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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Has the woman's right to choose gone too far?

When it comes to abortion, I often find myself with one leg straddling each side of the fence: while it's never a choice I hope to have to make, I think it's a deeply personal issue that's between a woman, her doctor, the baby's father, and God. Unfortunately, because of our "right to choose," have we often eliminated everyone but ourselves in that equation? Is it really just about us, and no one else?

Like many women, I don't know if I could make that decision even if it meant dire straits for me. Most mothers would willingly sacrifice their lives for their children, but anymore we are being told that's only okay some of the time. If you want the baby, that's okay; if you don't want to keep the baby, then forget everything and put yourself first. If there is a fetal anomaly, they tell us, it's murky but usually perfectly acceptable to abort based on test results that indicate something might be wrong. Many terminations for fetal anomalies take place because of a problem that is incompatible with life, and I guess I can understand that.

But the "right to choose" starts crossing gray areas when you abort for disabilities that can be corrected: club foot, for instance (a birth defect both myself, my father and my son were all born with). Cleft palate is completely correctible but might leave some obvious scars, but hasn't stopped some people from aborting anyway. Where do you draw the line? At some point, are we engaging in more social engineering to create 'the perfect child?'

That said, I'm not really here to debate abortion in and of itself, just some of those areas where we're unsure - like in this case: mothers who "reduce" the number of fetuses they're carrying for social reasons.

But here's the kicker: Jenny, the mother, is older (which predisposes her to multiples) and she was undergoing fertility treatments - another almost surefire way to guarantee you'll be taking home more than one bundle of joy from the hospital.

Ever since I read that article, I just can't seem to wrap my head around that idea. If you're ill and birth control failed, I can understand that. I've known at least one friend - an evangelical Christian - who terminated an essentially non-viable tubal pregnancy because it could have killed her. But this - just because you only wanted one child and think you can't handle any more than that? I don't get it.

Jenny didn't want to look at the ultrasound screen during the "procedure," because this is "no blob of cells," this is an already formed fetus at around 12 weeks old, with finger- and toenails forming. A tactic often used by the pro-life movement, it puts a face on the child you're carrying, and often resulted in women changing their minds about going through with it. After all, if you don't look at the screen, you can't see movement, the baby sucking its thumb or hiccuping.

A fascinating debate unfolded in the comments section of this article, and many people - even some who claimed to be pro-choice - were left shaking their heads in disgust. It also caused many pro-choice advocates to rethink their stance on the right to choose, and how that right has essentially turned into something much, much different than originally planned. I applaud their ability to perhaps reexamine their stance and question the moral and ethical lines that this issue has crossed.

As the sole bearer of a pregnancy, it seems we have taken that power to extremes and used it in ways that give us unimaginable power over another human being - and not just the potential life that we're carrying. While the pro-choice culture seems to do everything in their power to demonize "sperm donors" as uncaring and uninterested (which many of them are, admittedly), I've heard from many heartsick dads who desperately want the woman - the mother of their child - to reconsider before having an abortion. They want to raise the child, even terminating the mother's rights if that's what she wants, so they can be the dad they feel responsible for being. But they're basically told "it's the mother's right to choose, buddy" and that he has no recourse whatsoever in seeing his offspring into this world. Because it's her womb, he's basically shit out of luck.

On the flip side, there are those women who unintentionally get pregnant and want to keep the baby, but the father does not. Perhaps both of them thought they were protected by birth control, and were using it correctly but something obviously failed. Should he be forced into being a father, even after taking reasonable measures to protect himself? If neither party expected the birth control to fail, even after using it responsibly, then what? I have no real answer for that one. But I bet the court system does: it's called child support.

When a father wants to walk away, we hear "he needs to man up and take responsibility for his baby." But just by virtue of the fact that she has all the right "parts," the same does not apply to her. 

Jenny is just one of many who virtually strong-armed her doctor into performing the procedure, and still "resents" that a doctor refused her. How can she ethically force someone else's hand to be part and parcel to her idea of a "perfect" family? Is it fair, or ethical? Do these people even care?

As far as Jenny is concerned, I see a common line of bizarre reasoning pop up when she voices her concerns: how will I have enough love for all my children? I don't want to neglect my older children and be a "second rate" parent, whatever that means. How will I be able to provide for those children? Those fears are not uncommon, even among mothers of singletons. And yet, once that child (or children) is born, you suddenly forget all about that and focus on your child. And no doubt, you just do it. I know my kids would probably be thrilled at the idea of having two babies in the house, but it seems few think of consulting the remaining siblings in the family. What if they say, "Sure mom, that's great. We'll do whatever we can to support you?"

