Saturday, February 5, 2011

I support a woman's right to choose

A woman's right to choose to have an abortion is under attack yet again, with the new Republicans in congress trying to push through their conservative agenda. Planned Parenthood has been targeted with an ACORN-like sneak attack, prompting yet more criticism and planned bills in congress to reduce funding...even though ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS HAVE USED PLANNED PARENTHOOD. It provides a wonderful service for people who cannot afford birth control, allowing both women and men to control their reproductive lives and also make better choices about when they choose to bring a child into the world.

When I was 16, a friend of mine told me she was having sex with her boyfriend. I, an innocent virgin myself, asked if she was using birth control, and no, she wasn't. She didn't think she'd get pregnant, even though her own mother had her when she was 16 and unmarried. Of course, she got pregnant. (I've seen this cycle repeat itself in many families.) She got an abortion, went off to college, got married, and went on to have two children...at the right time. Who knows how her life--and that of her child--would have turned out if she hadn't had the abortion?

I also support late-term abortions, because I believe they are a necessary option in some cases. I believe that every child should be born into a loving family who is ready to nurture and cherish the child. For a child to be neglected, abused, and unloved is the worst plight he or she can suffer--yes, even worse than abortion.

Some might find this ironic given the fact that I had a 24-weeker, a gestation in which some fetuses are aborted (in rare instances). Depending on the hospital and the doctor, a mother can choose not to resuscitate a child of that gestation or earlier. When premature babies suffer from debilitating brain bleeds, the parents often have to make a devastating decision of whether to continue life support. (We almost had to face this decision ourselves.)

The preemie blogs and discussions are constantly aflame with debates about medical ethics. The famous premature baby parent advocate, Helen Harrison, author of The Premature Baby Book, says that she would never consent to rescusitation for her own baby if he/she were born under 26 weeks. (Her own son was born 3 months early and has major disabilities.) Some parents have been refused the right to decide whether to continue life support in severely ill premature infants. Others have decided not to rescusitate at birth, or if they are at risk for another preemie, make that decision at sometime in the pregnancy. Still others are furious at the thought that others would not choose to rescusitate, and feel that those parents do not value their children's lives.

For me, again, it's all about choice. Parents should be well informed about the risks of prematurity. (We were not informed about those risks until after Chris was rescuscitated, which was probably a good thing for us, but was not entirely fair. We had NO idea what we were in for.) What about those parents who are not well equipped to care for an extremely disabled child, either financially or emotionally? They should know what could happen. On the other hand, I also believe parents have a right to have their child rescusitated if there is a reasonable chance at life. I found a Facebook petition urging for a law in the UK to allow babies as young as 21 weeks to be rescusitated. That, in my mind, is too young. But seeing the emotional devastation some friends went through when they lost a baby at that age, I can certainly understand the desire to do so.

I had a conversation with a recently certified nurse-midwife a few years ago, who intimated that as a society, spending millions of dollars to keep premature babies alive is not the best choice. She hinted that she was not supportive of the decision to rescusitate at very early gestations (even at 24 weeks). When Chris was younger, these comments would have made me very angry, as if she were devaluing the life of my son. It did irk me, but I was able to let it pass by eventually...because I've developed a lot of perspective over the years.

I am sad to think that another parent would not have chosen to have my 24-weeker rescusitated. I know he's an unusual success, given his extremely rough NICU course. He just got his report card today--nearly all As. He's doing great, and I can't imagine life without him. But it so easily could have gone the other way.

I am also one of those pro-choice advocates who, when I had an unplanned pregnancy myself at the age of 41, chose to have the baby...even though he was entirely unexpected and put me into an even higher-risk category than I already was. I also chose not to have an amnio, because I didn't want to have to be faced with a difficult choice. I would have embraced the child I had been given. Again, this is an underlining of the word choice. I support the right to an abortion, but I myself have never made that choice.

The bottom line to me is that it's all about choice, whether that is to have an abortion, have a baby, help the baby live, or help the baby die peacefully. As a Christian, I believe that allowing parents to have such choices contributes to greater stability in the family and more loving parents. That can't be a bad thing. I believe that this is choosing life.

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