Two minus one: the shocking practice of "singleton" abortions

It involves aborting one twin — and it’s more common than you may think.  The New York Times took a closer look at the practice in the Sunday magazine last weekend:

As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.

“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

For all its successes, reproductive medicine has produced a paradox: in creating life where none seemed possible, doctors often generate more fetuses than they intend. In the mid-1980s, they devised an escape hatch to deal with these megapregnancies, terminating all but two or three fetuses to lower the risks to women and the babies they took home. But what began as an intervention for extreme medical circumstances has quietly become an option for women carrying twins. With that, pregnancy reduction shifted from a medical decision to an ethical dilemma. As science allows us to intervene more than ever at the beginning and the end of life, it outruns our ability to reach a new moral equilibrium. We still have to work out just how far we’re willing to go to construct the lives we want.

Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. “This is bad, but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,” she told me, referring to the reduction. She and her husband worked out this moral calculation on their own, and they intend to never tell anyone about it. Jenny is certain that no one, not even her closest friends, would understand, and she doesn’t want to be the object of their curiosity or feel the sting of their judgment.

This secrecy is common among women undergoing reduction to a singleton. Doctors who perform the procedure, aware of the stigma, tell patients to be cautious about revealing their decision. (All but one of the patients I spoke with insisted on anonymity.) Some patients are so afraid of being treated with disdain that they withhold this information from the obstetrician who will deliver their child.

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10 responses to “Two minus one: the shocking practice of "singleton" abortions”

  1. What we glimpse here is the underlying malignancy of IVF, and the reason why we ought not allow our sympathy for the childless to cloud our reason and judgement.

    Regina and I both lived the bitter and sorrowful disappointment of not being able to conceive for over four LONG years. We went into our marriage agreeing that, come what may, we would abide the teaching of the Church. We would not do IVF, nor would I see my wife juiced up with ghastly levels of cancer-inducing hormones, all in the name of having a biological keeper.

    It was after we stopped trying and agreed to proceed to adoption that our first child was conceived.

    That said, the grotesqueness that the desperate swallow in the pursuit of biological progeny is evident in this article. The euphemistic reductions are the most noticeable tip of the iceberg.

    In the process of IVF, several eggs are harvested after pumping women full of hormones to stimulate hyper-ovulation. The consent to this by any husband ranges between ignorance to unspeakable selfishness.

    Then, the husband is handed a specimen cup and shown a room where he must manually produce a semen sample. At this point, the procreative work is no longer that of husband and wife, but rather that of a team of lab technicians who will facilitate the union of egg and sperm. Husband and wife are relegated to the sidelines as mere observers.

    Once the clutch of eggs is fertilized, the embryos are sorted and graded according to ‘viability’. At this point, a cell may be taken from the embryo to test for genetic and potential developmental anomalies. The poorer candidates are thus tossed away, the best implanted, and the rest frozen at -320 degrees F in liquid nitrogen.

    Thus, the entire process of IVF treats the child as an accessory in the lives of he parents, with little to no regard for that child’s weaker siblings who are simply thrown away, or immersed in liquid nitrogen indefinitely, a process that kills half of all who are frozen. No amount of desperation can ever justify this hideous mockery of God’s wise design. The experience that Regina and I had shows the value of respecting and obeying the Church as a matter of habit, so that when the storms hit, one has a safe refuge.

    People may ridicule the Church and the teaching handed down by our celibate bishops, but as this article demonstrates, perhaps it takes a celibate to help the rest of us weather the storms.

  2. This just devastates me. When I read it in this Sunday’s NYT, I was reminded of a similar true story that was in the magazine a few years ago. I saved it in and just discovered that it is in their archives.

    It is not only an IVF mind-set. This is the story of a single women pregnant with triplets, who said that one was enough.

    When I was pregnant and having some complications, one of the nurses in the Westchester County, NY hospital told me about a woman who demanded and apparently got an abortion. She was pregnant with a boy. She said that she already had 3 boys and wanted a girl, not another boy.

    That was 29 years ago. I couldn’t believe it then, now I do.

  3. God forgive me for judging but it confounds me how someone who is desperate to become a parent could do such a thing. This just furthers my belief that IVF is about people trying to play God. Here’s a novel idea: if couples want a singleton baby, let them adopt a singleton baby. There are plenty of babies and children who need loving parents to adopt them. As the previous poster commented, IVF procedures present serious health risks to the mother, and almost always lead to the death of unwanted babies. But adoption is a beautiful, loving, and life-affirming thing. Jenny could have put her unwanted twin up for adoption but I suppose adoption is not on her radar or she would not be an IVF patient.

  4. Two of Jenny’s phrases stand out: “in such an artificial manner” and “all so consumerish to begin with.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith couldn’t have put it better, but they’ve been saying the same thing for years.

    Yep, artificial and consumerish is what IVF is all about.

  5. Twins run in my extended family. I had aunts who were twins, and also twin nephews. One thing I have observed is the special bond that twins have; they are best friends, and no one else in the world knows or understands them quite like the other twin (I’m sure all twins aren’t like that, but the ones I know definitely are.) In reading the rest of the NYT article cited, I read one woman’s comment that someday she would tell her surviving daughter what happened, to let her know that “women have choices”. If I was her I would re-think that; there is no good way to tell a child that you killed their sister or brother. Maybe it would explain the feeling which the child may have had that something is missing, but there is no way the mother-child relationship could survive such a revelation unscathed. Something tells me that relationship is not going to be great, anyway; built as it is on parental selfishness.
    People criticized the “octomom”, but at least she didn’t do this.

  6. It’s horrible, but then all abortion is horrible. Is this any worse than aborting a single child? May they all have a change of heart.

  7. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom this.

    I have twins. They love each other so much that I can’t comprehend not only picking which one I would not want, but depriving that child of it’s sibling that’s closer than a sibling.

  8. Manny is right, it’s all bad. But often we don’t think of the injustice to the siblings of the aborted child.

  9. This woman tried hard to get pregnant again—as the article mentioned that she has school age children. Why after all that effort would you even consider removing one of the twin fetuses just because it was conceived by IVF, but wouldn’t be considering it if it had been without IVF? Her reasoning just makes no sense to me.

  10. PS: We agree on something! It does not make sense.

    When we take God out of it and play god this is what happens. One wicked thing leads to another.

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