The Morality of Abortion

I usually look forward to the Friday evening PBS NewsHour when Mark Shields and David Brooks have a brief time to discuss current news. Not so last night, when both men voiced their dismay over the current effort in Virginia to extend abortion rights through the 3rd trimester.

Neither the so-called liberal (Mark Shields) or conservative (David Brooks) qualified their remarks with an acknowledgement that they were men and didn’t know what it meant to experience pregnancy. Neither one admitted that they had no idea what might force a woman to make such a traumatic decision. They both growled about “infanticide” and “what is this country coming to.”

For shame.

It doesn’t take much intellect or time to discover the reasons a rare late term termination might be needed. All you have to do is read the stories of women who have faced such a terrible choice. But first, let’s get something straight.

Women who go through months of pregnancy are not under any circumstances going to decide on a whim to terminate. Hormonal-driven instinct commands the woman to do everything possible to protect that soon-to-be child. But sometimes hard facts and common sense dictates she make a heart-wrenching decision.

Here’s one woman’s story:

The day of the MRI finally arrived. She was 35 weeks, 0 days. By the end of it, Kate and her husband had the hardest answers they’ve ever received.

Their daughter had moderate to severe Dandy-Walker malformation. But that wasn’t the only diagnosis; Laurel also had a brain condition in which fluid builds up in the ventricles, eventually developing into hydrocephalus and possibly crushing her brain. She had a congenital disorder too, in which there was complete or partial absence of the broad band of nerve fibers joining the two hemispheres of the brain.

What this meant was Laurel was expected to never walk, talk, or swallow. That was if she survived birth.

Kate asked her doctor: “What can a baby like mine do? Sleep all the time?”

“Babies like yours are not generally comfortable enough to sleep,” the neurologist said.

“That is when it became very clear what I wanted to do,” she says. “The MRI really ruled out the possibility of good health for my baby.”[1]

Here’s another couple’s experience:

After seeing the ultrasound at UVA, Lindsey noticed the growth had enveloped half of Omara’s face and spread around her neck to the back of her head. When the doctor entered, they expected the worst. Again, the term lymphangioma came up. But so did cervical teratoma. Only an MRI could determine decisively, but whether it was malignant or benign, it could be fatal to the baby.

“You could just tell the energy in the room was like: you should end it, it’s not going to turn out well,” she says. The doctor told them they could terminate the pregnancy since Omara’s chances of survival were slim. Matt and Lindsey were crushed by the prospect. They wanted to fight.

Twenty days after seeing the first signs of trouble, they learned that Omara had an aggressive form of lymphangioma growing out of her neck. The diagnosis came in the form of a dense two-page MRI report. The fast-growing, inoperable tumor had grown into her brain, heart, and lungs. It had wrapped around her neck, eyes, and deep into her chest. It was so invasive, it was pushing her tongue out of her mouth.

Her chances of living to the age of viability or birth were slim. Lindsey and Matt made the heartbreaking decision to follow through with an abortion at about 24 weeks. They were just a few days away from it being an illegal termination.[2]

Or this:

…our child came with technical terms like hydrocephalus and spina bifida. The spine, she said, had not closed properly, and because of the location of the opening, it was as bad as it got. What they knew — that the baby would certainly be paralyzed and incontinent, that the baby’s brain was being tugged against the opening in the base of the skull and the cranium was full of fluid — was awful. What they didn’t know — whether the baby would live at all, and if so, with what sort of mental and developmental defects — was devastating. Countless surgeries would be required if the baby did live. None of them would repair the damage that was already done.[3]

Other severe fetal abnormalities which might occur:

  • anencephaly, characterized by the absence of the brain and cranium above the base of the skull, leading to death before or shortly after birth.
  • renal agenesis, where the kidneys fail to materialize, leading to death before or shortly after birthlimb-body wall complex, where the organs develop outside of the body cavity
  • neural tube defects such as encephalocele (the protrusion of brain tissue through an opening in the skull), and severe hydrocephaly (severe accumulation of excessive fluid within the brain)
  • meningomyelocele, which is an opening in the vertebrae through which the meningeal sac may protrude
  • caudal regression syndrome, a structural defect of the lower spine leading to neurological impairment and incontinence
  • lethal skeletal dysplasias, where spinal and limb growth are grossly impaired leading to stillbirths, premature birth, and often death shortly after birth, often from respiratory failure[4]

One women described being in labor before the doctors discovered her baby had no skull (anencephaly). Data of such malformed fetuses show that:

7% died in utero
18% died during birth
26% lived between 1 and 60 minutes
27% lived between 1 and 24 hours
17% lived between 1 and 5 days
5% lived 6 or more days[5]

These are cases referred to in recent remarks by Ralph Northam, Virginia’s beleaguered governor, as newborns who would be made comfortable until they die of natural causes.

