Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Compassion Challenge

Fetal anomalies are supposed to be the no brainers (uh,no pun intended). They’re supposed to be heartbreaking, but they’re also supposed to be the cases that make the most on-the-fencers say, “Well, who would argue with abortion in a tragic case like that?” When I started working at the clinic, though, those cases were the most difficult ones for me.

When I was seven years old, my sibling was born with birth defects ranging from the cosmetic to the inconvenient to the life-threatening. This was the 1980s, when there wasn’t so much prenatal screening for anomalies, so my parents expected a perfectly healthy baby right up until delivery. And because it was the 1980s, there was also enough technology to help my sibling to survive—not the case if they had been born years earlier.

When I began working at the clinic, I was faced with parents who had very much wanted pregnancies that had been diagnosed with anomalies that lead them to terminate. Some of them had an anencephaly diagnosis, but others “only” had Down Syndrome, and some had the very same birth defects that my sibling had. Forgetting about CHOICE, I slid into wondering why a parent wouldn’t want an imperfect, yet completely wonderful child I felt like I could believe that because my sibling was that child.

The longer I worked at the clinic, the more fetal anomalies I was exposed to, and the more stories I heard. And it was no longer the issue of having a flawless baby with ten fingers and ten toes and 100% functioning organs. I saw that it was about what the parents were capable of and what their support network was and what their resources were. I saw that it was only luck that my parents had good insurance coverage, brilliant doctors, amazing friends, stable jobs and clear mindsets that allowed them to cope with my sibling’s medical issues in such a way that made everything seem so straightforward and simple to me, the other sibling.

A lot of pregnancies I see at work are wanted, even if they aren’t planned, even if the boyfriend is a jerk and the woman is still in school or even on drugs. Some women really want the baby, but it’s the circumstances and the future that they don’t want, and that tells them that they won’t really be able to support this pregnancy. It’s no different for clients who have fetal anomaly diagnoses, I realized. I softened my opinion of these clients, and I’ve even counseled women who bring medical records noting the exact same birth defects that my sibling had. And I wasn’t even tempted to think, “You know, it’s not that bad.” Instead, all I could think was, “How heartbreaking that you had to make this choice, but how fortunate that you have a choice.”

And for the record, my parents and my sibling know where I work and what I do, and they are completely pro-choice, in ALL circumstances.


  1. this is interesting. i had a coworker who said she still feels a little weird when a patient has a twin gestation - because she is a twin. i guess those cases feel more personal to her. but she plans to stay in the field so i assume this is something that's still evolving for her.

  2. It's funny, because I've known Abortioneers who are disabled. Luckily they don't buy into the eugenics theory of abortion, and realize that, like any serious life decision, abortion is a personal and sacred experience. And if you flip the script, those of use Ab'eers without disabilities don't feel weird when a "healthy" pregnancy is terminated. Like, why would you abort if there's nothing wrong, duh.

  3. Wait! People don't choose whether or not to terminate pregnancies? GOD DOES.

  4. Thank you for speaking form your own, real experience.

    I was incredibly moved by an NPR interview with Ayelet Waldman in May. She shared the raw details of her own decision-making process when confronted with an unintended-pregnancy-mishap during an otherwise intended pregnancy.

    Link to the interview is listed in the left-hand column: Fresh Air with Terry Gross, 5/5/09...

  5. anti-anti, yeah -- i've had coworkers and colleagues who have disabilities too, and i'd count some of them among the most pro-choice people i know. from our conversations, what seems to thread it all together for them (like for me) is that abortion isn't about a list of "good" or "bad" pregnancies that some arbiter does or doesn't understand wanting to terminate -- it's about all reproductive choices being personal and explanations not being required...and ultimately about social justice, bodily liberty, and all that. well, you know where i'm going with this ramble.


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.