The Abortion of the Wanted Child

Everyone is discussing this piece, by Ruth Padawer, that ran in the New York Times, and, since it is infuriating, I figured I would too.  Ms. Padawer has written a hard-hitting piece.  I think it presents all views as fairly as can be expected and it does not mince words.  Full disclosure, it took me three attempts to read it through.  I then sent a very annoyed letter to the author because I felt she was justifying something that is wrong.  While I still feel that this is an attempt at justification, perhaps I did not give the writer enough credit for revealing what has been, and continues to be, a somewhat hidden aspect of both abortion practice and artificial fertility treatments.  Please, if this topic is of interest to you, read it all.

The article discusses women who have had fertility treatment(s) and who found themselves carrying twins (in one case triplets) as a result and who chose to “reduce their pregnancies” to only one fetus.

This is sufficiently taboo that all but one of the interviewees requested anonymity (and hey, I’m jocon307, so I’ve got nothing against anonymity); one woman didn’t even want her initial used.  That verges on the paranoid, but again, I can relate.

Why this subject is so charged is due to the fact that in vitro fertilization treatments (IVF) often involve the implantation of multiple fertilized eggs, in the hopes that at least one will implant in the uterus and grow to full term.

One of the side effects of this approach has been undesired multiple implantations.  I remember reading a short story years ago, I can only remember the final line: My God, I’m having a litter.  I’m not sure if the woman in the story had even had fertility treatments, but unless one is demented like the so-called Octomom, no one craves having a “litter” of children.

And there’s the rub.  Twins has never been considered a litter.  Twins are uncommon, certainly, but they are often naturally occurring both in the fraternal and identical versions.

One woman is even quoted in the story as saying that had she conceived her twins “naturally” she would not have aborted one of them.

This article reveals that abortion has truly become an “on demand” procedure to be used as part of a range of on demand reproductive services.  It is clear that to these folks it is no longer about “the children” it is about fulfilling their own, highly particularized needs.

To a large extent abortion was always about “Choice”, arguments about “wanted” children not withstanding.  But this is not what one was told the expensive, invasive and ethically complex process of IVF was supposed to be about. That was supposed to be about bringing the miracle of children to infertile couples who could not, or did not wish to, adopt children.  But, maybe that never really was the intent.  Maybe, like abortion and no-fault divorce and so many other things in the modern world, it was always about “self actualization”.

There are several women in this story who already have one or several children and that is part of why they don’t want the burden of caring for twins.

There is a lesbian couple who decided to both undergo fertility treatments at the same time.   Why they thought THAT was a good idea, I can’t imagine.  After many attempts one of the woman gave birth to a son, after another round one remains pregnant with the remaining twin from a “reduced” pregnancy.  In addition to these children there were miscarriages of three others along the way, including another set of IVF conceived twins.

So it becomes rather tangled.

These women are going to great lengths to conceive children, and then find themselves in a “I want to have my cake and not eat it too” situation.

And I think this is where people start to tell themselves lies, and as we all know, nobody can lie to a person as well as herself.

One of the most sensitive decisions is which fetus to abort.  Generally the doctor makes this choice based on strictly utilitarian reasons, such as location in the uterus.  However, if the twins are different sexes some doctors will ask which sex the parents prefer.  The article goes on to say “Until the last decade, most doctors refused even to broach that question, but that ethical demarcation has eroded, as ever more patients lobby for that option and doctors discover that plenty opt for girls.”

Now, this is a good example of the self-comforting hokum that advocates of radical reproductive choices tell themselves. Sure, plenty of people “opt for girls”, but I doubt anyone is keeping any stats on this.  The article does not discuss the problems of increasingly uneven birthrates between boys and girls that is already happening in China and India. (That’s not intended as a criticism, that’s a  really long story for another day.)  My guess would be that in the U.S., as the number of patients receiving fertility treatments comes to include an increasing number of women from certain ethnic backgrounds, they will continue their cultural preference for boys.

I highly doubt this would ever increase to a point where it would distort the balance of the U.S. population, but it can hardly be counted as a victory for Feminism.

As we go further into the ethical wild west it is impossible to know what repercussions lie ahead of us.  As the article says “Even if parents work hard to conceal it, the child may discover the full story of his or her origins, and we don’t know what feelings of guilt or vulnerability or loss this discovery might summon.”  One woman is quoted as saying she intends to tell her child the story in the future.  I won’t give any unsolicited advice, but her child is a girl, I had one of those and I was one of those and all I can say is that’s going to be some conversation.

