Indiana just passed a law that makes discrimination among the unborn illegal. The most obvious impact of this law is that in Indiana, children can no longer be aborted because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis. But it extends far beyond that — prohibiting abortion on the basis of gender, race, or disability.
Of course this is great news to those who are pro-life. But to abortion providers and many who are “pro-choice,” this is seen as cruel. Kathryn McHugh, an obstetrician and gynecologist, wrote an article for the Washington Post titled, “Indiana’s new abortion law won’t save babies. It will only make my patients suffer.”
McHugh explains that part of her job once an abnormality is detected is to let the mother know her options – and she believes terminating the pregnancy is an important option. She writes,
“Indiana state government is intruding on the doctor-patient relationship at one of its most vulnerable, sensitive times. Which means that not only does the new law encroach on women’s right to control their own reproduction, it is also bad medicine.”
(I’d like to point out first of all that “bad medicine” should refer to either something unethical in the medical field, or to medical practices that literally do not work, such as a witch doctor’s tribal dance. The fact that this law “intrudes” on the “doctor-patient relationship” does not make it bad medicine.)
That said, McHugh’s intuition that women should be given options is right. Finding out that your child has a disability or a fatal abnormality is devastating. One way we can be compassionately prepared to help these women is by having options available to them. Adoption is an option, especially if your child is diagnosed with a disability and you feel unable to properly care for him or her. Joining a support group that helps mothers walk through a complicated pregnancy is an option. Looking into treatment options that will give your child the best chance of survival is an option. Raising financial support for life-saving operations is an option. Abortion is not necessary in order for an obstetrician to offer her patient the support and resources she needs to cope with an abnormal pregnancy.
McHugh spends much of her article discussing the cases in which a mother finds out her baby is not likely to make it, because according to the new law, aborting for this reason is discrimination. But she also addresses the parents who simply don’t want to parent a child with a disability. McHugh cites the statistic that up to 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted – one we’ve talked about often here at Save the Storks – and then says, “these decisions are made out of love and compassion.”
There is nothing loving or compassionate about aborting a baby because his chances of survival or a “normal” life are slim. This is a lie too many women have been told. Why are we so quick to believe that death is better than a life with challenges? Why do we assume that you have to be “normal” to be happy? It is hard to believe that McHugh has met any individuals with Down Syndrome, or their parents, if she believes that either party in this situation might have been better off if they’d chosen abortion.
Ultimately, the biggest flaw with McHugh’s view is the point she makes in the title of her piece – that she believes abortion somehow alleviates a mother’s suffering.
“Abortion is an ethical, safe, appropriate, and – with the exception of North Dakota and Indiana – legal medical option in the case of severe anomalies, one that spares women the emotional pain of stillbirth or the loss of an infant. That loss is dismissed and diminished by this law and by those that support it; the law doesn’t save babies, it just forces a horrific fate onto both mother and child.”
McHugh’s assumption that abortion would spare women some degree of suffering highlights the lie that abortion has no personal consequences for the mother. When a woman aborts, not only does she lose a child, but she has to live with the knowledge that she chose to end her child’s life and always wonder what it would have been like if she hadn’t. She also significantly increases her chances of mental illness. McHugh also suggests that while stillbirth or infant death equal real loss, abortion somehow doesn’t. Supposedly, because a mother chooses her baby’s death, instead of risking that it might happen naturally, it’s not a real loss – or at least not the kind to be sad about.
It is this kind of thinking, and not a protective law, that diminishes the mother’s experience of loss.
McHugh believes that abortion offers her clients a less painful way out of a devastating situation. What she fails to understand is that the circumstances of suffering cannot be changed – abortion or not, the pain will be there. Adding an abortion to that situation will compound, not lessen, the mother’s suffering. Abortion doesn’t take the pain away – it just allows us to sweep it under the rug, to pretend that something very real never happened, to pretend that it had to end this way when it didn’t.
Indiana’s new law will save babies. But more than that, it will save mothers. We hope more states will follow this example.