Friday, April 19, 2013

Selective abortion: A choice or a social expectation?

When I was pregnant with my second child I had an amniocentesis—not because I wanted one or knew how I would act on the informationbut because I feared people would judge me if my second child was born with disabilities.

I feared people would say I'd chosen to have a child with disability, rather than that I'd chosen not to abort.

The testing was recommended because my first child had a random genetic condition. "I understand why you'd want to do everything in your power to prevent having a second abnormal baby," the obstetrician in the testing clinic said dryly.

I remained silent, not wishing to discuss my views on disability prevention or my son. The amnio came back normal and I didn't have to wrestle with my views on prenatal testing and abortion.

A week ago Andrew Solomon had an interesting piece in The New Yorker called Medical Progress, Social Progress, and Legal Regression.

While arguing against North Dakota's new laws that ban abortions for conditions like Down syndrome or spina bifida, he questions how informed decisions are when a woman doesn't have information about families raising children with the same condition her fetus has.

"Women often terminate a pregnancy without knowing what life would be like with and for an anomalous child," he writes. "It is worth publicizing the satisfaction that the experience may entail, so that the pro-choice movement becomes the pro-informed-choice movement."

Parents-to-be often "confuse how it feels to lose an ability (to be suddenly bereft of hearing) with how it feels to live healthily with a variant body (to be deaf all your life)," he writes. "Further, they confuse their own discomfort with their child’s."

Solomon points to a fascinating study that shows how people judge women who carry a baby with an identified disability to term or refuse prenatal testing. 

The survey asked 281 staff at a Canadian university and 341 Canadian doctors who work in obstetrics to rate three scenarios in which a woman's child is born with a disability. The first woman chose not to have testing, against the advice of her doctor. The second chose to continue her pregnancy after testing identified a disability. The third was not offered testing by her doctor.

Participants were asked to rate how responsible each woman was for the disabled child and how much to blame. They also had to score how much each woman deserved sympathy, and how deserving each was of social services and financial aid to help her care for the child.

"Numerous examinations of attributions for outcomes have concluded that individuals are held more to blame for a negative event when it is perceived as being under their control or preventable," the researcher notes.

Both the university community and the doctors rated the woman who chose not to abort her disabled fetus and the woman who refused prenatal testing as more responsible, more to blame, less deserving of sympathy, and less deserving of social and financial support for their child's care than the woman who wasn't offered testing.

"This examination is of pragmatic relevance because of a growing sentiment that prenatal testing can and should be used to meet public economic goals by reducing the financial burden that disability places on the medical and social welfare systems, and that women who do not use it to prevent the birth of a disabled child should be held financially or legally accountable."

The key phrase here is "prevent the birth of a disabled child." Abortion doesn't prevent disability. It prevents the birth of a child who has a disability. They are two quite different things. 

I was surprised to see that this study was 10 years old. I think public opinion about women who don't abort for fetal disability has hardened since then.


It seems very telling and hypocritical to me in a world that supposedly embraces differences, that if you could prevent a person with a difference from being born by not allowing them to be born some would expect you to do so. I won't say any more about my own feelings than that, because just that hypocrisy alone makes my blood pressure rise.

It is truly scary stuff and most react out of fear. My youngest is 13 yr old with Trisomy 18. We had a prenatal diagnosis. We were afraid and for a very brief moment acknowledged the "offer" to "interrupt" the pregnancy and go on with our lives. I am so grateful for the lessons and blessing and the incredible people my daughter has brought to our lives! Thanks, Terre

I find it selfish and exceedingly optimistic to assume that a child with a high risk of disability will be born with minor defects. Thank you for not putting a glossy smile on such an important topic.

As a parent with 2 special needs kids, I fully understand how my life could push a parent to the edge. It often does. Bankruptcy, depression, and divorce is the norm for families with special needs children. To me, that is the opposite of enriching the world.

I interact with kids whose parents chose to birth a child on a hope and prayer. We love our kids but the sacrifice is beyond comprehension. Responsible adults research the condition and openly assess their capabilities. Selective abortion is self-preservation, an innate human instinct. No person should be guilted for trusting herself.