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ANOTHER CHANCE: Daniel, Faith, and Crystal.
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ANOTHER CHANCE: Daniel, Faith, and Crystal.

Grace and Faith

Roe v. Wade | When Christian parents refuse to abort a child with a fatal condition, the result is a powerful witness

Issue: "Roe v. Wade turns 40," Jan. 26, 2013

SIMI VALLEY, Calif.—Daniel and Crystal Artran married in 2010 and rejoiced when they found themselves pregnant several months later. But behind the rejoicing was concern: As dwarfs of the same type, their children have a 25 percent chance of inheriting the abnormal gene from each of them, a condition called “double dominance” and incompatible with life. Still, the Simi Valley, Calif., couple knew that three out of four times they would have a healthy child. Daniel, 38, already had two preteen children from a previous marriage.

When Crystal, 27, reached her second trimester, they met with a geneticist who specializes in dwarfism. During the ultrasound, they learned they were having a girl and marveled at her distinct profile. But their countenance changed as they saw concern on the geneticist’s face. Her voice turned cold and clinical. A week later, the couple’s doctor called. Crystal’s amniocentesis test confirmed their worst fears: Their daughter was double-dominant. The doctor recommended an abortion. Or, if they acted soon, he offered to trigger labor naturally. Crystal’s birth canal is so small that the baby would die during labor.

The Artrans found themselves in the strange world of fetal testing and abortion pressure. At conferences for “little people,” they had met couples who aborted their double-dominant babies. Mothers terminate nine out of 10 Down syndrome pregnancies. In Europe, the numbers are higher: A 2011 report from Denmark even predicted the country would be Down syndrome-free within two decades. Some in the field of reproductive ethics say parents have a duty to use advanced forms of pregnancy screening and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to ensure medically “flawless” children.

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But the Artrans opted to keep their unborn daughter even though she was expected to die at birth.

Daniel and Crystal asked their local church congregation to pray for them. They confessed that when they were dating four years earlier, they had aborted their first baby out of convenience and fear—a decision they kept secret and painfully regretted. “We couldn’t go through that sadness again. We felt like with this pregnancy we were given another chance,” Daniel said. Telling others about their abortion and the healing that followed led them to name their daughter Grace.

In the coming months, Crystal’s 4-foot-2-inch frame ballooned with baby weight and an abnormal amount of amniotic fluid, a common symptom of problematic pregnancies. The extra fluid meant she felt no flutters or kicks. Sleeping, eating, and even breathing felt increasingly uncomfortable. But they got to know Grace via regular 3-D ultrasounds: “She looked normal. It was encouraging. We could see her little hands and feet and Daniel’s pouty lips,” Crystal said.

As Crystal’s scheduled C-section approached, the Artrans met with the neonatal doctor to ensure that Grace would be put on life support immediately after birth, “so we could have time with her and say goodbye,” Daniel said. But 48 hours before the delivery, the neonatal nurses protested, citing their “ethical rights.” They argued it was cruel to allow Grace to adjust to life support only to take her off, causing her more struggle in death.

Alone in the doctor’s office, Daniel and Crystal had moments to decide whether to protest. As they prayed, Daniel realized, “We tried to believe Grace wouldn’t be double-dominant. We tried to control this pregnancy. We made this pregnancy about us.” They chose not to protest, putting Grace’s life and the amount of time they would have with her “in God’s hands.”

On the day of Grace’s birth, a handful of friends and family members circled around Crystal’s hospital bed, quietly praying. An hour later, a squeaky cry filled the room, followed by a collective gasp and tears of joy. The doctor quickly put Grace on Crystal’s chest, forgoing normal newborn procedures. Both grandmothers had a chance to hold her. As Daniel wheeled Grace to their room, she peeked one eye open as he hit a slight bump: “She obviously didn’t like that.” In the room, they dressed her in frilly pink pajamas. Slowly her heart stopped beating as she slept on Crystal’s chest. An hour after her birth, Grace died.

On a hot Indian summer day, fans whir and closed shades darken the Artrans’ neutral-toned home. A pink patchwork quilt made by Daniel’s mother covers a dwarf-size table, brightening the living room. On it are three porcelain angels next to a black-and-white framed picture of Daniel, Crystal, and tiny Grace. A white book opens to her imprinted footprint. Daniel reminisces, “She woke up in the hands of God. Granted, we go through the pain of losing her, but she didn’t have to go through any pain.”

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