Thursday, October 18, 2007

What a Real Abortion Decision Looks Like

The tragedy of most moral debates in the political realm or even the classroom is that they are always construed in abstract and absolute terms. This is especially true when it comes to abortion. It has been my experience that those who take the most absolutist stances (with the exception of Rick Santorum) have never faced any of the real situations in which a woman (and her partner) must make the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. Sadly, I found out yesterday that a friend of mine is facing a very difficult decision regarding her pregnancy and I want to share it with my readers to stress--once again--that the decision to terminate a pregnancy belongs to the parents, not the politicians, churches, or even the medical establishment.

Fiona is 41 years old. A month ago her husband called us to let us know they were expecting their first child! We were excited for them and looking forward to our children growing up together. Because of Fiona's age, she and her husband underwent genetic counseling and prenatal tests. Unfortunately, the laboratory took their own sweet time to return the results of these tests and now, 5 months into her pregnancy, she has discovered that her husband is recessive for Tay-Sachs disease and the tests to determine whether or not she was came back inconclusive.

Tay-Sachs is a horrible genetic disease that has no cure and always results in death by age 4. Here is an excerpt from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first few months of life. Then, as nerve cells become distended with fatty material, a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities occurs. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to atrophy and paralysis sets in. Other neurological symptoms include dementia, seizures, and an increased startle reflex to noise.
So here is the situation the couple find themselves in. Fiona is 5 months pregnant, very attached and excited about her baby girl, but knows that there is a greater than normal risk that this child will be born with Tay-Sachs. In order to better determine what that risk is, she needs to undergo another screening, but the results take even longer this time because they involve cell cultures. By the time she gets the results, she will most likely be in her third trimester or near her third trimester. If the tests show her child has Tay-Sachs, then she has to figure out how to get a late term abortion or choose to have the child and watch it suffer a horrible demise and death. Neither of these choices are easy to make.

It is precisely these real life decisions that have committed me to reproductive freedom for women. The idea that someone besides Fiona and her husband could make a better decision about what to do in this situation is just plain insane.

It is also worth noting here how inhumane the lab was in not getting this result back to her in a timely manner. When physicians or lab technicians screw up in delivering information during a pregnancy, it sets up unbelievably difficult moral dilemmas. One would hope that if the wacko anti-choice politicians are going to decide who can get an abortion, that at least the medical establishment would not bungle prenatal care in such a way that makes it extremely difficult to have any real choices to make.