Let me state unequivocally that the ONLY person(s) who should be involved in a decision about abortion is the woman, her partner, and the physician. No one else can possibly understand all the elements involved in such a decision, nor does anyone have any right to a say in the decision. Certainly the government has no right to decide who is born.;year=2011;volume=6;issue=1;spage=94;epage=95;aulast=Agarwal

These are not only difficult decisions based on a woman’s ruined hopes of giving birth to a healthy child, but also difficult because of outrageous costs involved in keeping a deformed baby alive. Massive expense accrues daily when survival means intensive neonatal care for which most parents are ill-equipped to pay. The expense then falls to the medical community and in most cases is passed off to the government where taxpayers foot the bill.

Why? What is the benefit to taxpayers in keeping alive for a few hours/days/weeks – or in some cases, years—semi-human beings who can never function as a human being? In many ways, we’ve created this problem by advancing science and medicine to a point where extraordinary means can keep a newborn alive when nature would have terminated its life at birth. In many cases, both the mother and fetus would have died.

We as a nation need to get past the idea that every fertilized egg is going to become a normal person.

If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?  I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral. After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments (and if there’s severe mental disability, would never develop such faculties). It makes little sense to keep alive a suffering child who is doomed to die or suffer life in a vegetative or horribly painful state.[6]

We need to encourage women to seek medical opinions in every pregnancy and make use of prenatal testing to the greatest possible extent. When a fetus is found to be compromised, expectant couples should be encouraged to abort instead of shamed for even considering it. Abortion should be available through every gynecologist in every part of the nation.

Already fifty percent of Medicaid dollars are spent on children, many of whom were born with severe defects that can never be cured. These children won’t grow into normal adulthoods no matter how much they’re “mainstreamed” in public schools or how much special treatment they receive. Yet somehow this subject never comes up in discussions about the federal budget and the mushrooming costs of Medicaid.

Is life without mental function “human life”? Is life without capabilities beyond those of a six-month-old “human life?” An advanced civilization should seek quality of life, not quantity. As science and medicine learn more, we become more able to sustain life even in the most vegetative state. At a point where “life” can be created in a petri dish, it’s time we talk about what human life means.

Above all else, we need to respect the individuals confronted with terrible decisions about their potential offspring and let them decide what is best. It’s their DNA, their future. They have the right and responsibility to decide. No one else can.



[2] Ibid





8 thoughts on “The Morality of Abortion

  1. “Women who go through months of pregnancy are not under any circumstances going to decide on a whim to terminate. Hormonal-driven instinct commands the woman to do everything possible to protect that soon-to-be child. But sometimes hard facts and common sense dictates she make a heart-wrenching decision.”

    If this is statement is accurate than who are these born alive survivors from failed abortions? Let me introduce you to a few.

    Gianna’s story:
    Gianna Jessen survived her mother’s late-term, saline abortion. Jessen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to the lack of oxygen during the abortion procedure. But, by age four, Jessen was walking with the assistance of a walker, leg braces, and her foster mother. Today, Jessen walks with only a small limp. She acts as a voice for the voiceless and hope for the hopeless through her pro-life activism.

    Melissa’s story:
    Melissa Ohden’s mother was a 19-year-old college student when she found out she was pregnant. Under the impression she was less than five months pregnant, Ohden’s biological mother had a saline abortion. Ohden survived the abortion, and was found to be approximately seven months gestation. Ohden was adopted, and grew up in a happy, loving family. At just 14 years of age, she would find out something that would forever change her: she survived an abortion procedure. This prompted Ohden to search for her biological parents, whom she has contacted and forgiven for attempting to abort her.

    Claire’s story:
    Clare Culwell’s birth-mother, Tonya Glasby, was 13 years old when she found out she was pregnant. Her parents pressured her into an abortion, and five months into her pregnancy, she chose abortion. However, the doctors did not know Tonya was pregnant with twins, and only aborted one of the babies. Culwell remained alive in her mother’s womb.

