It's difficult to write about this tragedy in a way that respects Wendy Davis' grief while still asserting that what she went through does not justify the decision to abort her little girl.
When a family is told that their unborn child will soon die, there is never going to be a happy resolution. Hopes and dreams are destroyed and replaced by anguish. What is bewildering is how anybody could actually believe that the death of a child will somehow hurt less if the child's death is hastened by an abortion.
Doctors are by nature people who are driven to take action against suffering. But whose suffering is lessened when a woman aborts after a prenatal diagnosis like the one the Davis family received? It does not seem that Wendy Davis suffered any less:
An indescribable blackness followed. It was a deep, dark despair and grief, a heavy wave that crushed me, that made me wonder if I would ever surface. It would take me the better part of a year to ultimately make my way up and out of it. And when I finally did come through it, I emerged a different person. Changed. Forever changed.The suffering is reduced not for the family, but for the doctor, who, after the abortion, no longer needs to go through the ordeal of prenatal visits that can only bring bad news: that the inevitable has happened and the baby has died. If the woman aborts, the doctor's suffering is certainly lessened. But it is the patient who pays the price.
As I said before, when the baby has a condition so serious that she might not survive until birth, and surely will not live long afterward, there is no happy ending. But that does not mean that there can only be the anguish of a treasured life cut cruelly short. Parents who have access to perinatal hospice report finding joy in the tragedy -- the joy of treasuring every single moment of their child's short life.
Perinatal hospice is not nearly as easy for the physician as an abortion referral. The patient and her family are provided with ongoing support in every way: medical, emotional, spiritual, and practical. This is far more time-intensive and resource-intensive than an abortion referral.
Unlike an abortion, perinatal hospice recognizes and respects that grief and anguish are inevitable, regardless of how soon or late the pregnancy and the child's life end. The woman will be a grieving mother for the rest of her life. Abortion can not in any way change that. The woman is allowed to walk through that grief without relinquishing the child a moment sooner. It spares the woman from the needless additional agony of signing her child's death warrant in the form of an abortion consent form, and of helplessly enduring a procedure that kills her child in the one place she should be safest, in her mother's womb. The regret can be devastating, as "Janice" told Troy Newman:
I will never however forget the day I was given the digoxin shot through my stomach into the heart of my baby. It took me 45 minutes to calm down enough so that Dr. Tiller and one of his nurses could come in to do this. I was hysterical because after this there was no turning back. By telling them I was ready for them to come in and do it, I was telling them that it was ok to kill my daughter. They sedated me and then did it.
Remarkably, perinatal hospice also offers something that the parents never could have expected when that world-shattering diagnosis comes. It offers them a chance to find joy even in the grief. The woman is still supported in nurturing her baby, keeping her safe in the womb. And she and her family may have the opportunity to meet the child, to build memories of having held and treasured a living child who was afforded the opportunity to know a mother's caresses and kisses, her scent, the feel of her skin against her own.
I am no longer grateful for Dr. Tiller “helping me.” He didn’t help me at all. I wish now I would [have] had the courage to deliver my little girl and let her get even just one breath of air before she passed, to let her see my face just once before she passed. I will never have that chance now and I will always have to live with the decision I made and the nightmares of what happened to me in Kansas.
The greatest tragedy of these situations is that so few women are given this support. Too few are even told that even if perintal hospice isn't available in their area, there is still support from other parents who have faced the same ordeal, the same choice, and found their joy.
Many abortion supporters argue that it should still be the woman's choice about how she deals with the dreadful news that her unborn baby is dying. But how much is it a real choice, when doctors and other medical professionals are urging an abortion, are assuring her that it will be for the best, and are pressing her to make a decision quickly, while she's still reeling from such a blow? It's difficult to believe that given the choice between not having even a moment of joy and possibly having the chance to meet and cherish her baby any woman would say she'd rather have only anguish and no joy whatsoever, thank you very much. And given how much pressure is often put on the woman, how much of a choice is the woman really making at all? Read Renee's story.
We were only told that he would be very sick and would have a difficult life. The doctors kept reminding us that it wasn’t too late to terminate the pregnancy. One doctor even called me on the telephone and told me he’d like for me to reconsider my decision not to terminate. He said my son may always have to live in a children’s hospital and his life may be miserable and full of pain. He said that if I don’t terminate the pregnancy, I may feel guilty later on because I could have spared my son such a miserable life.Abortion supporters will argue that it's condescending and cruel to insist that the woman go through with the pregnancy when all the pregnancy is bringing is continued heartbreak. But again, the heartbreak is inevitable. The choice isn't between heartbreak and peace. It's between having only dark memories and having some joyful memories as well. You can read Jessica's story about her stillborn daughter, or Tam's story about her daughter's four days of being lavished with love. Or Sarah's story about the few precious moments she had with her baby girl:
I have loved Beatrix since the day I was born, it seems like. I was made for loving my beautiful baby girl. My arms were made to hold her until she breathed her last. My lips to cover her face with kisses. I wonder if she knew I was the one who had carried her all that time, safe in her quiet place? I would like to think she did- that when I kissed her and whispered in her ear, so many times, that I loved her, she recognized my voice, and felt loved.Abortion also closes off the real, if tiny, possibility that the doctors are wrong. How much greater will the woman's anguish be if after the abortion she learns that she'd signed away the life of a child who had a much brighter prognosis, or who was not in any way ailing at all?
Listen to actress Lynn Ferguson, sister of late-night host Craig Ferguson, talk about the pressure brought upon her to abort a child who in the end was born perfectly healthy: Before Fergus.
It's understandable that, given the trauma she's been through, Wendy Davis would cling to the idea that abortion was the only compassionate option available to women like her. No doubt it will be painful to confront the fact that she could have had the chance for precious time with her child. But her own personal tragedy must not let us lose sight of what we owe to other women like her, and their unborn children. Every woman deserves the utmost support in loving her baby, and every baby deserves the chance to every moment of life.