Family Matters

Pro-Choice or No Choice? North Dakota Wants to Ban Abortion for Fetal Abnormalities

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Vanessa Vick / Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

Testing for fetal abnormalities can alert expectant parents to potential health problems to come. And it’s the parents who should decide on how to act on those results, right?

Not necessarily. In North Dakota, the governor is considering signing two anti-abortion bills that would be among the most restrictive in the nation. The state House and Senate have endorsed separate legislation that prohibits abortions after six weeks and bans them for reasons of gender or fetal abnormalities. If signed, the bills would take the decision of what to do when a pregnancy is not developing as expected out of the hands of parents. Abortion-rights advocates are expected to fight any new laws in court, elevating the debate in North Dakota to the level of political theater.

The situation unspooling there is certainly dramatic: while states enacted 43 new restrictions on abortion last year, North Dakota’s effort to ban abortion even for conditions incompatible with life — such as anencephaly in which parts of the brain and skull don’t form, or Tay-Sachs disease, a degenerative condition that paralyzes babies and typically prevents them from reaching their third birthday — reaches farther than any state has in limiting a woman’s ability to terminate a pregnancy.

The fetal abnormalities bill would ban abortion due to “any defect, disease or disorder that is inherited genetically.” It also extends to any physical disfigurement. In essence, it means that women in North Dakota who are told they may be carrying a baby with Down syndrome, spina bifida, or a fatal condition will have no choice but to have the baby; they would no longer be able to legally end their pregnancies. (As it stands, women in North Dakota don’t have a ton of options: as noted in a Time cover story by Kate Pickert, it’s one of four states with just one abortion clinic.) In addition to the medical reasons for aborting, expectant mothers may decide to end such pregnancies for a variety of reasons; in some cases, mothers may feel psychologically or emotionally unable to care for a child who may have special medical or developmental needs, while still others may feel economically incapable of supporting a child that may need such additional medical care.

While the latest genetic testing techniques add a fresh twist to the debate, the proposed abortion restrictions in North Dakota only reawakens the decades-old discussion over whether a woman has the right to chose to end a pregnancy, for whatever reason.

“We should not be discriminating against unborn disabled children,” says Daniel McConchie, vice president of government affairs for Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that has helped draft legislation tightening restrictions on abortion in many states. The group argues that abortions because of fetal abnormalities amounts to eugenics, or an attempt to impose cultural perceptions of normality on reproductive decisions.

But neither should there be discrimination against mothers, says Elizabeth Nash of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. “You are talking about making an incredibly difficult situation immeasurably more difficult,” says Nash, who tracks state regulations on reproductive health.

(MOREWhy Abortion-Rights Activists Have Been Losing Ever Since Roe v. Wade)

The legislation puts North Dakota at the epicenter of the most recent efforts to curtail abortion; in recent weeks Arkansas passed legislation that would ban abortions after 12 weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can generally be found on ultrasound. The other bill before Governor Jack Dalrymple would ban abortion in North Dakota even earlier in pregnancy, at six weeks, which may be long before a woman even realizes she’s pregnant.

How would such laws affect women who wanted an abortion, but were forced to carry their babies to term? There isn’t much data on this, but last fall, researchers at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association presented the preliminary results of a study that examined the impact of denying abortions to women who requested them. Expectant mothers who couldn’t get an abortion because they just exceeded the gestational limit for the procedure in their state — the range is currently as low as 10 weeks and as high as 26 weeks — were compared to women who arrived at clinics shortly before the threshold and were able to end their pregnancies. Five years later, researchers found that the greatest impact of being denied an abortion was on socioeconomic status: women who couldn’t get an abortion were three times likelier to be living or staying in poverty compared to women who received abortions they wanted.

“Women are remarkably resilient,” says Tracy Weitz, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of California, San Francisco and a medical sociologist who researches abortion in the U.S. “There does not appear to be long-term mental health consequences from being denied an abortion or from having an abortion.” In other words, women learn to love their kids; they just don’t have the economic resources to raise them.

The calculus is inevitably trickier, however, when it comes to pregnancies that don’t develop normally. Children with disabilities need medical care and therapy, yet North Dakota’s legislation doesn’t earmark additional money for such services. “If you force women to have an unwanted pregnancy, if that child suffers from some sort of fetal anomaly you need more in-home support, a better educational system, more care for kids with special needs,” says Weitz. “Legislatures get away with pretending this is about compassion for the unborn but their policy clearly says it’s not.”

