Q&A: Pamela Binnings Ewen (An Accidental Life)
WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR THIS NOVEL?
About three years ago I saw an interview with Registered Nurse, Jill Stanek, on television. She was talking about a testimony she gave before Congress in 2000 about infants born alive during late term abortions, and left to die. Medical assistance was withheld. This was happening in the hospital in which she worked in Oak Lawn, Illinois, as well as in clinics and hospitals around the country. She also said that it was not uncommon for an infant to survive a late term abortion. In the hospital’s case, when a live-birth occurred the baby was left in a ‘soiled utility room’ alone to die. Sometimes Jill and other nurses would hold the babies until they died, and sometimes that would take hours.
As you can imagine, I was horrified. I’d never heard of such a thing, never even thought of the possibility that an infant could survive an abortion. But as I researched the issue, I found that what Stanek had said was a fact, and that this is still continuing today. The testimony of Stanek and other nurses and witnesses back in 2000, and evidence that these were not isolated issues, resulted in the 2001 Born Alive Infant Protection Act. But the legislation covered only abortions in federal institutions and facilities. It gave no protection to the little survivors of abortions in state hospitals and clinics.
That interview, and the research I did afterward, drove me to write An Accidental Life. I wanted readers to know that this was happening, and just as important, why.
ARE ALL OF THE CHARACTERS FICTIONAL?
They are all fictional, however the story was inspired by nurse Jill Stanek’s testimony from her own experience. And one of the major characters, Rebecca Downer (readers may remember her in Dancing on Glass and Chasing the Wind) is a lawyer struggling to learn to balance the new partnership responsibilities required in her firm with family concerns. Rebecca’s choices toward the end of the book were inspired, as I noted in the Acknowledgements to the book, by a young woman lawyer who has spent her life fighting in the legal arena for rights of the unborn, and born-alive infants.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE GET OUT OF THIS?
I’m hoping that An Accidental Life will open eyes; save little lives. An Accidental Life is a love story and a legal drama centered on a tense murder trial. The two story lines deal with life-changing choices. My hope is that through the trial portion of the book, readers will understand that infants born during late term abortion are often capable of surviving, but in more cases than you could imagine. Still moving, crying, struggling to breathe--they’re treated as medical waste and left alone to die. Opponents of legislation protecting these babies argue that to save the infant’s life will diminish the woman’s right to choose. Still today in our country a vocal opposition believes that a born-alive infant remains bound by his or her mother’s choice. Particularly in the case of young women readers, An Accidental Life is a call to an awakening, then understanding, and then…change.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT FICTION HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE PEOPLE IN A VERY REAL WAY?
Fiction illuminates truth by showing, not just telling, in a very personal way. A good story takes you to another place, allows readers to share the characters’ experiences and reflections. A good story allows you to feel the emotions, experience all the senses and identify personally with the issues. With a subject as sensitive as this one, I felt that telling the story through individual characters making choices, responding to problems, dealing with consequences, was a real way to bring the subject home to our hearts. When Rebecca Downer Jacobs waits to learn if she’s been chosen for partnership in the law firm, the reader feels the desperation of her search for meaning in life. When Glory Lynn Chasson hears her baby cry during an abortion, her world turns upside down. For the first time she realizes that the fetus she’s just borne is a real child. When Peter struggles to make the judge see the truth, the reader feels his passion. Questions are raised and debated through the thoughts and actions of the characters themselves—their choices, actions, how they react to consequences. Fiction is very personal and moving to readers; very powerful.