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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Pregnancy reduction,’ an everyday horror

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The New York Times Magazine has published a heartbreaking article on yet another monument in the culture of death — pregnancy reduction.

In case you have never heard the term, here’s what pregnancy reduction is in a nutshell. When a pregnant mother is carrying two or more babies in her womb, she can choose to kill one or more of those babies while allowing others to live. According to pro-choicers, pregnancy reduction is a practice that began years ago to reduce health risks for women carrying multiples. Pro-choicers have also reasoned that pregnancy reduction increases chances for surviving multiples to make it to term.

But that was then, and this is now. What began as a misguided attempt to help women and (some!) unborn babies has now slid down the slippery slope. Now, the procedure is increasingly performed on women carrying twins. In fact, the Aug. 10 Times article focuses in particular on the increasing number of women who carry twins but, for whatever reason, only want one of them to live. The reasons for killing one and letting the other live range from finances to time management. The opening paragraphs offer a glimpse into one woman’s pregnancy reduction:

“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.'”

The rest of the article goes on to describe the moral quandary that these women find themselves in. The women seem to have a sense that killing a perfectly healthy baby while letting its sibling live is wrong. Their consciences trouble them, and they do it in secret without ever telling any of their friends. They cover their tracks even though they otherwise openly support abortion rights. So why the guilt about killing a twin but no guilt about killing a single?

I can imagine at least one answer to that question. The surviving twin will always remind the mother of what might have been. The surviving twin holds a magnifying glass up to the humanity of the child that was killed. The survivor is a living witness to what the human conscience already knows, and no inane euphemism (like “pregnancy reduction”) can completely suppress what the heart knows to be true. Every single person — born and unborn — is created in the image of God. To kill innocent unborn human life, therefore, is a grave moral evil. And nothing brings that truth home more powerfully than a surviving twin.

This article makes one thing clear, even if only by accident. There really is no ethically significant difference between “reduction” and abortion. Both procedures subordinate the baby’s right to life to the personal convenience of the mother. The Times article says:

“The reasons for reducing to a singleton are not so different from the decision to abort a pregnancy because prenatal tests reveal anomalies. In both cases, the pregnancies are wanted, but not when they entail unwanted complications — complications for the parents as much as the child. Many studies show the vast majority of patients abort fetuses after prenatal tests reveal genetic conditions like Down syndrome that are not life-threatening. What drives that decision is not just concern over the quality of life for the future child but also the emotional, financial or social difficulty for parents of having a child with extra needs. As with reducing two healthy fetuses to one, the underlying premise is the same: this is not what I want for my life.”

In other words, some parents have an inviolable plan for their lives that doesn’t include the intrusion of an unwanted child. That child’s right to live has to give way to the mother’s right not to be put-out by the burden of caring for her child. This logic is morally bankrupt, but it is all too common fare today.

In this article, the euphemism “pregnancy reduction” is a ruse. It is a term that attempts to cover up a great moral evil. The expression plainly functions to deflect attention from an intolerable contradiction — that one unborn child might be allowed to live while its perfectly healthy sibling is destroyed. But the covering is a fig leaf, and that is seen most conspicuously in the troubled consciences of the mothers and medical professionals in this article who have participated in this procedure.

At the end of the day, it’s not just the euphemism that is the problem. It is the heinous evil that the euphemism is trying to hide that should scandalize us. Reducing a pregnancy means killing an innocent human. Just as we don’t want to give in to the mores of a decadent culture, neither should we be complicit in covering evil with clever obfuscations. Such talk is a not-too-subtle throwback to an ancient method that humans use to justify sin — calling evil good and calling good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Make no mistake. God is outraged at that, and we should be too.
Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, DennyBurk.com

    About the Author

  • Denny Burk

    Denny Burk is professor of Biblical Studies and director of The Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College. He is also the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

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