Some of the comments came from parents of twins, one mother flatly stating, "I wouldn't wish twins on anyone." That makes it sound like a death sentence; as if anyone who conceives twins is doomed to failure and can't possibly take on the task. Culturally we've come to see children as an inconvenience, and something about these women suggests that they want to control the conception, the pregnancy and the birth, right down to the letter. Perhaps these are the mystery women we keep hearing about that want to schedule their inductions and planned cesareans around their work schedule? I'm sure they exist, somewhere.

Yet, women living in the 21st century have more access than ever to toys, television, video games, high-tech cribs and all kinds of stuff to keep kids busy. Strollers, Moby wraps and Baby Einstein were completely unheard of in our grandmother's generation. I once told my dad, "I don't know how your mother did it with seven children and no stroller or playpen." He just laughed - because that was what you did - you just did it. Because they were your children and you loved them. I think we have this idea that every woman everywhere was tied down to the bed during ovulation every month so that she would immediately become pregnant with 14 children during the course of her lifetime. While there are women in my distant lineage who fit that description - probably a baby every 18 months or so - they weren't all that common. I think we take that information and apply it to our own lives, in a modern sense, and think "Dear God, how insane is that? How could you possibly handle all those children?" Since we can't travel back in time to ask Great Grandma Mabel herself, we probably won't really know the answer to that question.

The one major problem I have with Jenny's situation is that she never gave it a chance. You can assume, based on how high energy your toddler is (come on, what toddler isn't high energy?!) that you couldn't do it. I would venture a guess that yes, it's pretty tiring and emotionally draining at first to raise twins, just like it often is with singletons. In retrospect, some singletons are probably even more "work" than twins would be - but you can never know for sure. When I think of the people I know who, before modern ultrasound, didn't even know they were having twins until mom suddenly got the urge to push one more time - I think, "Ha - you think you've got it bad?!" At first, it's a shock, but then you step back, reexamine your priorities and pull your head out of your ass and say, "Okay, I can do this." Especially since I basically predisposed myself to this "problem" to begin with.

I question her motives for terminating based on what her life is like now, before having another baby - because our typical American culture is so beyond spoiled that real, true poverty is virtually unheard of for us. Perhaps for some they are truly scrimping and saving as much as they can; for others it means they'd have to get rid of a third car and send their kids to public school instead of private, and well, that's just unacceptable. I know at least one couple who are struggling through adoption, and I speculate it's because they do not want to risk having their own biological child due to his hereditary heart defect. Are their fears grounded? Probably. But instead they have chosen not to create that life in the first place, rather than take a chance and then renege like Jenny seems to have.

There are some who believe if an abortion is sought, it should strictly be used for dire circumstances. There are also those who believe, as one commenter did, that a woman should have a right to choose at any time during her pregnancy. As we saw in the recent murder case of Dr. Tiller, he often aborted babies very late in pregnancy, often near term, which probably makes even some of the most hard-core activists squirm. As it should - because, we can argue, that at that stage in the game a baby can survive, even with some theoretically minor complications, but still have a quality of life. If they were all medical terminations, you'd think whatever was so life-threatening would have claimed the mother's life before 40 weeks gestation. To me, Jenny's situation is more like a designer pregnancy - where parents and doctors can basically socially engineer the "perfect child." One OB in the article says she would definitely terminate if an anomaly were found; and reducing a pregnancy is just engineering that family size to better suit your supposed wants and needs. How is it really any different than say, sex selection in India or China - which is still based on cultural beliefs and expectations, just different ones, perhaps.

It's easy to say, as Jenny did, "don't judge" - which sounds, anymore, like code speak for "Don't judge me, because I don't want to be held accountable for my actions," however morally repugnant they might be. We certainly "judged" women like Susan Smith, Andrea Yates and Casey Anthony for their part in the deaths of their children - who, one can argue, at least had the opportunity to live a life, no matter how short. Like one commenter said, "What's the difference if you give birth to twins and then stab one of them?" A few weeks, maybe months. The behaviors we observe on ultrasound at 12 weeks aren't much different than those seen in a newborn, except that they can live and breathe outside the womb.

When you have even pro-choice advocates questioning their stance, it becomes clear that the "freedom to choose" has become completely manipulated and abused, to the point where it has morphed into something totally different than what it originally set out to be. And now, as a result you see almost a callous lack of appreciation for human life - which you can't deny at 12 weeks gestation. I've seen much of that same coldness in many teens facing pregnancy today.

