Virtual Voices

Ethics lesson: 'Reducing' twins

Abortion

"Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." That's the refrain in the Book of Judges, when the Israelites had forgotten that God is their king. It could as well be a sentence summing up contemporary American life.

The New York Times Magazine yesterday presented a new example of such thinking. Ruth Padawer's "The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy" examines the abortion of a healthy twin when mothers decide they'd rather have only one child.

Here's the thinking of one such mother: "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."

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People who trust in God repeatedly find that He gives them what it takes to get through difficult circumstances. Those without such faith easily fall into Jennyianity: "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.'"

The article quoted Dr. Mark Evans, co-author in 1988 of guidelines for "reducing" a pregnancy. He was OK with aborting one of three triplets but not with killing one out of two twins, in part because the procedure carried some danger for the child not aborted. By 2004, though, abortion techniques had advanced, and Evans changed his mind, saying, "Ethics evolve with technology."

Other examples of evolved ethics: Although Columbia's Richard Berkowitz "insists that there is no clear medical benefit to reducing below twins, he will do it at a patient's request. 'In a society where women can terminate a single pregnancy for any reason-financial, social, emotional-if we have a way to reduce a twin pregnancy with very little risk, isn't it legitimate to offer that service to women with twins who want to reduce to a singleton?'"

To their credit, many doctors refuse requests to kill a twin. But listen to the rationalizing ability of Naomi Bloomfield: "I had an amnio and would have had an abortion if I found out that one of the babies had an anomaly, even if it wasn't life-threatening. I didn't want to raise a handicapped child. Some people would call that selfish, but I wouldn't. Parents who abort for an anomaly just don't want that life for themselves, and it's their prerogative to fashion their lives how they want. Is terminating two to one really any different morally?"

We might think, "How terrible these rationalizers are!" But those of us who profess to follow the Bible, if we're honest with ourselves, realize that we too make rationalizations. We can wag fingers at others, but we can also tell stories that show what happens when people, for whatever reasons, do the right thing.

Near the end of her long article Padawer tells her own story. She learned she was pregnant with twins after she and her husband already had a 2-year-old. She writes, "My terror was instantaneous, and for the next few days, I could not seem to grab enough oxygen to breathe. . . . I was right to be afraid. . . .The incessant demands of caring for two same-aged babies eclipse the needs of other children and the marriage. It certainly did for us."

But here's her conclusion: "There's no doubt that life with twins and a third child so close in age has often felt all-consuming and out of control. And yet the thought of not having any one of them is unbearable now, because they are no longer shadowy fetuses but full-fledged human beings whom I love in a huge and aching way."

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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