The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

The story behind one of the most famous pro-life photos in the world


Photo: by Michael Clancy

Many of us have seen it, but few of us have heard the story behind this iconic photo of a fetus clutching a doctor’s finger.
But the man who took the picture wants the story to be told — and has become a passionate advocate for life.  The Catholic Standard in Washington has more: 

Ten years ago, the subject of a news photograph – a 21-week-old fetus – reached his arm outside his mother’s womb during prenatal surgery. A photographer captured the image of a tiny hand grasping the gloved hand of a surgeon. In the months that followed the publication of his photograph, Michael Clancy, a freelance photojournalist, found himself deeply committed to the fight to end abortion and having to choose a new career. For Clancy would end up in the middle of a heated political controversy and instead of reporting news, he suddenly became the news.


On Sept. 18, Clancy shared the story behind the photograph as well as his journey toward personal faith with over 40 people gathered at Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie. Sponsored by Defend Life, Clancy used a power point presentation to illustrate the “miraculous picture” of Baby Samuel at the end of a one-hour in vitro surgical procedure to limit the effects of spina bifida. 

“After witnessing Samuel’s struggle,” Clancy said, he came to realize “a child deserves all legal protection.” 


After the surgery, Clancy sent the film to USA Today which published the photograph in September of 1999. Once processed, the film revealed a series of four photos. In the first two, the baby’s hand can be seen reaching out of the surgical incision and in the third photograph the baby’s fingers tighten around the surgeon.

Later the doctor, Joseph Bruner, granted interviews telling the media he posed the baby’s hand for the photographer. “The doctor still claims, he pulled the hand outside the womb,” Clancy noted. In his presentation, Clancy explained exactly where he was standing and described how he saw movement of the woman’s uterus in the moments before pointing and shooting the photographs. “My picture is not posed,” Clancy added.


Clancy, whose pro-life advocacy continued to grow, eventually found that these questions about his credibility ground his photographic career to a halt. Unable to get any photo assignments after publicly speaking out against abortion, Clancy became a full-time advocate against abortion. 

In 2003, Clancy shared his famous photograph and testimony with Congress. Along with Samuel and his family , Clancy helped persuade the lawmakers to pass the law banning partial-birth abortion. Later, the photographer was invited to the White House when the bill was signed into law. 


Today he shares his photograph and the story of his faith in God to persuade others to change their hearts about abortion. “God speaks to people through this photograph,” Clancy said.

You can find more about the picture at the link. 

Comments read comments(6)
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Ronald King

posted October 2, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Thank you Deacon for this gift.

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Angel Craddock

posted October 5, 2009 at 9:21 am

I am the ex-wife of the doctor in this photo (Joseph P. Bruner, M.D.)and was married to him at the time of these surgeries. No matter what the photographer wants to think about Samuel “reaching out of the womb”–that is simply not the case here. Samuel was as anesthetized as his mother at the time and his hand came near the opening of the womb as he was manipulated by the doctors to reveal the opening in his spine so that it could be repaired. It may have seemed like the hand reached out, but the fact is, it did not. My husband reached down and picked up the fingers as they popped up from the opening–the fetus had no ability to reach out.
This is a wonderful photograph, nonetheless, but to add fantasy to reality isn’t helpful.

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Veronica SAger

posted October 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

it really doesnt matter whether the hand reached out or not look at the picture it is a human life it is formed, what right do the Doctors have to play God and decide whoshould live or die there are a lot of people out there that want children lots and some have made a buisness out of it chargeing thousands of dollars so the ones that want a baby have to go thru so much to get one. a lot of politics to it. but then there is the law that lets mudrders go free what a revolvong world we live in full of greed,& selfishness, but soon the day will come hwen a price has to be paid,for all decisions, maybe these doctors will suffer a great devastating thing to happen in their lives. I honestly pray that they will feel all the emotion and pain they do to that child. from the minute a child is concieved it is a life a human life and in this world and the spiritual world it is illegal to kill or do .If the person doesn’t want the child give it away,or even find someone who wants one even sell the baby don’t kill it. I will be glad to see the day that we have an abortion free world, like so many are pushing for a smokefree world, so i say why dont the ones pushing the smoke free stuff get themselves bust into something that would make a great differance in life and save a fetus. sorry I know lots wont agree and some will. ykcuep

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christine s

posted November 2, 2009 at 4:40 pm

“Awesome”, that a gifted and talent individual that is open mined to perform a risk high tech procedure like that. That is so incredible and able to preformed surgery on tiny baby.
Totally awesome, wow!!

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posted December 22, 2010 at 10:14 pm

to Angel Craddock
– you’re story has no ring of truth. obviously you have never been in an operating theatre or know anything about this. the amount of anaesthetic needed for an adult woman usually kills the unborn baby as it is calculated for weight and heigh (the woman being much heavier than a tiny baby). and MY husband is an anaesthetist.

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Angel Craddock

posted February 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm

To heather. My ex-husband did over 100 of these procedures. The babies WERE anesthesized, or they wouldn’t have been able to do the spina bifida surgery in utero. Here are the FACTS from Michael Clancy is carrying out a hounding campaign based on his own beliefs, not the truth. It’s find to use this photograph as a way of understanding the awesomeness of life and creation, but it is not the truth that Samuel “reached out”. It will never be the truth.

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