as i was watching the interview with Dr. Tiller it was just making me sick. I also saw where he had said he was a christian HA right...If you are one , you do not kill babies!!! My daughter will be 2 in oct. and she is the light of my life and atleast i can say i gave her life. And didnt take the easy way out.

    June 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  8. Sheryl Brezina

    As one who has had to go to the hospital several times due to asthma, I can assure you that someone who is struggling to breathe is suffering. The fact that the mother got joy from watching her infant struggle in a hopeless battle for 12 hours while she patted herself on the back for allowing her daughter to suffer "naturally," I find appalling.

    I wish she would watch the "Mancow" waterboarding tape. Then someone could deprive her of air (but not enough for her to lose consciousness). She might last twelve hours, being a healthy adult instead of a helpless newborn.

    Just because that baby didn't have enough breath to scream and cry doesn't mean she wasn't suffering.

    I appreciate the way you gave "both" sides of the issue fair representation–I only wish it were possible to give all sides, that is, include the feelings of the baby.

    Mrs. Elder very properly made her choice with the strong support group she had to surround her. But less fortunate girls/women should be allowed to make the decisions about their bodies, too.

    June 3, 2009 at 4:03 pm |
  9. carmen las vegas

    Anderson, thank you for allowing both views on abortion. I was deeply moved by Diane's story and cried knowing that her beautiful baby was loved and not painfully destroyed. You didn't mention that Dr. Tiller has been very well paid for killing these fully developed babies. I can not imagine the pain these babies feel as they are torn apart.
    You are truly a journalist who covers all angles. Thanks again.
    Carmen

    June 3, 2009 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Anne, Effingham, Illinois

    Wonderful interview about the choice of life! Ms. Elder is a brave
    woman! I truly admire her for giving birth to her little girl. When I was carrying my third child (now 7), my gynecologist asked me if I wanted certain blood tests (because of my age – almost 35) to determine if our child had any birth defects. My husband and I chose not to have these tests because we would not have done anything to our baby. During this pregnancy, I was giving myself heparin injections twice a day to prevent a miscarriage. My hope is one day abortion is no longer an issue that we will have to deal with in our society.

    June 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm |
  11. Lisa James

    Thank you so much for having this guest appear to discuss her experience on choosing to keep her late-term child even though she knew the baby would not surive very long. I am a Pro Choice woman, but this story really made me think and examine my own choice should I be in that situation. I think I assumed I would have an abortion should I find out my child had life threatening conditions late term. This story made me take a second look at myself and re-think that decision. It was beautiful, thought provoking and inspiring that someone could make such a difficult choice that was not in her benefit, but for the benefit of her child to die naturally.

    It's a very difficult choice. More reason why the right to choose is so important. What an amazing woman! Thank you so much for letting us hear her experience.

    June 3, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  12. Leigh Anne

    Here is the question that keeps bothering me:
    -What if a rape/abuse victim becomes pregnant and she decides to get abortion?
    Will she have option to choose from?
    Will she and her baby welcome by the society?

    I believe that women have right to choose to get abortion or not, and either based on medical/genetic problems or not , women should be ENABLED to choose to get abortion or not. Instead of turning them away to think about it, explain everything to them.Medical,religious,physical and emotional aspects should be discussed with every woman who decides on abortion.

    What do you guys think?

    Sincerely,
    Leigh Anne

    June 3, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  13. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    I had thought that R v W had left third trimester abortions illegal except to save the life of the mother. How is it that up to 80% (Anderson's figure) of late term abortions are elective with viable fetuses, and NO health issues (except perhaps that joke of the mental health of the mother)? These are pure murders. Although the murder of Dr. Tiller was also wrong, he should in no way be applauded for his butchery. An abortion to save the mother's life, or due to catastrophic deformities is one thing. Abortion just to get a chance for a 'do over' is a crime, and it's time America learned to make the distinction. If women want the right to choose, they should start by choosing to engage in responsible sex. Less than 5% of abortions are due to rape, incest, health issues, or failure of birth control. The rest are 'choices' that resulted from irresponsibility. With the easy access to contraceptives today and mandatory sex ed in schools, no one should end up with an unplanned pregnancy. Diane Elder should be applauded for choosing life.

