Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Over the past few days, my Facebook feed has been filled with opinions about the NY late term abortion law. This law strengthens the right of a person to terminate a pregnancy after viability (24 weeks) if the baby has a life-limiting diagnosis, or if the birthgiver’s life is at risk. So, so many of the people I am friends with have very strong feelings about this, one way or another. As a birthworker and a perinatal loss support person, I have found this conversation largely frustrating.
Because, here’s the thing: That law is not put in place so that a person can gleefully terminate because they no longer want to have a baby, or because they couldn’t make up their mind in the previous nine months. And it is nothing like the choice to terminate in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Our conversations need to take into account the unique nature of late term abortions.
Late term abortions occur to end a pregnancy when the baby has a fatal or severely life-limiting diagnosis, to save the birthgiver’s life, or both.
These are not joyous occasions. While I am grateful that this right exists, lighting the skyline pink is insensitive at best. If anything, this feels like relief—assurance that this right will be upheld—but not joyous.
Nor is it murder. I should not have to say this. This statement is wholly uninformed.
No one who terminates a pregnancy after viability wants to have to make that choice. If a birthgiver’s life is at risk and the baby will not survive regardless of the birthgiver’s health, termination saves a life, if anything. If the birthgiver’s life is in danger, but the baby is healthy, every effort will be made to save both people.
Furthermore, in situations where the baby has a serious diagnosis, sometimes terminating is the most life-honoring option. Many conditions worsen as pregnancy progresses, with the chance of in utero demise increasing throughout. Terminating early gives a better chance that a baby will be born alive, if only briefly, allowing the family to hold their child while that child is still living. It reduces the medical risks to the birthgiver, meaning the birth is less likely to have serious complications and the birthgiver is more likely to be able to spend time bonding with their baby, rather than recovering in the ICU. Termination may allow for faraway family members to gather, for funerals and burials to take place during a certain time of year (many families are anguished by the thought of leaving their baby out in the cold), for birth to happen where a family would like to birth, and many other considerations that truly do vary from one family to the next.
This law is not about killing a baby who could otherwise survive if born later. This law is about providing compassionate, supportive care in a situation that no one wants to even imagine being in. I walk with families through this choice. It is impossibly hard. Every single one of them wants to do what’s best for their baby. Sometimes, that means saying goodbye before term.
Please, before you form an opinion, before you scream and shout about this law, consider the families that face this choice. Consider that they love their babies and want to honor them. And consider that they’ve already judged themselves enough—they don’t need your shame, too. Regardless of what you or I would do in a similar situation, we all need to remember that these are parents who are losing a child.
If you have had to make this choice, or are making it right now, know that no one else’s opinion matters. You need to make the best choice for you and your baby. That might mean terminating, or it might mean carrying to term. Only you can decide that. Know that, whatever you choose, you have my support. I am so, so sorry that you have been unwillingly thrown into this, but I and so many others are here for you. You and your baby are deeply loved.