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Her story tells of her secret grief, stolen away

The baby was going to be named Annye-Elizabeth.

It was emblematic of how much Beth Lindenberg's family meant to her. She came up with the name by combining the first names of the oldest daughters of her two sisters.

But the baby girl who was to be Beth's second child never was. When the fetus was 16 weeks old, tests showed the baby would be born with Down's syndrome.

Beth Lindenberg had plenty of life's good things, a husband she loved and a wonderful toddler son. But she had married late, at 43. In a little more than two years, she endured three miscarriages. She wasn't going to have another chance for another child. She wanted this one so much she had previously vowed that if something went wrong, she wouldn't have an abortion.

The vow was made before her doctor called and murmured, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," over the phone. It was made before she thought of what it would mean to have such a child at home. Could they afford the medical bills? Would her relationship with her son be hurt? What strain would be put on her marriage? Who would care for this child when she was gone?

"All these things had to be weighed," she said. The weighing went on for two days and two nights, but only two. She couldn't bear to agonize. "I didn't want to feel her kick inside me."

Nobody could tell Beth how damaged her child might be. Nobody could tell her how it felt to be caught in such an excruciating dilemma in which abortion is just one possible solution.

On the second of those two terrible nights, Beth said, "I went to bed not knowing (what to do). I woke up knowing."

She was sure that keeping the pregnancy going meant giving birth to a child "who will never be able to love deeply, to appreciate beauty, to understand reason _ that's what makes life worth living."

Women rarely talk about their abortions. This story, unusual as it is, should end with this fact, that on Nov. 18, 1997, Beth Lindenberg ended her pregnancy at St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center.

This story should end here, but it can't. A few months ago, Beth learned that her case, with her name attached, was one of 15 circulated at a meeting in late 1997 involving doctors and a Catholic nun, Sister Pat Shirley. Bayfront and several other non-Catholic hospitals were joining the consortium called Baycare with St. Anthony's of St. Petersburg and St. Joseph's in Tampa. On behalf of the Catholic hospitals, Sister Pat, as she's known, wanted guidelines adopted on when pregnancy terminations would be permitted.

Beth's own physician, Dr. Jose Prieto, was there because he specializes in high-risk pregnancies. Prieto objected to the use of the names in the meeting, citing patient confidentiality. Although Sister Pat disputes this, Prieto maintains that after a few minutes of discussion, the list of patient names was removed from the room

Beth Lindenberg had her abortion just prior to the start of Baycare. If her pregnancy had gone wrong only a few months later, she wouldn't have been able to get an abortion at Bayfront. They are no longer performed in Down's syndrome cases, regardless of the mother's wishes.

Beth Lindenberg later wrote a letter to Sister Pat, to object to the circulation of her name and to Bayfront's policies, and to try to persuade Sister Pat that there was nothing convenient _ a word abortion critics often use _ about her anguished decision. Of course, Beth had no luck. But at least we know now what has happened virtually in secret _ the imposition of Catholic philosophy on medical decisionmaking in several bay-area hospitals.

Beth Lindenberg is afraid now. Talking about abortion can be very, very dangerous. "But somebody has to stand up," she said.

"I want your article to teach others what it's like to go through this. I couldn't teach Sister Pat. But maybe the secular world, I could enlighten them a bit."