    June 3, 2009 at 2:43 pm |
  14. Philip Mccutchen

    Thanks for having Diane Elder tell her story last night. My feeling that this person in the womb has it's own identity apart from the mother was confirmed. No matter how brief the life, the noble and socially uplifting thing to do is to love it. I know that children can create a great burden on society for a number of reasons, but the answer cannot be to kill them. Again I appreciate CNN for running this, especially considering that your network normally supports abortion rights at all cost. I am in favor of a reasonable public debate on the subject and abhor the murder of doctor Tiller or any other abortionist. However I don't believe Dr. Tiller's life is more valuable than Diane Elder's beautiful little girl; to think otherwise is social Darwinism on crack.

    Respectfully

    Phil McCutchen

    June 3, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  15. Siciianlover

    Thank you so much for interviewing this woman! I have a friend that just went thru the same with her baby girl and "chose" to deliver, knowing all they faced. That baby was wanted as well, trying years to get pregnant again, heart breaking for all but abortion just didn't seem the right thing to do for them.....not a choice for us to make. Prayers go out for the loss of Diane's baby and for her family!

    June 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  16. AC1975

    All women should ultimately be able to CHOOSE and weighing options is always the best way to approach difficult issues.

    On a separate note:
    When I was watching the interview, what struck me was that the child must have been suffering enough to take those shallow breaths, even alsmot sitting up from the rigour (as was described). To insist that it was painless is somewhat misleading. How did she know the little baby was not suffering?

    June 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  17. Isabel, Brazil

    Hey, Anderson!

    Excellent and difficult interview! Very sad story of the mother. This woman, that warrior! It takes much strength to make the decision it.

    Must have been difficult to remain 'standing up' before her report. I was very emotional.

    I don't feel comfortable or able to judge or comment on her decision. She did what felt to be the best!

    Congratulations on intrevista!

    And Happy Birthday!

    June 3, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  18. Anita, CA

    Dear Anderson – I am very happy and relieved that you chose to have Diane Elder on your show this evening. Her story was heartwarming. As a Jehovah’s Witness, if I was in her situation, I would like to do the same. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the Bible’s teaching of a resurrection, so the life we live in this system for as many hours, days or years that is, is temporary compared to the real life Christ promises when he installs his kingdom on earth – soon. Anyway, thank you for choosing to have Diane Elder on your show to give a real 360 to the issue of Abortion – very beautiful. Sincerely, “good health to you!” – Acts 15:29 (New World Translation)

    June 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  19. Georgia, Moms For Life

    Dear Mr. Cooper, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to interview Ms. Elder-however, I think the abortion distortion must be pointed out: At the moment of conception, a unique, and totally seperate individual is created with a unique set of human DNA..this is a scientific fact...having said that, it is noone's "choice" to end another person's life. Let's say, for example, that we didn't have the technology that would enable us to know the health of the baby until AFTER he/she was born. Would a mother or father have the "choice" to kill their baby, a few hours or days after he/she was born if he/she wasn't physically "fit" enough? That was the mentality of the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, who said, "more from the fit, less from the unfit," Birth Control Review, May 1919, p. 12..and when she said, "The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it." Women and the New Race
    (Eugenics Publ. Co., 1920, 1923)
    While the assassination of Dr. George Tiller was unjustifiable, he was, to be sure, a mass murderer..and because of him, over 60,000 fetuses will never become American citizens. Why do we put such angelic haloes around such people?

    June 3, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  20. Michelle, CA

    AC360 staff,

    Last night before tuning into the show I told my family how one-sided I though the coverage of late term abortion had been the day before. And, I am so glad, that you interviewed this woman. My son died of a genetic disorder two years ago (his prognosis was death in infancy). I didn't know before he was born, but I always wondered if I had known, what I would have done. What if I was ever in that situation again, but knew about his condition, would I have him? After listening to this woman, I know what I would do. I am prochoice but choose to be prolife, and there's no shame in that. I respect everyone who has come out and spoken about their experiences, and I'm glad you have given both sides now.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  21. John

    Thank you Anderson for showing the other side of this story. However the abortion doctor on the program before this woman spoke lied about Tiller's practice, saying he knew that Tiller only did late term abortions in extreme cases.

    George Tiller made his money performing late-term abortions, which often involves the killing of a viable human being. According to Kansas state statistics, he killed 395 viable third-trimester babies in one year – 2001 – all for “mental health” reasons (which, as we know, is the category for all elective abortions). Not one of those abortions was for a mother’s physical health or for a medical emergency.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  22. c,ca

    I respect Mrs. Elder's decision to carry her pregnancy to full-term but, IMO, her story just reinforced the case for the pro-choice side of the debate. She had a choice and she made the decision that was right for her – that's the way it should be.

