Last year, I walked into a big hospital room towards the tiny NICU bed with a tiny baby in his space helmet. The moment he came out of that helmet, which was pumping in 100% oxygen, he would start deteriorating. He had Edwards syndrome, a genetic condition with less than ten percent one year survival, and he was dying.
A few weeks later, I was quietly ushered out of a small exam room with a woman and her pregnant belly sitting at the exam table. My preceptor had just conveyed that her baby tested positive for Edwards syndrome, which meant her baby now had a 50% chance of dying in utero or a difficult and very short life expectancy. We presented the patient with all of her options, including carrying the baby to delivery or undergoing an abortion. She was approaching 20 weeks gestation, which at the time meant we had limited time to offer her all the options in the state of Florida.
This year, with the new ban on abortions after 15 weeks in Florida, she may be forced to continue carrying the fetus until delivery. The new law enacted in July of 2022 has exceptions in the case of immediate threat to the mother’s life or a fatal fetal abnormality. However, these are not well defined and may be up for debate in a court of law. These exceptions do not consider that carrying a pregnancy and delivery come with risks: the mother could experience severe infection, life-threatening bleeding and even death if problems arose during pregnancy or delivery. Nearly 1000 maternal deaths occur in the United States each year. Losing access to abortion could raise maternal mortality by 21%. This is unnecessary; abortion can be a medically safe procedure without laws restricting it.
Of course, there are many people who believe that the fetus holds a life equal to that of a woman’s and that the woman does not have the right to abort a living being. The determination of the beginning of life is based on a personal, spiritual, religious or political value these days. This determination will impact the decision one may make when confronted with a dangerous pregnancy and delivery with a poor outlook for the fetus. Therefore, I would argue that it is a personal and medical decision whether or not to abort the fetus or when it is safe to do so.
I believe that abortion should be a medical procedure decided upon by a pregnant person after an honest discussion with a doctor. Abortion significantly reduces the risk a woman faces from delivering a nonviable fetus. It can prevent a short life of suffering and inevitable early death. From my perspective, the baby that I met in the NICU was suffering, as well as his family. I believe that medical professionals who advocate for women’s ability to choose an abortion are not doing so out of spite, but out of desire to provide the best care to all of our patients – both the mother and the fetus.
I don’t know what decision the patient I saw in clinic made for herself and her family. I know that it must have been gut-wrenching either way. Most importantly, however, I know that she still had a choice. Everyone deserves that choice. This year in Florida, she would no longer have that choice.
We must repeal the 15-week abortion ban in Florida.
Image credit: Florida Supreme Court Building (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by StevenM_61