In response to the assassination of George Tiller, a number of blogs have posted testimonials from women who had late term abortions. Poignantly, most of the women wanted the babies. In some cases, the babies were dead or dying within the womb. Hilzoy has several examples at The Washington Monthly.
One woman in the eighth month found out that she had conjoined twins. One of the twins had died. And the other was unlikely to survive:
“At best only one child would survive the surgery to separate them and the survivor would more than likely live a brief and painful life filled with surgery and organ transplants. We were advised that our options were to deliver into the world a child who’s life would be filled with horrible pain and suffering or fly out to Wichita Kansas and to terminate the pregnancy under the direction of Dr. George Tiller.”
Another woman discovered that one of her twins had died and that delivering the other would likely have killed her.
One who couldn’t find a doctor to do a late term abortion — even though the baby was already dead in the womb.
Another twice opted for a “partial birth” abortions after learning the babies had “no faces, with no way to eat or breathe,” and would die almost immediately after birth.
I hadn’t realized that. We so often talk about the issue being the “life or health” of the mother. But it sounds like sometimes the issue is that the baby is already dying or will die soon after birth. In that sense, some partial birth abortions are more like euthenasia or a mercy killing — still a difficult ethical dilemma but not exactly the same as heartless homocide. I have no idea how many late term abortions fit into this category.
Why don’t we talk about this as a criterion for late term abortions? It seems that the most humane approach would be to ban the procedures unless not doing it would endanger the life of the mother, lead to serious health risks and/or if there’s a high likelihood that the baby would die within the first weeks anyway.
I put “and/or” because I’m not sure whether likely infant death by itself should be justification. If the baby is going to die but giving birth poses no risk to the mother, it may be that the law needs to, reluctantly, err on the side of fetus. (And what about the babies that could survive a few years but would be in continuous pain? What should the law say about that?)
What’s also clear from these stories is that some babies would survive but be in constant pain, draw huge medical bills and inflict incredible trauma on the parents. So here’s another potential area of common ground: pro-life and pro-choice groups should band together to raise money (or pass a law) to pay those medical bills and emotional support for families that end up in that situation. And volunteers should work to help that family through the ordeal.
Hilzoy offered these stories as a defense of Tiller and, presumably, to reinforce the argument that it should be a woman’s right to make this horrible choice. But I’m not sure they prove the latter. In these stories, the medical conditions were such that bringing in a second doctor to validate the recommendation of an abortion provider would not have changed the outcome. In other words, with a properly crafted late term abortion ban, these would still be allowed.
UPDATE: Another poignant example provided by Andrew Sullivan. A couple was told their baby had anencephaly,- a condition where the fetus’ skull does not completely close:
“The babyThey were told the child would die before, or shortly after, birth…It was an agonizing decision, but they chose not to have the abortion for religious reasons. The pregnancy went to term and the baby lived for several weeks.
Imagine what it is like to walk around in your third trimester, obviously pregnant, while well-meaning people ask you about this baby that you don’t expect to be taking home from the hospital… Then imagine the baby survives and days later you take home this child who will die. In case you might relax and pretend for a little while that everything is okay, a hospice nurse comes to your house every couple of days and reminds you the signs and symptoms of death. Every time you open the refrigerator you see the narcotics you’ve been given to ease the baby’s suffering once things get really bad.”
Eventually, this baby dies a grueling death in your arms and you go home to an empty house….”