I bumped into a friend the other day. He told me his daughter and her husband had just had their first baby – a little girl. That was the good news, he said. The not so good news is that the baby has spina bifida. Knowing that this is one of the conditions easily detected during pregnancy, I asked if the couple had known about it. “Oh yes,” he said. And of course they were immediately offered a termination. They refused. I should add that the young couple referred to have no religious beliefs. But this was their first baby and they were instinctively determined to hold on to her. The latest news is that she was operated on almost straight after her birth to close the gap in her spine, and she is now “kicking vigorously” – a hopeful sign for the future.
Events like this happen all the time. An amniocentesis or other test is administered during pregnancy, a serious (or occasionally not so serious, like a cleft lip or club foot) condition is picked up and then the couple is offered the “solution” – a quick termination; problem solved. Some parents reject it, not necessarily for religious reasons, but because they listen to the older, deeper, wiser instincts of the heart: this is our baby; we will love him/her, whatever the future holds. Others, less confident, more vulnerable to all the medical and emotional pressure put on them, believing the propaganda of a bleak future for them and their baby, succumb to what is seen as a routine medical procedure.
I mention all this because of the recent headline in the Telegraph: “Blood test for Down’s babies may save lives.” My heart always sinks when I read this kind of news – an odd response really, given the brilliant medical breakthroughs of the last 50 years which have saved countless lives. But I have a daughter with Down’s syndrome and I know that this new blood test is never intended to save the lives of babies like her; indeed it will probably prove to be a more efficient way of weeding out such babies earlier in pregnancy. The babies who will be “saved” are all those who die by misadventure from miscarriage due to the nature of the tests. Apparently there are 300 such babies lost every year in this country.
According to Professor Lyn Chitty from the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital: “There will be significant savings resulting from a decrease in invasive testing while increasing the detection of affected babies. [It] also means there will be a reduction in miscarriages and loss of unaffected babies which is much better for parents.”
Better for some parents, that is. Worse for others, obviously. I have just been looking through a weighty book produced by the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research in Toronto: Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women, by Angela Lanfranchi, Ian Gentles and Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy. Its focus is on abortion generally, rather than the eugenic abortion of disabled babies – “life not worthy of life” you might say – though there is a chapter on “Prenatal testing and abortion for foetal abnormality” which indicates that women in this category still suffer post-traumatic stress symptoms and symptoms of depression after abortion, alongside mothers who abort healthy babies.
Whenever any research is published on the subject of abortion’s effect – emotional, psychological, physical – on women, there is always a huge outcry from the pro-choice lobby. Indeed, this lobby is so powerful, so mainstream, so determined to see abortion as simply an unpleasant but necessary lifestyle choice that it is very hard to have a rational, dispassionate debate on the question of its possible negative outcomes. That is why this book should be read – especially by those outside the hardened feminist and political lobby, who are genuinely open to arguments from the other side.
The book has drawn on over 650 published studies from international medical and psychological journals that challenge the unexamined popular notion that abortion is safe. In its 21 chapters it includes subjects as diverse as the link between abortion and infertility; the link between abortion and mental health; the role of abortion in partner violence; abortion and sex selection; and premature and preterm births after abortion.
The saddest chapter, inevitably, is the last: “Women’s Voices” – the testimonies of women who have had abortions, sometimes decades earlier, and how their sorrow and regret has dominated and overshadowed their subsequent lives. Why does the pro-choice lobby brush aside these mourning and eloquent witnesses to an inconvenient truth: that for countless women abortion is not the simple, easy solution to an unwanted pregnancy that it is made out to be?