By Alex Seghers, Director of Education
The Advocate published a story this week illustrating a Louisiana mother’s decision to abort their baby who was diagnosed with anencephaly. The article describes how the family received the diagnosis at their 16 week check up and learned that because their baby’s neural tube does not close all of the way affecting the brain, skull, back bone, and spinal cord, their baby would not survive. “Vidrine could already feel her baby fluttering, the kicks and swooshes. But she couldn’t fathom carrying a baby for 23 more weeks, grieving and knowing that the baby would be stillborn or would die not long after birth.” Another reason for their decision included Vidrine’s past blood pressure spike’s in her past two pregnancies with her two existing children, and the concern for added risk during this pregnancy with their anencephalic baby.
I cannot imagine the grief that this mother and her family has endured, and the article describes the emotional trauma of the diagnosis for both parents and siblings. I myself have had a glimpse of imagining the non-survivability of my first child, when we were initially (and wrongly) told she had Trisomy 13, 18, or 21, and not given any more information for a few weeks, left with our own thoughts and what google-searches revealed. Nonetheless I have sat with many other mothers and read many personal stories of mothers whose babies have received a number of “incompatible with life” diagnoses, including anencephaly.
There are some things that need to be rectified in this mother’s story. She should have been far more well-supported in this pregnancy and the reception of this diagnosis. She should have been informed thoroughly of her baby’s diagnoses and given direction toward the numerous resources and support groups filled with other families who have received the same diagnoses. Her doctors should be doing what their profession firmly calls upon them to do: treating their patients with compassion and dignity and finding the best outcomes for both mother and baby.
And many would ask, how is there a good outcome at all for the baby and the family in this situation? Don’t we already know that the baby will die, possibly suffer, and hence isn’t abortion the most compassionate situation to shorten the process for both mother and baby?
Yes, we likely know the outcome – we know that this baby has an adverse prenatal diagnosis that will shorten his or her life and that the entire process will be filled with emotional and physical difficulty. We recognize the deep suffering families experience after receiving grave diagnoses. With this being said, we should never intentionally kill people with disabilities or terminal illness, regardless if they are born or waiting to be born. We believe the best way forward that supports the mother and respects the life of the living baby is to provide support for families and perinatal palliative care from the moment of the diagnosis through the duration of the child’s natural life. Many families who have chosen this option and have been carried and supported, emotionally, physically, and financially through miscarriage, still-birth, live-birth and time with their briefly-living child, and the funeral and burial. We know that Louisiana’s law is written to protect a physician’s ability to care for the mother if a life-threatening situation arises that makes separating mom and baby an emergent necessity – so although statistics are greater that complications may arise, many a mom and baby have been thoroughly cared for through the course of the pregnancy and steps can be taken, as in any situation like preeclampsia, to safeguard the mother’s health, without directly and intentionally killing the baby. A mother would have the closure, if wished, to say goodbye to their baby while he or she passes peacefully in her arms and proceed with a dignified burial, rather than her baby being intentionally killed by abortion and thrown in the trash as medical waste.
Regardless of what is claimed, abortion is not a simple, non-violent way to “prevent” someone from experiencing suffering. The reality of abortion is that of a brutal procedure in which a living human being is torn while into pieces, or poisoned to cause cardiac arrest in order to proceed with a stillbirth. At 16 weeks, Vidrine’s baby was absolutely alive, moving and kicking, and we know that babies as early as 15 weeks can feel pain. Yet even in cases where living adult humans would be unable to experience pain, we would consider it barbaric to dismember or poison them. This is the position we would hold for any other human being at any other point in life: we would never intentionally kill cancer patients, a grandmother in the nursing home, the two year old with Down syndrome, or the five year old with leukemia. We know they deserve better, and a society that intentionally kills people with disabilities or terminal illness is an awful one to live in.
At PrenatalPartners.org/anencephaly, many stories are available of families who receive the same diagnosis and have walked through their entire process including carrying to term and the resources the mother received both before and after birth. They are honest stories of hope, and love, and portray the ways in which we should be surrounding both mom and baby with support in life and in the grief process. Many resources are found at CompatiblewithLove.com, Louisiana Right to Life’s resource site on the “incompatible with life” or otherwise known as the “medical futility” issue.
We implore Louisiana citizens to understand this issue better and approach each diagnoses situation with respect for both mom and baby. We ask that healthcare providers give all of the information to moms and do not pressure women to abort their babies. We ask our fellow pro-lifers to be equipped with the local and national resources that are standing at the ready to walk alongside these families, and to answer the call to be a family’s village if you know someone undergoing the journey through a prenatal diagnosis.