“We can end up making parents feel that they have no other choice…”

When doctors pressure mothers to abort

On the CWR homepage this week, you’ll find Daniel Allott’s article from our December issue, “When Seconds Count: A look at what happens when parents continue a pregnancy after a fatal diagnosis.”

Allott examines the emotional struggles faced by parents who are told that their children will die at or very shortly after birth, as well as the pressure to abort their babies often imposed on them by members of the medical community.

Allott opens his article with the story of Joe and Maria Keller, who—at Maria’s 20-week ultrasound—were told that their unborn baby had osteogenesis imperfecta type II, a genetic disorder that usually results in death by the age of one year.

Devout Catholics, Joe and Maria Keller never considered abortion, and say they had positive experiences with most of the succession of doctors they saw during Maria’s pregnancy.

“[Our primary doctor] really took the time and told us everything we wanted to know, and in a very human way,” Maria said. “And he was very honest, but he was very gentle in his approach. He was very caring toward us and followed up with a few phone calls.”

But a high-risk obstetrician urged Maria to abort and tried to console her by telling her that if she got pregnant again she would be able to obtain prenatal genetic screening early in the pregnancy. This, Maria was told, would allow for the early detection of any fetal abnormalities and time to abort before she got emotionally attached to her child.  

“I just exploded,” Maria said she responded. “I told [the doctor], ‘Listen, [my] baby has this condition, but how is me killing this baby going to make it all better? How is me killing him going to make me happier?’”

The Kellers’ experience highlights the pro-abortion prejudice held by many medical professionals toward babies with severe or fatal diagnoses. A study by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that 90 percent of its surveyed members support abortion for fatal fetal anomalies, and 63 percent support abortion for non-fatal anomalies.  

A 2000 study in the journal Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights found that a quarter of physicians admitted trying to influence mothers’ reproductive decisions, usually encouraging them to abort. Other studies have found that many pregnant women feel pressured to undergo invasive prenatal testing, then, if the test comes back positive for a disability in their child, to abort.

Dr. Amina White, an OB/GYN at Howard University in Washington, DC, believes that most physicians try to be sensitive toward parents who receive poor prenatal diagnoses. But, she told CWR, “Sometimes in the counseling we give—[in] the tone that we use and some of the words that we use—[we] can end up making parents feel that they have no other choice but to end the pregnancy.”

White thinks some physicians feel “the goal should be to avoid suffering at any cost. And they assume that the [baby’s life] will be so difficult, so full of suffering and pain, that it’s just not worth it.”

Read all of Allott’s very moving article here.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.