    After her abortion, Tonya continued to feel kicking; she realized she was still pregnant. She traveled to another state to have another abortion, but doctors deemed the procedure too risky.

    Clare Culwell was born at seven months gestation with dislocated hips and club feet. Despite the obstacles she faced on account of the abortion, Culwell thrived from a young age.

    Josiah’s story:
    A woman in South Korea was two months pregnant with Josiah Presley, when she decided to have an abortion. A short time after the procedure, she realized that she was still pregnant: the abortion was unsuccessful. At that time, she decided that she would choose life for her baby and give him up for adoption.

    Josiah Presley was born with a maimed left arm as a result of the abortion his birth-mother had.

    Nik’s story:
    In 1996 in Siberia, Russia, Nik Hoot’s mother chose abortion when she was 24 weeks pregnant, and Hoot was born missing parts of both legs and not having fully developed fingers. His parents, Marvin and Apryl Woodburn, came to adopt him after being told by a priest that they “have to respect all forms of life, even those with disabilities.”

    At just two years old, Hoot was given his first pair of prosthetic legs. After just a couple of weeks, he was walking around on his own. He developed a love for sports and played football, baseball, basketball, and today, is a wrestling star. He persevered through his disability.

    So you see, attempted abortion can also cause a disability when before there was none.

    Thank you for your time,

    1. Those are certainly tragic examples of failed procedures, but are you saying that this justifies government policy banning abortion? Do you not value a woman’s right to choose what happens inside her own body? Is the fetus more important than the woman?

      1. Before conception occurs a woman does have a choice 99% of the time. Whether intended or not the child is created due to a choice made, it did not create itself. I believe every human being, born and unborn, are of equal value and should be protected.

        I do have a question from one woman to another. Are you going to see Unplanned? I did and it is definitely a hard film to watch. It does show both sides and honestly everyone regardless of where they stand should see it as we all should be able to see what we support.

  2. It’s a clever sound bite to say women “have a choice” before having sex but really only that. And I’m fully aware that many people share your opinion about when ‘life’ begins. But I don’t see a lot of women rushing out to have a burial for a fetus miscarried after one or two months. I agree with Barbara Bush’s view that ‘life’ begins at birth. So we may have different views about that point, but whatever our views, my opinion should not force you to abort a pregnancy any more than your opinion should force me to give birth to an unwanted or genetically impaired child.

    1. I don’t really understand the meaning of your first sentence. Is there another way to conceive a child? I realize we have advanced technology that includes IVF and other such ways that a couple can start a family, but most are able to achieve this the old fashioned way.

      Yes, I believe life begins at conception. Science seems to share and confirm this. (Below) But I do agree that based on our beliefs of when life begins would have an impact on our view of abortion.

      “The conclusion that human life begins at sperm-egg fusion is uncontested, objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other and on ample scientific evidence (thousands of independent, peer-reviewed publications). Moreover, it is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos.”

      Thank you,

  3. On your reply about miscarriages. My daughter was a twin (baby A) and at 8 weeks gestation I saw her via ultrasound for the first time. I won’t go into details, but up until this point I had some issues, so for my husband and I to see her and hear her heartbeat was unexpected, but joyous. Unexpected because I feared, along with my OB that we had an unviable pregnancy. Much to our surprise and delight we saw baby B as well that day. Our babies were both there that day, but baby B was smaller and had a weaker heartbeat. And baby A had a pocket of blood right beside her that was even larger than she was. So, we still had some worries.

    Skip forward and I go back for my 12 week appointment. Good news is pocket of blood completely gone besides baby A and she is doing well. Bad news baby B is gone, vanished. To say we were heartbroken is an understatement. I still to this day wonder about my other baby. We are blessed to have our daughter, and I love her more than life itself, but I’ll never forget I’m a mother to two children.

    1. I think each mother has indescribable fears and joys in the process of producing a new life into the world. None of us should be forced to do what our instincts tell us might be wrong for us and our families.

  4. I understand what your implying, but I also don’t think the child in question should pay with their life. That seems a much more permanent punishment for merely existing. I believe the right to life should apply for every human being starting at conception. So I suppose we’ll just agree to disagree on this.

    While I have a different belief than yours I thank you for your reading and responding to mine.

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