One of the myths about abortion laws — lately the Irish amendment, but it could be any country’s — is that if abortion isn’t legalized, doctors will be obliged to let women die of fatal complications of pregnancy. So let’s look at a case in present-day Ireland (pre-repeal) and see if that is true. Over at The Catholic Conspiracy, budding blogger Leah Gaines tells the story of her daughter Naomi, born at 26 weeks, 4 days:
My first two pregnancies went to term (42 weeks and 39 weeks) and were relatively straightforward. With #3, the issues began, but I made it to 37 weeks before delivery. With #4, things started off earlier, and we got to 33 weeks before the benefits of delivering the baby outweighed the benefits of keeping her in any longer. So, when my blood pressure started misbehaving at 22 weeks to the point of needing medication, things did not bode well for our little #5. In fact, within a few days I had finished work and was in hospital, where I remained until Naomi arrived.
. . . We got Naomi to 26 weeks. That’s the point where the scales tip from there being a 50% chance to an 80% chance of survival… But we were on a knife edge the whole time. I was transferred from my local hospital to another hospital (with the regional NICU) at 24 weeks because I was in immediate danger of having a stroke and they thought they’d have to deliver that night. If they had, there would have been a 39% chance of survival. If it had been a day earlier, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation, that would have been a 17% chance and they might not have intervened. It was the expertise of several consultants (and a cocktail of different medications) that helped us get another two weeks, improving the odds massively. I was being monitored very very closely, with the team ready to act at the drop of a hat… Which they did, in order to save both my life and our daughter’s life, once things had gone as long as they could.
What were the doctors doing? They were trying to get baby Naomi as far along as they could, but they were also ready to deliver even before viability if necessary to save the life of the mother.
That’s what is actually happening in Ireland today, under the present (pre-repeal) laws. It is good medicine, and when done prudently it is ethically sound.
How’s that working out? Leah continues:
On day one, we were sat down and told that our precious Naomi was a very sick little girl. She had a grade 4 bleed on her brain (and in the following days, had another grade 4 bleed on the other side), extremely premature lungs, and wasn’t responding to treatment. If she survived, and that seemed to be a very big if, she was likely to be profoundly disabled, wouldn’t be able to interact with us, wouldn’t have any quality of life worth talking about.. . . She was not the smallest, earliest, or sickest baby in the NICU at that time. Two of her little buddies are 24 weekers, another wasn’t quite as early but has very complex issues, and another little boy we know of (different hospital though) was born insanely early, at 22 weeks. Two weeks before what is considered “viable”. He’s now a gorgeous, cheeky one year old.
. . . We got her home after 4.5 months, hopping off one rollercoaster and onto another. It hasn’t always been easy but it has most definitely been wonderful. It was never guaranteed that she would ever be able to do anything, so every smile, every giggle, every crawling-over-and-pulling-her-sister’s-hair… we rejoice in all the little things because we don’t take them for granted. And, as it turns out, 20 months down the line, we’re yet to see any of these massive disabilities that we were told she would have. She has an NG tube for feeding, as she has some issues with her weight, but otherwise we haven’t had any major issues.
Diagnostic testing is imprecise at best. But more importantly, our children’s worth isn’t measured by how much they can do or how easy they are to care for. Leah Gaines has been through an extremely difficult time caring for a medically-fragile infant while also having to take care of her four older children. She knows how crushingly exhausting and terrifying and soul-searing it is to be the mom with the baby who will probably die.
Here’s what she says about that:
Because at the end of the day, God loves her way more than we ever could. She’d either get better or she wouldn’t, but nobody could have looked us in the eye and told us that our lives were better off without her in it, even for a short period of time.
And hence the need for the law to continue to protect the lives of both mothers and their babies:
. . . How many Naomi’s will be aborted if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, by parents who are being told that their lives will be better off without going through the heartache of having their child die?”