The journey to defending life started with a nudge

finney    Dr. Robert Chasuk was in his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the State University of New York-Stony Brook nearly 30 years ago when a distraught woman, pregnant with her fourth child,  came into his office.
    She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Her husband, a victim of severe depression, was in a psychiatric hospital. Money was so tight that the young mother and her three kids had been sleeping in a tent in a state park. The exposure to the outdoors led to one of her children being infected with Lyme disease. They finally scraped together enough money to squeeze into a small apartment, where the three children slept together in one room.
    At the time, Chasuk was a practicing Catholic, but sometimes that practice had little effect on the real thing, the game of life.
    “She was looking for a referral for an abortion,” Chasuk said. “I really didn’t have any convictions one way or the other, but I could see that she didn’t want to do it. I asked her to give it a day or two to think about it.”
    As it turned out, that unofficial 48-hour waiting period prompted the woman to keep her child despite her dire circumstances. Chasuk followed her through her prenatal screenings and even went to her house.
    “I saw her new baby boy and how beautiful he was,” Chasuk said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is somebody I should have really been advocating for a bit more.’”
    A couple of years later, Chasuk found out the woman had enrolled in nursing school.
    “If somebody can go from such a hopeless situation – where you think abortion is the only solution to that – well, it’s not,” Chasuk said. “After experiencing that, I really couldn’t rationalize any situation where abortion was the solution.”
    For many years, Chasuk kept a picture of the woman and her children on the bulletin board behind his desk.
    “It was telling me something, telling me about the dignity of human life and what I was in medicine for,” Chasuk said. “But even at that, it took me awhile to come around to the full view of that.”
Nurse stood firm
    Another seed was planted when a nurse with whom the young Dr. Chasuk was practicing refused, firmly but nonjudgmentally, to assist him in the implantation of an intrauterine device because it was against her Catholic faith. Then after Chasuk and his wife Patti moved to Baton Rouge in 1994, Patti met a couple down the street who were teaching Natural Family Planning.
    Patti gave her husband “the look.”
    “She said, ‘We’ve got to do that,’” Chasuk said.
    After the second NFP session, the Chasuks, who were using contraceptives, went for coffee to discuss what they were learning. Their two children were at home with a babysitter.
    “We were looking at each other and we asked, ‘Why is it that we’re not having more children? Why is it that we’re thinking about having just the two we have right now? Why don’t we talk about this?’” Chasuk said.
    “I think when you start talking about fertility awareness methods, that’s one of the ways it works. It works to soften your heart and brings God back into the conversation. It gets you out of the selfishness you absorb from society. It forces you every month to have the most important conversation of your marriage and to be open to the gift of another child. You can go 10 years on chemicals and implants and hormonal methods without ever having the most important question of your marriage.”
    Chasuk, chief of the family medicine division at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, is one of three doctors in Louisiana certified to teach the Creighton Model Fertility Care System, which trains women to chart and evaluate their fertility. It is 99 percent effective in avoiding pregnancy, but Chasuk said it also provides a clear window into the beauty of woman’s fertility.
Five children now
    Chasuk and his wife now have five children – between the ages of 21 and 10 – and he “could not imagine life without each one.”
    The model was developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, who founded the Pope Paul VI Institute for Human Reproduction as a direct response to the call in the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” to medical professionals to “treat people according to their natural cycles.”
    “He established his own institute to do it and has been able to recruit people to what is now an international movement,” Chasuk said. “He had to have the knowledge and the conviction of his faith, and that’s what we all should aspire to.”
    Convincing others to embrace the culture of life takes time, Chasuk said. He looks no further than himself, when he bought into the caricature of anti-abortion people as “religious zealots.”
    “I prescribed contraception and put in IUDs without thinking about it,” he said.
Gosnell: The insanity
    The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia late-term abortionist, was horrifying “when you think about the complete disregard for human life,” Chasuk said.
    “Charitably, you have to think that that person is completely insane to be able to do that,” Chasuk said. “It’s horrifying that Gosnell would snip people’s spines when they are out of the uterus, but why is that different than snipping them when just their head remains in the uterus? How can we as a society retain this willful blindness?”
    Hilgers and Chasuk and a host of other medical professionals – in conjunction with the Woman’s New Life Center – will participate in the 32nd annual meeting of the American Academy of Fertility Care Professionals Aug. 7-10 at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. A special one-day track Aug. 10 will have nationally known speakers discuss various aspects of “The Culture of Life in Medical Practice.” The Aug. 10 seminar session is free for medical students who register in advance. For more information, go to www.aafcp.org.
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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