Last year, I reported about a lawsuit filed by parents of a daughter with Down syndrome, one of the best-known chromosomal disorders for which testing is available:

In March, the parents of a 4-year-old Oregon girl with Down syndrome won a $2.9 million lawsuit after doctors failed to diagnose her condition prenatally. Ariel and Deborah Levy — who say they would have ended the pregnancy had they known about the diagnosis — won a “wrongful birth” lawsuit against Portland-based Legacy Health System. “These are parents who love this little girl very, very much,” their attorney, David K. Miller, told an ABC News affiliate. “Their mission since the beginning was to provide for her, and that’s what this is all about.”

McConchie, who suffered a spinal cord injury as an adult that confines him to a wheelchair, says North Dakota’s legislation is about “protecting those most vulnerable among us.” If women don’t want — or can’t afford — to have a child with special needs, says McConchie, they should consider putting the child up for adoption. “There are other options than terminating someone’s life simply because a parent doesn’t want a particular child or they deem themselves unfit to be a parent in a certain situation,” he says.

Research shows that between 70% to 90% of women who find out while pregnant that their fetus has Down syndrome choose to abort. A continually evolving battery of tests make it possible for women to learn this information earlier than ever — even as soon as ten weeks into pregnancy — and that concerns groups such as Americans United for Life, which worries that such testing will eventually lead to unilateral abortions for any chromosomal aberration.

(MOREIn Texas, a Pregnant Teen Sues Her Parents to Avoid an Abortion)

“The bill in North Dakota highlights a current national debate: will babies with Down syndrome slowly start to disappear with the advent of new noninvasive blood tests?” says Dr. Brian Skotko, co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Down syndrome program. “New technology means more women will be getting a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. And more prenatal diagnoses mean more women will need to make that personal decision on how to proceed with their pregnancy. In North Dakota, there will only be one option under the current law.”

Amy Julia Becker learned that her daughter, Penny, has Down syndrome once she was born. While she’s sympathetic to the North Dakota legislation, she believes a better approach is endorsed by states such as Kentucky and Massachusetts, which require doctors to provide the latest, evidence-based information on not only the limitations of the condition but the “good lives that are possible for people with Down syndrome.”

“Pro-choice advocates should be concerned about the correlation between prenatal testing and abortion of babies with disabilities because data suggest that women often are not given the information they need in order to make an informed choice about their child, their family, and their future,” Becker wrote in her recent ebook about prenatal testing.

And part of being completely informed involves being free to make a decision based on that information. “If you’re getting prenatal tests, you are hoping to have a baby you can take care of,” says Nash. “If your baby has anencephaly with serious brain issues, you are not going to be able to raise a child. To find out you can’t obtain an abortion is heartbreaking. You are already in a very difficult place.”

Last year, Texas freelance writer Carolyn Jones shared her experience deciding to end a pregnancy that doctors told her involved disabilities so severe that it was doubtful her child would be born alive. She recoiled at using the term “abortion” to describe what she went through, writing in the Texas Observer that “it felt like a physical blow to hear that word, abortion, in the context of our much-wanted child.”

(MOREStudy: Free Birth Control Slashes Abortion Rates)

Before getting an abortion, Jones had to obtain an additional state-mandated ultrasound – at the time, Texas was one of seven states that required women contemplating abortion for any reason to hear a doctor describe in detail their fetus’ anatomy. She later learned of a clause that allows women carrying babies with irreversible abnormalities to opt out. “You can imagine that having politicians muscling in on the most private and devastating personal situation I’ve ever been [in] was terrible,” Jones said at the time. “As devastating as this is, I feel at peace with the choice I made.”

Critics of the legislation are concerned that the penalties called for in the bill — up to a year in prison for any physician performing an abortion either because of gender or a fetal anomaly — may also discourage doctors from completely sharing results of genetic tests with expectant mothers, in an effort to avoid the difficult decisions, and potential prosecution, that may come from such disclosure.

If North Dakota’s Dalrymple signs the fetal anomaly legislation into law, women won’t be able to opt out — from an ultrasound or from caring for a disabled child. Dalrymple must now weigh if that’s an achievement he wants his state to claim.

134 comments
Spiretur
Spiretur

I can merely focus on the negative and create such a horrible possible future scenario, that I would feel no guilt whatsoever.

