Why Later Abortions Must Always be an Option

7 Mar

A brave couple shared their story of the consequences of being denied an abortion in the Des Moines Register last week. Danielle and Robb detail the heartbreaking weeks they endured after finding out the fetus that in their minds was to become a healthy baby girl would most likely die, and would never have anything resembling a normal life.  Because they were past 20 weeks gestational age, a newly-enacted law in Nebraska prevented them from obtaining an abortion.  Eight days later, a severely premature infant was born and died within 15 minutes.

I had a patient in a similar position.  But her story ends differently.

Maria’s* early ultrasound showed a normal pregnancy, and everything went according to plan until her 20-week ultrasound.  That ultrasound looked abnormal, and she returned for a more detailed look a week later.  That was when she found out the fetus she was carrying, the baby girl she was dreaming of holding in a few months, had severe brain and spine abnormalities.  At this point Maria was at 21 weeks. She had two choices in front of her: have an abortion or continue the pregnancy.  We talked about her options, and she decided that the prospect of waiting for the fetus to die inside her, or giving birth to an infant who would know nothing but pain for no more than a few days in her life, was a more heart-wrenching option than an abortion would be for her.

Because she lives in New York, we could schedule for her abortion just a few days later.  It was hard for her, and she was sad afterward. But Maria wasn’t grieving because of the abortion; she was mourning the loss of that baby girl she had dreamed of.

Maria was confronted with two undesirable options.  When she thought about what was best for her child, her decision was to spare her the agony of the few hours or days of pain that would have been the entirety of her life.  She made a considered, moral decision, and made one of the most difficult choices any parent could ever be required to make.

Maria soon became pregnant again and now has a healthy 20-month-old daughter.  When I think about later abortions, I don’t think about “irresponsible” teenagers, substance abusers, or women who are making “lifestyle” choices.  I think about Maria, and I think about all the women who confront these choices.  I also think about those who have no choice, like Danielle and Robb.  They are why we keep fighting for abortion rights in the second trimester and beyond.  The Nebraska legislature has no right to force parenting decisions on its constituents, nor does any government actor.

*Name changed.

2 Responses to “Why Later Abortions Must Always be an Option”

  1. Katy March 8, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    I’m just wondering why by ‘sparing her daughter of the agony and pain’ that she would endure, does it make it any different to put her child through the agony of an abortion? I’m honestly just curious to understand the logic behind that thought process. Thanks!🙂

  2. NYCprochoiceMD March 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    Hi Katy. As you may be aware, there is argument between the
    pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights camps about when fetal
    pain exists. I’ve seen nobody make any plausible claim to pain being
    possible before 20 weeks, and the preponderance of evidence and
    scientific opinion indicates no ability to perceive pain before 24
    weeks. This is based on the development of the nervous system; the
    connections between body and brain that can transmit and perceive pain are not
    formed until at least 24 weeks.

    If an abortion is done after a point where the fetus can perceive
    pain, the method for providing an abortion induces the rapid death of
    the fetus using a drug that immediately stops the heart. So even if
    the fetus can perceive pain, that pain is for about 5-10 seconds. If
    we compare this to the torturous process of birth (being squeezed
    through the cervix and vaginal canal), preceded by hours or days of
    contractions (forceful muscle compressions), followed by several hours
    or days of gasping for breath before dying, many people would argue
    that the 5-10 seconds of pain involved in the abortion is less
    traumatic to the fetus than hours or days of pain, or even months if
    the family chooses resuscitation.

    Anti-abortion advocates spend a lot of time trying to convince people
    that fetuses and embryos can feel pain in the hopes that people will
    be convinced that this is a justification to prohibit abortion. The
    fact is that embryos and fetuses do not have a nervous system capable
    of perceiving pain. In the rare situation that the fetus is developed
    enough to perceive pain, a drug is used to immediately induce death
    before the procedure is done.

    In any case, abortion is far less painful than childbirth for an
    infant capable of perceiving pain. The pain a fetus feels while being
    born is justified by a happy healthy life afterward. Whether that
    pain is justified for an infant who will survive only hours is a
    question only his or her parents can answer.

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