It seems like Jenny's biggest problem is that she sees life as a guarantee, when it really isn't: there is nothing saying that she wouldn't miscarry the remaining baby, experience a still birth at 38 weeks, or her husband wouldn't drop dead of a heart attack the day after she came home from the hospital. Some in the article talk at length about all the risks of having a twin pregnancy, yet in the same breath we tell women, "Pregnancy is not an illness!" And I'm sure many of the supposed risks and fears Jenny and others were gripped by would, like they often are with everyone else, never be fully realized. Like the last couple mentioned in the article, who were both expecting twins at the same time, they reduced and then later miscarried anyway. They have to ask themselves, was it all worth it? Are we really exercising our right to choose, or playing God?


CR said...

I love this post. I just have one comment on your query about whether a father's rights are being trampled on if a woman keeps her child against his wishes. I don't think a mother should be forced to terminate just because another person wants her to. Ever. It might be morally repugnant to then seek child support (but that is a completely different ball of wax).

tabitha said...

i won't be eloqent, but I want to say thank you. I do not want women top have babies they don't want and abuse them, but in general, i think that women who choose abortion are, strangely the least likely too. As far as twins go, 12 years and some change ago, I discovered at 30 weeks I was carrying twins. At first I freaked out. Then I pulled myself together, and gave birth at home past my due date, to 2 wonderful baby girls. The first year was hard. So hard, but so has every other first year I have ever had. After the first year, I think twins are easier in the toddler years. I didn't have to have a ton of toys, or play blocks or whatever, they had eachother, the best toy EVER!
I love your point about dads. If a man pressures a woman into an abortion, we say he is abusive or uncaring, but if a woman forces a man into one, or into being a father, thats her "right". This strikes home for me, because my dad told me that he felt no emotional responsibility towards me since he had wanted to abort me, he figured i wasn't his fault.
I also believe, the older I get, that abortion has allowed our culture to devalue moms and children more than ever before. Children are a blessing, and I would have as many as I could, but since I fall below poverty level and recieve food stamps, there are people who feel I should not have children, who feel I should abort, or get "fixed" I am a good mom, i homeschool, my children have never seen the inside of a daycare, and these days, that makes me a leech on society. In many ways abortion is anti feminist in the truest sense. women are expected in many cases to abort for other peoples comfort. I don't want to legislate against abortion, I just want women to be responsible and not use it wantonly. Sorry i rambled, this a feeling response more than a rational one.

RoRo said...

I love this post. I don't want to go into why (the reasons are personal) but I wanted you to know I love it!

The Deranged Housewife said...

Tabitha, what a lovely response and I couldn't have said it better myself. You're certainly no "Octomom," who I could respect on some level - even though she created her own monster - because she chose not to abort and face those challenges head on. Is it ideal? Who knows. Maybe not for some of us, but we aren't directly raising those children. Some argue that as taxpayers we are, but there again is another moral question - are people entitled to a family, even if their situation is 'less' than ours? You can argue that she exercised her 'right to choose' - her choice just happened to be life.

I once knew someone who dated a guy that would routinely punch a hole in the condoms they used while having sex. That's pretty dispicable and I'm sure no one would argue that she would have the right to abort should she wind up pregnant. But if that were the woman - then the man, who thought he had a reasonable modicum of protection from pregnancy - would be legally and financially responsible for the life he inadvertently created? While I do think there has been a legal precedent that proves the woman intentionally trapped him into pregnancy, what if you can't prove it? What if, as the dad, you never knew she did it on purpose? Is he still responsible?

Sara said...

It's not people's judgement that matters in the end, but God's.

My mother had two twin pregnancies; the first ended at 26 weeks with the death of both twins, then my sister and I a year later. My mom said that she never even thought about how hard it was, because she was "so happy to have us". Seems to me that Jenny has probably been catered to her whole life, and this is just another instance where she will get her way. Will she tell her child someday that she willingly killed her brother or sister? Secrets come out, and I wouldn't want to be that child when he or she found out.

As a twin, the idea that a parent would terminate a healthy baby just because they didn't want another one, after, as you mentioned, deliberately seeking fertility treatment that drastically increases the chances of multiples, is unfathomable.

And yes, my mom said that my brother, her last and only singleton, was a lot harder than my sister and I COMBINED.

The Deranged Housewife said...

One thing that got me thinking was an article I read awhile back about George Tiller, who admitted (albeit inadvertently) that he aborted babies who were only one day shy of their due dates.

