I was saddened as I read Carolyn Jones detail her devastating experience of choosing to abort her unborn son because of a serious and irreversible birth defect in the article "'We Have No Choice': One Woman's Ordeal with Texas' New Sonogram Law" published in the Texas Observer on March 15th 2012. She argues passionately that a new Texas law which requires a woman to have a sonogram, hear a description of her child's development, and wait 24 hours before having an abortion added a "superfluous layer of torment piled upon an already horrific day.” On March 23rd Time Magazine picked up the story and published, "Requiring Ultrasounds Before Abortion: One Mother’s Personal Tragedy," in which the author clearly agrees with Jones' opinion.
I want to speak here because I feel so many other Americans will never be allowed the platform to answer Jones. I have endured two heart-breaking sonograms in which I heard that two of my children were afflicted with a genetic disorder of the kidneys and liver for which there is no cure. I was told they may not live to term and that their prognosis after that was uncertain, ranging from neonatal death to a childhood filled with sickness, pain, hospitalizations, kidney and liver transplants, and early death. I too was offered termination of pregnancies. I understand, as well as anyone can, the pain that Jones felt that day. Yet I disagree, not only with her choice to terminate the pregnancy, but also with her argument that the sonogram and 24 hour wait period required before the abortion only heaps more agony on grieving parents.
Jones did not want her child to die, yet she did not want him to live a life of suffering, and so she chose, "the one that seemed slightly less cruel." Her own words highlight the dangerously thin line we walk when decide who might and might not be glad to be brought into this world. Can she be certain that her son would have grown up, looked her in the eye one day, and expressed that he wished he'd never been born? Do children who suffer through frequent hospitalizations, painful test and treatments, and have a shortened life expectancy really feel this way? Maybe some do, but I know my daughters don't. They are glad for the life they have.
We frequent the offices of our girls' pediatrician, ear-nose throat specialist, nephrologist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, and neurosurgeon. Blood draws, MRI's, ultrasounds, and ER visits are a way of life. But do you know what? My girls also pick dandelions; they pretend they are horses; they stand in awe of the beauty of a crescent moon on a starry night. My girls hum songs; they make up jokes; they play with friends; and at night they pray and thank God for something good he has given them that day. My girls are more mature, more compassionate, more grateful than so many other children their age because of the suffering they have endured. They are an inspiration to countless others who are weary with the inevitable hardships of life. Why do we believe so strongly that a life that includes suffering is not a life worth living?
Is it possible that parents who choose to abort sick unborn children are also trying to shield themselves from the suffering they will endure while raising these children? Yes, it is a sinking, helpless, agony to watch them suffer and not be able to help them. It is an ever-present cloud to know that they will not have the life that other children will; to know that I will almost certainly see the day that I bury my beautiful daughters. But for me, it seems far worse to have never known them. I've been blessed to hear their newborn cries, to witness their first toddling steps with leg braces on and a physical therapist cheering, to hear the beautiful poetry they write, to remember the pure joy on their faces as they learned to pump their own swing, to hear them express thankfulness for medical treatments that caused pain. If I had spared myself the suffering of raising them I would have robbed myself of the most beautiful moments of my life. To deny a child life on the grounds that their life will cause sorrow is to quite literally throw the baby out with the bathwater.
But even if I did agree with Jones that aborting the pregnancy was the most loving thing she could have done for her son, I would still disagree with her rage against the sonogram and 24 hour wait period required before the abortion. In the fog of shock that Jones endured that day when her whole world shattered, she made a decision and she wanted it to be over with as quickly as possible. She wanted to stop feeling pain, to be able to heal, and to move on with her life. She thought that thinking as little about her son as possible and being on the other side of surgery as quickly as possible would limit her pain and speed her healing. I think she is wrong.
Pain, suffering, and death had invaded her world. It would not leave that easily. When a baby dies in the womb of natural causes and is stillborn the baby is treated with the utmost respect. In a hushed room the medical staff carefully clean and wrap the baby and hand it to the parents, who are encouraged to hold their baby, to name their baby, and to take pictures of their baby. Why do they do this? Aren't they prolonging the pain of these poor, grief stricken parents? No, they are acknowledging that the fastest road to healing is not to ignore the pain, but to allow one's self to grieve.
While I understand the very human response of Jones to close her eyes and attempt not to think about her son who would die, I cannot understand her argument that it is wrong to bring these sad thoughts to the mind of a mother making this decision. Jones is adamant that she does not regret her choice to abort. Why not then take the chance to look at her son one last time and tell him that she loved him and was doing this for his own good? This is her last chance to see her son, to admire his tiny fingers and his baby profile. This is a time let the tears flow, to feel the pain, to think her decisions through once more, and, if she so chooses, to say goodbye. Even if you believed that Jones made the right decision to abort, the sonogram law only provided her with a last chance to consider her choice and begin the grieving process. The sonogram she received no more harmed her emotionally than a doctor encouraging a mother to hold her stillborn baby.
As for waiting 24 hours, we are talking about ending the life of a child, or at the very least (as some would argue) preventing the potential life of a fetus. Why is it wrong to require a mother to take one day to consider her decision? When I was young my father wisely advised me not to make any major decision in my life without sleeping on it, whether choosing a college, accepting a job, or buying a house. Why? Because overwhelming emotions can skew our judgement, because those quiet hours on our pillow at night allow us to reflect more carefully, because sometimes things look different in the morning. For the mother of a seriously ill child, the emotional pain will not disappear on the other side of surgery. Rushing to have the abortion the same afternoon as the diagnosis will not speed emotional healing, and a law that requires her to wait until the following day to abort does not slow her recovery. If anything, the mother might at least take comfort in the future in knowing she took the time to be absolutely sure of her decision.
Instead of attempting to hide from the emotional pain, some mothers will face it , and use those required 24 hours to reconsider. They will get on the Internet and research their baby's condition. They will find support groups of other parents who have been in their place, or information the doctor wasn't aware of. They will search their hearts in the dark of night and ask if maybe a life with a disabled child might not be worth living. Some children will be thankful that someone asked their mother to wait a day before deciding, even if, at the time, it caused her distress.
Carolyn Jones endured a horrible day. The sonogram law only asked her to look into the face of the life she was choosing to end and to take a night to think it through. I am sorry that she felt it caused her more pain. Someday I hope she has the privilege of meeting a child who was given life because their mother saw them and reconsidered that night. Maybe her extra pain wouldn't seem so great in the face of that smiling child.