Sisterhood Blog

The Moral Dilemma of Pregnancy 'Reduction'

By Elissa Strauss

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Reproductive rights have never come easy. This has been the case for every single advancement in a woman’s ability to control reproduction, all of which were initially painted as immoral and unnatural. And this is the case now, with the debate surrounding the abortion of one twin, often referred to as pregnancy reduction.

As explained in a recent article by Ruth Padawer in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the aborting of one fetus while carrying twins is becoming a growing source of controversy in the medical community, while it can also be a lifesaver for the young mothers who elect to do it. Still though, many doctors refuse to perform the procedure, and many women who go through it are ashamed to discuss it even with close friends.

Padawer explains that while the procedure is still extremely rare, it is on the rise. She spoke to doctors who will and won’t perform these types of procedures as well as to the women who have had them — many of whom were carrying twins as a result of in-vitro fertilization. The larger aim of the story is to examine how we as a culture struggle to define notions of right and wrong as science gives us more and more ways to control reproduction.

If the question here is whether the decision to reduce twin fetuses to a single one should be easy than the answer is no. But if the question here is whether pregnant women and their families should have the choice to do this without receiving judgment from their doctors and families than the answer is yes. Please note the word “choice” in the previous sentence, because it is the very thing that women have had to fight for over and over again each time there is an advance in reproductive science, and it is the very thing they deserve in this circumstance, too.

Women should be able to control what goes on in their own wombs. Simple idea, been said countless times before, yet still clearly an unintuitive one for so many who find any intervention whatsoever to be contrary to nature. When contemporary forms of birth control first hit the scene in the early 20th century, they caused a major uproar (some suggested that women should refrain from sex if they didn’t want children), and up until 1965 a Connecticut law prohibited birth control until the Supreme Court deemed that law unconstitutional. It wasn’t until 1972 that the right to use contraception was extended to unmarried folks. And I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on this one, but abortion, even in cases or rape or incest, even in cases when it could be a matter of life or death for the mother, is still opposed by many.

Now does this mean that I am saying that the decision to reduce twin fetuses to a single fetus would be an easy one? Absolutely not. Nor would reducing triplets to twins or aborting a baby with Down syndrome. But no pro-choicer has ever made the argument that the reason women should have the right to abortion is because it is no big deal, or without emotional impact on the women. Instead, it is that we trust women to make these often very difficult and emotional decisions on their own.

In the article some of the doctors who oppose the procedure draw a line between a medical and social function in reproductive science. For these doctors, the move from triplets to twins is medical, but twins to a single is social. But how can that doctor really factor in the true medical consequences of having a child that a mother does not have the time, money, physical stamina or emotional stability to raise? And doesn’t this all become foggier when we consider the child and mother’s mental health? And what about the effects later down the line for everyone in the family who lived in a stressful environment?

Also, let’s say the medical community gets over how “unnatural” this procedure is and performs it as requested by their patients. Well, if current numbers are any indication, we are talking about a very small group of women who have made a decision they feel is best for them and, I think, deserve support. Or, consider the alternative. What if it the normalization of this procedure makes it immensely popular? I find this unlikely, but the high demand would surely push us to think even harder about the desires and needs of young mothers, especially in a time when they receive such minimal support, and how they must make choices that work best for them.


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