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The painful story behind a lawmaker's tearful appeal on the House floor

The Randolphs — Susannah, 34, and Scott, 36, — lost their baby after the fetus developed medical problems during the first trimester. He shared their story on the state House floor last Friday.

Special to the Times

The Randolphs — Susannah, 34, and Scott, 36, — lost their baby after the fetus developed medical problems during the first trimester. He shared their story on the state House floor last Friday.

The night before Orlando Rep. Scott Randolph told his painful story of losing an unborn child, he sat down at his apartment in Tallahassee to figure out what he would say.

House Republicans had pushed through a last-minute amendment that would require a woman seeking an abortion to pay for an ultrasound and hear a doctor's description of the fetus.

Randolph, a Democrat and Southern Baptist, had talked with his wife about whether it was worth revealing something so private. He knew that telling his story in the ultra-conservative House would probably not change the outcome. But he wanted to share what he and his wife already knew: Seeing the ultrasound had been one of the hardest parts of the ordeal.

Writing the first section of his speech was easy.

This amendment is so short sighted as to be blind.

But as he got to the part about what happened, he couldn't get it down on paper. It was too hard.

He decided to wing it.

• • •

They had told friends and families almost as soon as the doctor confirmed Susannah was pregnant in December 2008. Married at the time more than three years, they had talked about having a baby almost as long.

They had the girl's name — Hillary Eleanor (after Hillary Rodham Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt) — picked out within weeks. They were still arguing over the boy's name.

At about eight weeks, the first ultrasound. The heartbeat was strong. The technician disappeared and returned with two doctors. Something was wrong. One doctor told them the baby had a 90 percent chance of not surviving. They turned to each other and started crying.

But they still held out hope. Maybe the doctors were just wrong. Maybe the fetus had a bad day.

"You have this optimism," said Randolph.

At a second ultrasound a week later though, the heartbeat was fainter. The baby's heart chamber was filling with fluid. Susannah's obstetrician told them the baby would likely not make it. They had a decision. Abort the fetus or wait for a natural miscarriage.

Susannah looked at the baby on the ultrasound screen next to her bed and asked the doctor to turn her screen off.

"It became really painful to see the baby," she said, tearing up even now.

A week later, back to the doctor's office, the decision loomed over them. Should they let nature take its course? As they waited in the office, Susannah miscarried.

• • •

On the House floor last Friday, discussion of the amendment went on for almost four hours. Proponents talked about how life begins at conception. Detractors talked about how traumatizing the experience would be for pregnant women.

The chamber was half-empty as Randolph, 36, stood at his desk to tell his story. He sits in the back, so most people had to turn around to listen to him.

As he started to cry about his loss, several lawmakers stopped what they were doing. Some legislators had tears in their eyes. He noticed that some Republicans continued to look at their laptops.

He got to the other part he had written the night before.

Members, this year you are showing that you want government so small that it could fit between a woman's legs and into her uterus.

His wife often said that. He had used it because it made sense to him.

He heard the click. He had heard that before. It meant he was about to be cut off. But it passed. He was allowed to continue.

I know that I have changed no one's vote today because this body is controlled more by ideology than empathy. But I tell my story today because I want you to go home tonight and when you are by yourself and you have closed your eyes to sleep that your mind is filled with the personal pain you have brought to my wife … and thousands of women who want nothing more than the baby that is growing inside of them.

When he was done, several Democrats surrounded him. They hugged him. As he left the chamber, he was surprised by the number of people who came up to him and told him they had had the same experience.

"Most of them I'd never even met," he said.

The bill sits on Gov. Charlie Crist's desk.

• • •

Randolph's second term in the House expires in November. This past week, he sought Crist's appointment to the Orange County Commission after the governor removed a commissioner who was arrested for grand theft, bribery and illegal campaign contributions.

He thinks he might be more effective there than in the GOP-controlled House.

"With the Legislature having a more and more conservative bent," he said, "it will be good to get down to the local level and feel like I can make a bigger difference in peoples' lives."

If he does, his wife, Susannah, 34, who is the deputy district director for Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, may run for her husband's seat in the House.

And the Randolphs have other news. It took a year. They were reluctant because they didn't want to go through this experience again.

But in January, they began trying to get pregnant again.

Times staff writer Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com.

The painful story behind a lawmaker's tearful appeal on the House floor 05/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 10:14am]
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