Someone asked me why if a late term abortion was to save the life or health of the mother, would a doctor chose a procedure like partial birth abortion that was more dangerous than the traditional methods of inducing premature labor.

Well, the dirty little secret is that the “need” for partial birth abortion is because a traditional induction of labor leads to….live babies.

A BBC report shows that although only 3000 or so late term abortions occured in the UK (where abortion after 22 weeks is limited to severe defects in the fetus or the life of the mother) that ten percent of these resulted in a live baby.

Now, most of these children are Down’s syndrome or meningomyeloceles, defects that are compatible with long life and children who function at a six year leve. Yet often the mothers do not meet parents who have faced these problems or met the children with the syndromes involved. You see, counselling must be neutral, and if you talk a mother out of aborting her child, you could be sued later. Better to abort the child, especially in a medical environment where ethics discusses “quality of life” all the time.

Of course, in the US, where there are no such laws restricting late abortion, the dirty little secret is that most late term abortions are done for social reasons: The ones I have seen in my practice are teenagers who hide the pregnancy until they start showing, and then panic, or are pressured into the abortion by their parents who want their daughter to finish school and not be burdened with a grandchild to raise.
Thirty years ago, when late term abortions were still performed in hospitals, such live births were not uncommon…I know of three during my OB rotations in medical school. Only one child was allowed to get intensive care; in another, the doctor refused, although the normal child was over three pounds and would have had an 80 percent chance of life with treatment.

However, such actions do amount to infanticide, and doctors who are reported (which is rare) could be prosecuted.

So the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology will now offer guidelines to inject the child to kill it in utero before the “termination” is done. However, this is upsetting to the mother, who sees the needle inserted under ultrasound guidance until the fetus stops moving.
This too has dangers, since the medicine theoretically could enter the bloodstream of the mom and kill her also. Hence the practice of “partial birth abortion” in the US, where you are guaranteed a dead child.

So what is the answer?

“A spokeswoman from the charity Antenatal results and Choices said: “Feticide is technically demanding and stressful for parents and professionals alike.

“Enforcing the procedure in cases where death is the inevitable outcome either as a means to reduce apparent perinatal mortality figures or to satisfy those who do not support the legal availability of abortion will not benefit anyone.”

Ah, but some people would actually say that a fully formed child that could live outside the womb is just that: a child. And if “death is the inevitable outcome” no one would bother to crush heads or inject poisons.

One feels compassion for women faced with an imperfect child, but when no one discusses the alternative: help in caring for an imperfect child.

If we live in a utilitarian world, the death of an imperfect child is a trivial thing.

But I have worked with many ethical systems, and when the religions of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judism, and the traditional religions of the Bantu and many American Indian tribes  insist that the deity has a reason for the birth of such children, then one wonders why the BBC didn’t bother to include a quote from even one member who follows the great religions of the world.
Perhaps the words of a mother whose child was retarded put it best: Author Pearl Buck has written:

“It was my child who taught me to understand so clearly that all people are equal in their humanity and that all have the same human rights. None is to be considered less, as a human being, than any other, and each must be given his place and his safety in the world.

“I might never have learned this in any other way. I might have gone on in the arrogance of my own intolerance for those less able than myself. My child taught me humanity.”


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket and she writes essays on bioethics on Boinkies’ blog

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