    I also noted that Mrs. Elder was quite well-dressed and and her hair and make-up were perfect. She did not appear to be a person that lives paycheck to paycheck. She also is an adult , with a husband, a supportive family, and good medical care. These factors can make a big difference in the decision whether or not to have an abortion.

    A single, working, woman may choose to handle the situation differently. Personally, I don't know what I would do if I were in Mrs. Elder's position. But that's the point: each woman needs to have the right to choose what is best for her in her situation.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  23. Minou, New York City

    I was very touched by this woman's courage to face the death of her own child head-on. It takes a lot of strength, courage and faith to be able to do that. I very much respect her choice.

    June 3, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  24. Linda B., Ga.

    The word "CHOICE" doesn't mean the woman "wants" to have an abortion, It means we want to be able to make the CHOICE to decide, one way of the other. I'm PRO-CHOICE, but, I would never have an abortion. I also don't need somebody else telling me what I or anybody else should do with their lives. We don't stop men from getting "fixed/vasectomy", so they can't re-produce (actually more should then they do). It's their CHOICE! What do you say to that expectant mother/father, whose baby dies, in the womb, at 6 months, but can't have it removed until full term? Or better yet what do you say to the expectant mother/father, who is having a hard time, at birth and is in a Catholic Hosp., where if it's between saving the mother or baby, they save the baby? It's all part of that CHOICE word....

    June 3, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  25. Mary in Chattanooga TN

    I had a son with Trisomy 18. I chose to let him live as long as this life permitted as well. I found out at 35 weeks there was a problem, and at 36 weeks after an amniocentesis, it was confirmed as T18. I was also devastated, because my son was a very, very, very wanted child. My son Jayden lived for 18 hours before he passed. I do not believe he suffered at all, I believe he felt how much myself, my husband and our familes loved him. I was offered the choice of "saying goodbye early" but I made the decision that I wanted him to live as long as possible, even if it was only for 5 minutes. My son had no visible defects, even though I was also warned that he might have club foot, a chin that didnt separate from his face, etc. It wouldnt have mattered what he looked like to me, he was still my son regardless and I loved and supported him from beginning to end.

    That being said, not everyone can be as strong as Diane and I were. Not everyone can manage to give birth to a child that could possibly be a stillborn, not everyone can watch their child struggle to breathe (as most T18 babies have this issue), and not everyone can go through a funeral for their child, and visit a cemetary on every holiday, birthday, etc. It's not my place to judge someone such as Lynda who chose not to carry her baby to term and go through labor and delivery. I think it's up to the individual to make the best decision possible for her child – and also the father and doctor should have an opinion to be heard.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  26. Jessica Norris

    I am so glad that you interviewed Mrs. Elder. I had a friend that aborted her baby because of the same problem, and I do not think that my friend (even though this was over eight years ago) has ever fully recovered. I am a Rights to Life member – I do not think that abortion at any stage is right. I have watched many women's lives fall apart after they have had an abortion, and sometimes other women are okay for years and then one day the reality comes to them that they killed their own child. I think that Mrs. Elder and her family was very couragous and should be commended on allowing nature to take its course, rather than killing her child. As a mother, I could never consider aborting my child or any of my future children for any reason. I believe that when God gives you the gift of life, you are responsible for that life forever. I know that what Mrs. Elder and her family went through must have been extremely hard, but I believe that they made the correct choice. It gives me hope that someone in the media is not ashamed to interview someone that protected the new life that she was given by God. Thank you so very much Anderson Cooper. God bless Angela Diane ~ I am sure that she is smiling down on her mother & father from Heaven .

    June 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  27. Joanne R. Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    This was a touching, meaningful interview. Dignity was shown by all, life is precious. Choice is important; Mrs. Elder's choice was brave.
    Thank you.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  28. Suzanne

    For those parents who have made the decision to continue a pregnancy knowing that their baby will die at or shortly after birth, there are resources available to provide you with support during your pregnancy, delivery and bereavement. Perinatal Hospice is an innovative program that provides holistic supportive care to parents who are facing the death of their newborn baby. For more information you can visit the perinatal hospice website at http://www.perinatalhospice.org.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  29. Gouti

    I'm happy to see she made her own CHOICE to have the baby, knowing full well it was going to die around the time of the birth. I know she was told the baby probably didn't suffer, but I think she probably did, which is awful to see any person suffer. Being borth without a full brain and many other deformities, no pain? That's hard to believe. Sounds like she was told those things to make her feel comforted about the baby's birth. I worked in a hospital for 8 months and saw many premature babies with lots of birth defects, all suffering some form of pain. I quit, it was too hard to deal with.

