Family Matters

The ‘Unbortion:’ Chicago Hospital Persuades Women to Halt Abortions

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There are many decisions in life that are irreversible, but, as it turns out, abortion does not have to be one of them.Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune reported on a Chicago hospital it says is one of the only Roman Catholic medical centers to offer what amounts to an un-bortion. Because second-trimester abortions span multiple days during which the cervix is first softened by inserting bundles of dried seaweed called laminaria, a woman who has second thoughts can, in theory, backtrack. The laminaria can be removed and the woman’s cervix allowed to close naturally, as the fetus continues to develop. (More on Having an Abortion Doesn’t Lead to Depression)

This isn’t the first time Catholic hospitals have made news recently: in December, the bishop of Phoenix essentially ex-communicated a hospital because doctors decided to end a pregnancy in order to preserve the life of the mother.

Halting an abortion is far from risk-free. It has the potential to end in preterm birth or miscarriage, exacerbating an already traumatic decision. A 2009 study from New York University found that two of four abortion reversals resulted in preterm births; those babies did not survive. As Cassing Hammond, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Tribune, “It’s much more complicated. It’s changing the chemistry of the cervix. The interventions that might be required are unclear.”

The ethics involved are just as murky. Apparently the few women who had their abortions reversed at Resurrection Medical Center did not decide to do so on their own. Instead, they were approached by anti-abortion activists — the hospital calls them “sidewalk counselors — outside local abortion clinics. (More on George W. Bush, His Mom and Her Fetus: Not So Weird After All)

Since October, four women have been persuaded by anti-abortion activists to reconsider aborting; doctors halted three of their abortions. One of the women, a 28-year-old the Tribune did not identify, expressed relief that she had accepted a ride home from the abortion clinic from a “pushy priest” who helped her realize she’d made the wrong decision. She had the laminaria removed. But the fourth woman ultimately decided to complete her abortion, admitting that she felt coerced by the activist who escorted her to the hospital.

Before an abortion is reversed, Resurrection officials say they first meet with a woman privately to determine whether she has been pressured to change her mind.

“Because these people have been through a lot, many times they don’t have the support in their decision-making, so they make decisions very quickly and oftentimes don’t think of all the consequences,” says Sister Donna Marie Wolowicki, Resurrection’s chief executive officer. “When the counselors meet them, sometimes this is the first person that’s really shown an interest in them and they respond to that quickly and come in. … The most important piece ethically is that we are respectful of the woman and we respect her ability to make her decision.” (More on Study: National Abortion Rates Plateau, While Protests Increase)

But is it ethical, in the first place, to try to get a woman to reconsider? What do you think?