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maryos3
maryos3

Who are they, these people in the legislature to determine yes or no  on fetal abnormalities?  This is a family matter, not some outsiders bungling things up.  They want to interefere in matters that are none of their business.  What then, if the abnormalities cost tremendous health care burdens on the family. Will these congressmen pick up the tab?  I'm sure that they won't.  They probably will complain that medical costs are exorbitant but didn't mind 9 months previous about the health of either the mother or this deformed baby, so probably, if lucky, might survive.  Animals who have miscarriages, are a natural part of the process, eliminating nature's mistakes.

ctmem
ctmem

Laws will fail to address the issue.  Compliance is not the same as compassion.  This is the problem with trying to legalize morality. http://goo.gl/byqKR

KatBlackBlue
KatBlackBlue

Until women have the complete right to decide how their own bodies are used, we cannot call our country a democracy.

wiltshil
wiltshil

I just don't agree that adoption for those children is always the answer. We have so many children waiting to be adopted and in our system already. If a parent cannot take care of the child it should be their choice. All things need to be considered. What really is the adoption rate of children with Down syndrome? Mothers getting attached to children with no brains? That is emotionally damaging. 

garyk
garyk

“There does not appear to be long-term mental health consequences from being denied an abortion or from having an abortion.” "In other words, women learn to love their kids; they just don’t have the economic resources to raise them."

What a shock it will be when researchers discover people have consciences.  That is, if, by then, we haven't completely anesthetized them.

Kindness
Kindness

Comical. The lead in question of this article is that of a pro-death liberal that presumes all readers would agree with him. Has the pro abortion side of this debate lost all perspective? "What? There are people that have qualms about destroying a human being at x months of development."

DT
DT

Too many posts that veer off on rabbit trails.  In order to debate objectively, there needs to be a consensus about the choices we are talking about.  It all comes down to what is actually taking place when a fetus is removed from a woman.  If the fetus is a part of the woman, then we can debate whether or not she should be to do what she wants with HER body.  If the fetus is a separate human being, then the debate becomes does the woman, or anyone else, have the right to terminate a separate human being?  In either instance, the point at which a new/separate human being is present has to be determined....not by opinion nor circumstance...but rather by science.  Once that is established, then dialogue can proceed.  Until then anyone's thoughts and comments are circumstantial at best.  So, is there a scientific definition...not religious or secular opinion...as to when a new individual life begins?  or at least what qualifies someone as living vs. non-living?

sensibleX
sensibleX

"In other words, women learn to love their kids; they just don’t have the economic resources to raise them." -- So, basically, this is an economics problem, not a medical problem. You don't need an abortion because the baby is deformed or you might die, but because you *might* end up poor. Isn't this the problem that open adoption solves? Also, didn't Obama sign some sort of gender pay equality legislation a couple of years ago? What happened with that? Maybe the focus for women's rights organizations really needs to be on economic opportunities for women -- loosening government restrictions on entrepreneurs and small businesses, which provide the ONLY outlet for women trapped in low paying jobs. The glass ceiling won't go away, so we must make it easier and cheaper for women to go into business for themselves. 

garyk
garyk

The witness of a conscience by itself would never allow killing.  It has to be desensitized.  Trivializing life itself.  "Useless eaters" -- that was once a term to do it.  Look what that once "justified."

The systematic pounding on the conscience to make it numb.  Things that would normally make you throw up.  Now they can be done as easily as breathing the air.

Ah, the advancements of humanity.  Someday, just maybe.  The things we see, the things we do.  No shock at all.

No more humanity in humanity.

garyk
garyk

"Five years later, researchers found that the greatest impact of being denied an abortion was on socioeconomic status: women who couldn’t get an abortion were three times likelier to be living or staying in poverty compared to women who received abortions they wanted."

The life of a child in return for a better economic outlook. Never mind about "R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y." That can be surgically removed, too. "I want a better life for myself, I want an abortion." ???

We're talking about "killing."  Call it whatever "stage" you want -- it is killing a created thing.  And, it is not the baby's fault.  It never is.

freonpsandoz
freonpsandoz

The question of when life begins is a religious and philosophical one, not a scientific one. Those who oppose abortion claim to be "saving innocent lives," when what they are really doing is forcing their religious beliefs about when life begins on everyone else.

brasilieno
brasilieno

And lets not forget, for those who consider themselves feminists, that there are MILLIONS and MILLIONS of missing women around the world. YEP. Feminists who are pro-choice are preventing the birth of millions of girls around the world. Isn't that just amazing.