    The one thing about her interview that strikes me odd is that it sounds like she's one sided on abortion (to me at least). She dodged the question about her opinion of other women making choices to have late-term abortions. She made her choice, and other women make theirs. I think it's important for all women to have the freedom to make their OWN choices based on what's right for them and their families the way she did. I hope that is something she believes in.

    June 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm |
  30. Ada

    Hi Anderson,
    You have gained my trust again. I had stopped watching you due to your Tea bag remark last month. Thank you soooooooooooooo much for having a mother who chose life to appear on your show. You showed the other side. Please try to do a story on the men who have agreed to an abortion & now regret their lost fatherhood. It is something that is rarely talked about. There are alot of men who grieve an aborted child not only the mothers who chose the abortion. Silent no more is a perfect website. Thank you again Anderson for the touching interview. Great job!!! Your sincerity was most aprreciated. God bless.
    Ada

    June 3, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  31. Lilibeth

    Thank you for having her on. Her decision was the right decision for herself and for her family. It was up to her and nobody should judge. I'm sorry that she lost that child. It was evident that that chapter in her life still affects her. I pray that she finds peace.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    June 3, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  32. Kevin

    The first sentence says it all:

    "...even though she had every right to."

    The debate is NOT whether this woman is a Amazonian, self-sacrificing Goddess, but whether other women are forced to exhibit these same qualities regardless of their emotional stamina.

    I applaud Diane for her decision to carry the child, but I also applaud and completely support women like Lynda Waddington for their decision NOT to expose themselves and their family to the horror of severely defected fetuses.

    Google Lynda Waddington's "Open Letter to Obama" and read HER story now.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  33. Peg H.

    Thank you for allowing Diane Elder to share her story. She approached her pregnancy with hope and love and courage. Anderson Cooper is doing a really good job of covering this issue from all sides. Thank you for treating Diane with dignity and allowing her to share her experience and her respect for all human life. Her story was powerful and touching. Thank you.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  34. Martina Ilstad Germany

    Anderson
    I feel so sorry for Diane.I am a mother,and thank God my baby was ok.
    I remember that after the fifth month of pregnancy i feeld my baby kick,so i understand here resolution the give here baby this little time to life.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:50 am |
  35. VITA ZEMAITIS

    Abortion is not a pleasant issue for anybody. Since you are pursuing it,why talk only about the woman, and do not include the husband or the other person responsible for the pregnancy. I do think decision making is easier if you have support from the other person involved.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:48 am |
  36. David G.

    God bless you. That you and your family treated Angela Diane as the human being she was should be a testament to all. My sincere condolences on the loss of this beautiful soul.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:47 am |
  37. George Crockett

    I have a new found respect for Anderson Cooper for the interview with
    Diane Elder. That would have been for most a story to avoid. Bless you Anderson, that was so moving. Bless you Diane for the sacrificial love you displayed.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:39 am |
  38. Demarcus Jackson

    I respect Diane Elder's CHOICE not to have an late-term abortion. If most pro-life organizations had their way, Diane Elder would not even be able to rationally entertain the thought of having an abortion (e.g. calling clinics, researching the procedure on the Internet, talking to her personal doctor, etc.) because it would be illegal for all women. I enjoy living in a nation where women have the freedom to choose how to direct their own health and the health and well-being of their unborn child. Diane Elder made a valid decision to have her child. She should respect other women who make the CHOICE to have a late-term abortion. Her interview with Anderson did not demonstrate to me that she respected to alternative decision.

    June 3, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  39. Angela, AZ

    Dear Anderson,
    Thank you for speaking with Mrs. Elder. I found comfort in her quiet strength. You see, my husband was born with a congenital birth defect. Although not fatal, he spent much of his childhood in surgery and nearly died twice. If we have a child, chances are that child will inherit a more severe version of the same defect and we may be faced with the same agony the Elders were...we need to learn more. But, what I'm trying to say is that it helped me to hear her say that she wanted the process to be natural. We often feel frustrated because we can't control so much in life but maybe we need to consider that as a good thing. Again, thanks for showing both sides of the story.
    Happy Birthday

    June 3, 2009 at 11:35 am |