If that's not grounds for an elective cesarean, anything to avoid killing this baby, I don't know what is. COnsidering that if you really, truly had a medical condition that would claim your life had you stayed pregnant, then I would imagine it would have done it before now, don't you think? What if she had gone into labor beforehand - then what? Would they have tried to stop it and then hurriedly proceeded with the abortion? Tiller claims he did these late-term abortions "in cases where two doctors certified that carrying the fetus to term would cause the woman "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." I can't prove it, but that almost sounds like these women were afraid of childbirth and would rather have a traumatizing late-term abortion than go through a possible labor that ended in tearing, pelvic floor damage and whatever else. I can't possibly imagine what that means, and of course they don't elaborate.

If that is the case, I would have to wonder just how psychologically stable these women would be to think this is a preferable choice, and just how competent they are to *make* that choice in the first place. If you're that close, induce the baby, or knock the mother out and do a cesarean under general and then take the baby immediately to foster care. Even leaving the baby in a trashcan for someone else to find, sadly, is better than this!

In a bizarre interview he did on Geraldo Rivera's show, he says he thinks that the aborted unborn go to Heaven. The priest (I think) sitting next to him said, "I thought you said that wasn't a person. How can a non-person go to heaven?" Needless to say, Tiller didn't answer the question.

Maggie said...

So, so well written, and so timely (for me). My view on abortion is something I've been considering more and more since having my own children. I would describe myself as a bleeding heart liberal but I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of abortion and reading the NYT article about Jenny I felt physically sick. There's a lot about her behavior and things she said in the article that infuriated me. I don't want to hijack your thread though!

Diana J. said...

You are a very brave woman! I applaud you! Usually I stay away from the abortion debate on my blog - not because it's not important, but because I find the resulting debates so unpleasant. Good for you!

So anyway, just briefly. As I mentioned on your FB page, I was raised pro-choice and was pro-choice for many years. However, I gradually began the shift to pro-life about 10 years ago, and traveled the entire spectrum until I arrived at my current position, that being my belief that human life, which is created by God, is unique, precious, fully human, and utterly sacred from the moment of conception on. That means that abortion is, simply stated, the killing of a child, and is just not okay. If it's not okay for a mother to kill her five-year-old (though sometimes I'd like to), then it shouldn't be okay for her to kill an unborn child.

Abortions that are done honestly to save the life of the mother are in a different ethical category - i.e. we're not ending the pregnancy to kill the baby, we're ending the pregnancy to save the mother and the death of the child is a horrible and sad, but unavoidable, side-effect. This is limited almost exclusively to tubal pregnancies, and never happens - as you say - in the third trimester, when the age of viability has been reached and a child that must be delivered early can simply be transferred to the NICU, not killed intentionally before the birth.

Anyhow, if you have any questions or would like to chat on this subject, I'd love to - just message me via Facebook. I'm not going to check back on this page just because I know how vitriolic and violent the abortion debate can become on internet forums/comment sections, and I definitely don't want to start anything like that.

Thanks so much for posting this. The story of Jenny (and all selective reduction) is so sickening and saddening that I can hardly bear to think about it. Poor sweet babies, they deserved so much better than to be the victims of their parents' selfishness.

Love your blog, and always enjoy reading!!

The Deranged Housewife said...

While I don't necessarily think I am a brave person for addressing it, I guess I am just stating what's on my mind. Thank you for your reply. It is sad that some of us just outright avoid debate because we don't particularly enjoy being flambed and raked over the coals because we have differing opinions. I will say, just about everyone has been respectful and I admire that. Not to puff myself up or anything, but I try to respect another person's view and respectfully challenge it, but not bash you or call you names when don't agree with me. You will likely never see me banning people from my blog or page as long as they can constructively share their opinion, even if it's not the same as mine. My whole point was not so much to say outright that abortion is wrong or whatever, but to address the somewhat gray areas that keep popping up as we find ourselves in new and unprecedented situations. This is very important, and I hope if nothing else it causes people to pause and reflect, as many in the NYT article did. I found that very sincere and touching.

Not one to be shut up too quickly LOL I have also been thinking about another post that I plan to share - if I can summon the brainpower, I may attempt it within the next day or two. I'd still like to do some more research but mostly it has to do with the medical debate about the mother's health, etc.

I think we do need to share our thoughts and feelings about this, because so many people see a one-sided argument sometimes. The response has been largely positive, maybe because the people who vehemently disagree outright refuse to read the post (I did get someone who said they wouldn't even read it before unfriending me - oh well). Perhaps those people are staying away, but I find it sad that we can't even be mature in debating without stomping off in a huff and 'unliking' each other or whatever. I think more people might agree and are just afraid to speak up, which is understandable.