Several years ago there was an article, which I think also ran in the Times, where the author discussed her own decision to reduce her pregnancy (I forget from how many to how many children).  The quote scandaleux from that piece was she didn’t want to have so many children because it would turn her into the kind of person who bought giant jars of mayonnaise at Costco.  Well, as my mother used to always say: if that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you….  The author published the piece under her own name, so I suppose her child(ren) will read all about it some day.  I’m sure they will feel sad.  I certainly hope they will still honor their mother.  I’m not sure how they are going to feel about the mayo.

One reads more and more articles about children who are the offspring of women who chose not to have a father in the child’s life, regardless of the method of conception.  Many of these children long for their fathers, and really who can blame them?

Children are people, they are not dolls or pets.  They are well aware of their God-given rights, whether they can articulate this at various ages or even agree with it sociopolitically.  I can’t imagine how someone would react to finding out his or her parent chose death for their twin.

Hey, kids are a lot of work.  I only had one, so maybe I’m not one to talk.  But these are intelligent women we are talking about.  And I wonder if they are not kidding themselves.  Ms. Padawer discussed her own experience with twins, saying “There’s no doubt that life with twins and a third child so close in age has often felt all-consuming and out of control. And yet the thought of not having any one of them is unbearable now, because they are no longer shadowy fetuses but full-fledged human beings whom I love in a huge and aching way. ”

I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I don’t think she loves her children in a “huge and aching way” because they are full-fledged human beings, but because they are her children.

Down through the ages parents have sacrificed for their children.  In recent decades the concept of sacrificing so one’s child could have a better life than his or her parents has come to be considered a  part of the “American Dream”.  In myth and history there are many instances where children have been required to sacrifice for their parents, sometimes with their lives.  It is disturbing to see this ethos returning and really, for so little.  There are not kingdoms at stake here, certainly no gods to appease.

The women in this article may feel, may actually be, overwhelmed.  But they are absolutely not the poor, alone, desperate “in trouble” women for whose needs we have always been told abortion must be kept safe and legal and (we hope) rare, to borrow President Clinton’s oft quoted phrase.

These are all abortions of wanted children and it is extremely disturbing.




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2 responses to “The Abortion of the Wanted Child

  1. Ellen Evans

    Jess, what your post here and the original article have in common is that both are measured, thoughtful takes on what is, as you say, an extremely disturbing issue. A quote from Dr. Naomi Bloomfield in Ms. Padawer’s original piece:

    “I couldn’t have imagined reducing twins for nonmedical reasons, but I had an amnio and would have had an abortion if I found out that one of the babies had an anomaly, even if it wasn’t life-threatening. I didn’t want to raise a handicapped child. Some people would call that selfish, but I wouldn’t. Parents who abort for an anomaly just don’t want that life for themselves, and it’s their prerogative to fashion their lives how they want. Is terminating two to one really any different morally?”

    Has she not perfectly defined “selfish,” in her very denial, here? And she is probably right, that there is no (or little) difference in the morality of the two decisions. Sure, it is our prerogative to :fashion our lives as we wish – and face the consequences (and consequences there will surely be).

    Thanks for the link to what is probably the most respectably written, most fact-based piece of reporting I have seen from the NYT in many years. And thanks even more for your own excellent take.

  2. Thanks!
    This piece really infuriating me when I first read it. But, I finally had to admit it was well written (and some of the situations are complex, it took me some time just so give the thumbnail of the the gay gals), very detailed, and gave more space to differing views than I would have expected.

    I think there is a long term risk in thinking you can control your life. And I think that attitude is, in general, leading to over-caution, amoung some other bad results.

    I’ve read a couple of very good pieces from the TImes lately, well only when I stumble onto them. But I’ve been a little shocked. One was really good, it was in Science Times, maybe it’ll come back to me. (I can search through my Freeper pings, lol, but that would take a while).

    But I guess they are striving to continue to be trend setting, because on Friday they ran this piece “My Husband is Now My Wife”.


    I was going to say something about that too, and then I just said “ohjustforgetaboutit!”

    I want to do something a little more, and much more broadly, about what I think is the Left’s distorted attitude toward Science because I’m tired of hearing how religious conservatives are anti-science, but that’s for later.

    Thanks for reading my blog!

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