Possibly 200 Million Girls Missing Due to Sex-Selection Abortion

- http://www.lifenews.com/2012/10/23/possibly-200-million-girls-missing-due-to-sex-selection-abortion/

Millions of missing girls: Gita Aravamudan on sex-selective abortion

 - http://www.globalconversation.org/2013/02/18/millions-missing-girls-gita-aravamudan-sex-selective-abortion

All in the name of freedom! All in the name of Choice! Seems like a crime to me.

brasilieno
brasilieno

Strange, I also thought choice starts with the decision to have (or not) sex, the choice continues with the decision to use (or not) contraceptives. An adult then accepts responsibility for their actions.  If you choose to have unprotected sex, just like driving drunk, or using a weapon carelessly, you have to live with the results and take responsibility for your actions.  If you choose to smoke, you cannot blame anyone else when you come down with lung cancer. If you choose to take drugs you cannot blame anyone else for ending up dead and/or in jail. It would be nice if we could go around and abort those who we are not happy with, be it the unborn, be it your boss, be it an elected member in DC. However, aborting Senators, Congressmen and the President is not allowed, so why should we be allowed to abort an innocent unborn child one minute from being born?  Fair is fair, is it not?

connieeichhorn
connieeichhorn

When did the government feel it necessary to become involved in my personal like?  There are 3 reasons why abortion is legal!  1.  Rape.  Do you think you would love that child?  No  2.  Incest.  Enough said.  3.  Deforminiy.  If it is proven that the child will never have a good life.  Other than that, abortion is not granted!

HiFreqTraitor
HiFreqTraitor

Yes, I'm sure this is really a big deal for all 12 people living in N. Dakota.

DrJKH
DrJKH

It's very disturbing that there are so many people that think there is anything that can justify murdering a baby.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

The Roe v. Wade decision explicitly delineated the time frame as - "The State has the right to intervene PRIOR TO FETAL VIABILITY ONLY to protect the health of the mother, and may regulate the procedure AFTER VIABILTY so long as there is always an exception for preserving maternal health."

Roe v. Wade will prevail

JuliaScales
JuliaScales

It's funny it says there are "70 people listening" in the comment section, yet listening doesn't seem to be happening at all. There are people arguing pro-life sentiments from a judgmental religious standpoint and people arguing pro-choice sentiments from a belittling elitist standpoint. There are real reasons for both sides of the issue. Personally, I tend to be pro-life, but I can argue that from a feminist standpoint as well as a diversity standpoint (in regard to ability, socioeconomic class, and race) and surprisingly not just from a "religitard" standpoint as one of the commentators has stated. Try to respect and understand the other's viewpoint and maybe we can actually make some progress.  

EMontana
EMontana

It's not a matter of judging disabled children as worthless. It's the fact children with disabilities tend to rack up doctor bills mostly within their first four years of life. Imagine the worst case scenerio: 16 year old girl gets pregnant, finds out it has a disability, and because of this law she can't abort it. Her parents support her, but the child's doctor bills still bring down an entire family's income, the mother's college money, and the parents steady lifestyle. They all end up with nothing to eat and little to wear, but hey, the kid's alive, right?

JasonMillican
JasonMillican

You people scare me - all you in favor of killing handicaped people.  You're not doing this (yet) when they are big and can look you in the eye, as you judge them worthless, burdensome, and unworthy of living, but when they are little, defenseless, and totally innocent of any offence other than being alive and in your eyes blemished and imperfect.  Are any of you "perfect"?  The answer is no.  Unfortunately for the little ones, you are powerful, judgemental, ruthless, and without mercy.  You scare me.

thecrud
thecrud

To not uphold a law that the supreme court has already ruled on and to subvert it is a violation of human rights and treason .

They need to all be imprisoned on a very large scale. Anyone being denied or hassled needs to be compensated at a very high rate. To end this once and for all. religitards lost, time to accept it is long passed.

KrystalLynn
KrystalLynn

This article is sickening, who can claim to love their child and then sue over a "wrongful birth"?  For the people arguing that it is merciful to kill possibly disabled babies in the womb so that they don't suffer, that is nonsense.  By that logic would should round up all disable children and adults who are believed to be suffering or making their caretakers suffer, and put a "merciful" end to their lives as well.  I would be willing to bet that most of them would like to continue living, but by the logic of some of you here, what they think shouldn't matter.  Also, someone argued that God should be entirely left out of government entirely, this is also nonsense.  If you really want that then we should legalize murder, and theft and every other horrible thing for that matter.  Morality is something that everyone has a different view on, so it's not fair to impose any one else's view of morality, on anyone, by law....is what you are basically saying.  

