On the recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed that “Freedom Tower,” built to replace the Twin Towers, be lit pink to celebrate the state’s new legislation removing many restrictions on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Proponents of the law fear the newly composed Supreme Court might reverse longstanding abortion precedent. Some are even pushing to remove New York’s remaining restrictions, making it the eighth state with no restrictions whatsoever.
New York’s mandated celebration was starkly incongruous with the lack of public support for later-term abortions. Only 13 percent of Americans believe abortion should generally be legal during the third trimester. Decline in support for such abortions undoubtedly reflects medical advances that have enlightened our understanding of fetal development. At 24 weeks, an unborn child is viable outside the womb, has a fully formed face with eyelashes and eyebrows, can hear and recognize the voice of her mother and has all the neurological connections that make the experience of pain possible.
Next to New York’s Freedom Tower, the names of each of the innocent victims of 9/11 are inscribed around two pools of water. And beside 11 of those names, carved in stone, are the words, “and her unborn child.”
Proponents of abortion once emphasized it should be “safe, legal and rare.” But in New York City, one in three babies are now aborted. And while later-term abortions comprise only 1 percent of all abortions, they are hardly “rare” — in the U.S. there are approximately 15,000 each year, more than the number of gun homicides.
Abortions, particularly later-term abortions, are also not “safe.” With close to a million abortions performed annually, thousands of women are at risk for bleeding, infection and damage to pelvic organs each year. And for each additional week of gestation, the risk of dying from abortion complications increases by 38 percent. There are also other long-term health risks, including pre-term labor in subsequent pregnancies, and psychological distress and mental disorders. Research continues to find a significant association between abortion “and a range of difficulties including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, suicidality, substance abuse” and most persistently, depression.
Abortion advocates seldom acknowledge these realities. Instead, they tend to focus single-mindedly on the seemingly impossible circumstances some women face. They emphasize stories like that of Erika Christensen, who with her husband was thrilled about her pregnancy. But when they learned at 31 weeks that their baby would not survive outside the womb, they “wanted to end the suffering of this child.” Because New York’s law banned abortion after 24 weeks, she flew to Colorado for her abortion, adding to the trauma she was already experiencing. And there are other stories of women in sad and difficult situations. While most women seeking later-term abortions are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment, their stories have made compelling narratives in support of loosening abortion restrictions.
What has been missing in the debate is the experience of mothers who chose to continue their pregnancy after receiving a diagnosis of lethal fetal anomalies. Professor Christopher Kaczor recently summarized research on the experiences of mothers facing such heart-breaking diagnoses. Unsurprisingly, many have asked, “why not perform an abortion to spare the mother the grief of having to continue a pregnancy and give birth?” Yet research finds that 97.5 percent of mothers who decided to continue their pregnancy not only showed strong lack of regret for that decision, but experienced feelings of love, joy and peace.
Summarizing multiple studies, Kaczor reported, “Although emotionally difficult, parents articulated an empowering transformative experience that lingers over time.” These are their words: “I will always cherish the time I had with her.” “I got to hold my baby for an hour … no regrets.” “I got the chance to see her, hold her and honor her sweet life.” “All my son knew was love.” “We are rich in love because of her.” “We would not trade those six hours for anything in the world.” They spoke of the profound effect the experience had on their lives. “This became perhaps the most profoundly positive experience our family has ever had. I think nothing else has ever strengthened our faith or drawn us closer together.” Contrary to what researchers expected, the majority described the birth as joyful, while expressing thankfulness for any time they were able to spend with their baby.18 comments on this story
Kaczor contrasts these descriptions with those of mothers who chose to abort after a lethal diagnosis. Multiple studies referenced women’s profound feelings of inner conflict. As one study concluded, “women ultimately felt as if they were betraying themselves and their babies.” In 2015, Duke University’s exploration of the psychological impact of terminating versus continuing a pregnancy found that, “Women who terminated reported significantly more despair, avoidance and depression than women who continued the pregnancy.”
Women who face difficult and uncertain pregnancies deserve our compassion. They also deserve alternatives that value the dignity of every life and affirm our faith in sustaining it.