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Octuplet mom Nadya Suleman is no hero to antiabortion activists

Under a different set of circumstances, Nadya Suleman might be a cause celebre for the antiabortion movement.

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She believes in large families.

She says life begins at conception.

She declined to selectively reduce her offspring after she got pregnant with eight babies.

She had all of her frozen embryos implanted because "they were lives," Suleman said this week in an interview broadcast repeatedly on the Internet and television.

Despite her staunch views, she has prompted a swift and virulent public backlash and has rendered antiabortion activists silent.

Suleman, 33, is complicated, they say.

For starters, she had six children already. She's single, unemployed, lives with her mother and receives government aid.

The circus around Suleman seems unending with new story lines nearly every day. Although seemingly captivated by the family, the American public has not embraced Suleman.

"It's the exceeding of the limits of generosity that I think this case exemplifies just as with the banks or the automotive companies," said Dell deChant, associate chairman of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

He finds the religious community's relative silence telling.

"Because they are not out there right now in a public way raising their rhetorical banner, it's just telling me that they're being cautious."

And there's another twist.

Suleman conceived her children through in vitro fertilization, a procedure that has divided the antiabortion community for years.

Ron Stoddart, executive director for Nightlight Christian Adoptions in California, believes some groups have been reluctant to put their rift on national display by taking on Suleman.

"They don't want to draw a line in the sand there," he said.

• • •

The Catholic Church stands at the forefront of the antiabortion movement. Its stances are concrete: Sex before marriage is wrong. Abortion should never be an option. And IVF goes against God's plan for procreation.

In a typical procedure, some embryos go unused and are discarded.

To Catholics, this is akin to taking a life.

The Rev. Len Plazewski, head of vocations for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, said Catholics are not rallying around Suleman for good reason.

"Just because we don't believe in artificial birth control doesn't mean that you have to have as many children as you are physiologically able to have," he said. "Human beings are not just baby factories."

While other Christian profamily groups take softer stances on IVF, they don't advocate it either.

Focus on the Family steers infertile couples toward the adoption of children or, as a last resort, embryos.

But Suleman already had used IVF by the time she gained national notoriety. So like many antiabortion groups, Focus turned its attention to an industry it says needs regulations.

"Implanting eight embryos is just an irresponsible use of that biotechnology," said Carrie Gordon Earll. a Focus spokeswoman. "We applaud her decision not to terminate any of those, and we applaud her desire to give life to those embryos that were frozen. There were other ways that could happen, and we regret that either she wasn't aware of those options or didn't heed them."

At the adoption service, Stoddart contemplated sending out a news release suggesting Suleman should have put her unused frozen embryos up for adoption, but he ultimately decided it would have been self-serving.

Antiabortion bloggers have not shown the same kind of restraint.

"She manufactured this situation," said Rhonda Robinson, a newspaper columnist and blogger in central Illinois who contributes to "Her pro-life stance that these children shouldn't be destroyed is laudable. But on the other hand, she created the crisis."

• • •

If anyone knows what Suleman faces it's Karoline Byler.

In 2007, the Wesley Chapel mother gave birth to sextuplets. A Roman Catholic, she had hormone shots and did not use IVF.

Byler, 30, also doesn't believe in selective reduction.

Still, she watches Suleman in disbelief.

"I believe she shouldn't have done it in the first place," said Byler, who also has a 5-year-old. "I think that was completely irresponsible of her."

Byler does know one thing: Suleman will need help.

Two weeks ago, the Christian group Angels In Waiting offered to raise money to provide 24-hour care for the babies and a house. The California agency assists medically fragile foster care infants and children.

The group is represented by feminist lawyer Gloria Allred. In an e-mail, she said Suleman failed to respond by a deadline, essentially turning down the offer.

According to the agency's staff, Suleman had voiced concern that the agency would not allow a reality television crew into the new home, fearing the babies' health would be endangered.

The babies continue to improve in the hospital. But Allred has asked Los Angeles child welfare services to make sure their mother can take care of them once they are released.

Byler doesn't understand Suleman.

"I wouldn't have turned down any help. I had Girl Scout troops come and help me with the kids," Byler said. "To be frank, I think she's an attention whore."

She worries about the octuplets.

"I have lived this life," Byler said. "… I can tell you, those children are in my prayers."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Sherri Day can be reached at or (813) 226-3405.

Octuplet mom Nadya Suleman is no hero to antiabortion activists 02/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 10:32pm]
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