GeorgiaLynWidmer-Lambert
GeorgiaLynWidmer-Lambert

When my water broke at 30 wks with my 7th child, I was told that he was down syndrome and that he had a major heart defect that would have to be repaired between 3-4 mths. The heart defect was what scared me. He is now 3 and I am so thankful for him. He is such a joy to our family. He is 1 of 43 grandkids and he is definitely the favorite among all of the cousins. I don't agree with abortion and I am thankful that the state of TX helps families with handicapped children. There are a lot of people out there that can't have children and would love a child no matter what condition they were in. All children have issues, you just have to! adapt your life around it. You couldn't pay me to get rid of any of my 8 kids. I love all of them...with all of their flaws

VictoriaSchwartz
VictoriaSchwartz

As a person born with a fetal abnormality which at the time was considered fatal, I have been thankful a thousand times that abortion was not legal when I was born!  Seven years after I was conceived, I was able to have a new surgery which repaired my heart defect. I am very grateful for all my parents sacrificed in order for me to live.  Despite my grim prospects at birth, I have lived a largely normal life, went on to graduate from college, marry, and have two healthy children.  I have been opposed to abortion since my teenage years, when I discovered how abortion is used to murder the disabled.  Three cheers for North Dakota!

MelissaMansonEaton
MelissaMansonEaton

The Levy's in the above article make me sick...how can they say that they love their child, but would have murdered her if they had known she had Down Syndrome.  I applaud North Dakota...to think we have to, actually, pass laws protecting babies from their own mothers.

AngieHarris14
AngieHarris14

I totally agree with these bills!   I have a 23 yr old Special Need daughter and a 32 yr old step-daughter who is Down Syndrome.  They are both a blessing!!  There is never a good reason to abort an innocent baby!  There are many who would adopt these precious babies!  There's also been many times that a family has been told their baby would be born Down Syndrome and when the baby arrived it wasn't.  Sure kids with disabilities can be a challenge....so are "normal" kids!  All life is precious!!  

RoseEphraim
RoseEphraim

When I found out that my son would have down syndrome based on tests given during my pregnancy, I was given the choice to abort. I chose to love my baby regardless of the struggles ahead. He was born completely normal!!! Imagine if I had murdered him for my convenience!!! Thank God I had the conviction of my heart that saved my son's life!!! Congratulations North Dakota! I'm really tired of everyone telling us that a mother has the right to murder her child. The baby doesn't deserve the death penalty for being conceived

momoffive
momoffive

Praise God!!  Someone with a backbone in office.  The Lord has heard our cries!!! 

KatyBussler
KatyBussler

I remember the triple screen tests came back positive for spina bifida for my son. I was encouraged to abort. This was 6 years ago. I refused, and a few months later my perfectly healthy son was born. These doctors aren't always right. Get a second opinion, always!!!

pumkin72
pumkin72

Allowing these babies to be aborted is akin to  justifiable homicide, instead of outright homicide?  The Levys (cited in the above article) are horrid.  They claim to love their daughter but would have murdered her if they had known what a life with her would be like ahead of time.

TeresaThompson
TeresaThompson

When I was pregnant with each of my boys, we did not allow the dr to do any of those test. God is in control and if our children had birth defects we would have dealt with them as they came, with God's help. I have a niece who is mentally and physically challenged and everyone in our family loves her as much as the others.

andrewtuano
andrewtuano

@brochman Neither parents nor babies want abnormalities. Get your gov't to enact laws that will support these families! That's more logical.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

Women of North Dakota, you are officially chattel and incubators for a bunch of GOTP politicians who otherwise couldn't care less about you or your children.  This is state-forced pregnancy.  Please remember that when you vote.

alienamonghumans
alienamonghumans

The people in favor of this misguided legislation believe that they are saving their souls from damnation by these actions. I say this . . . if one looks upon such a malformed child (such as one who's brain did not form completely) and one does not well up with emotion feeling great sorrow, sadness, and pity for such suffering, then one doesn't have a soul worth saving in the first place. To knowingly bring such suffering to another to spare one's own soul is a selfish despicable act.

OlgaSia08
OlgaSia08

@brochman i think it should remain parents choice. It shouldn't be up to some people to decide about a situation they have 0% involvement in

r3volutionist777
r3volutionist777

Speaking as a native Rough Rider whose family has been here since 1892 (and been involved in politics for just about the same amount of time) , I can tell you, Bonnie, that I would most definitely be thrilled and proud to have my state be the first to take such a principled stand for the sanctity of human life! 

Peace,  Liberty, and Respect for Humanity and Human Life

Riley_roo14
Riley_roo14

“%s: North Dakota may ban abortions for fetal abnormalities | %sKtS” let's regress as a country%sice