By Phillip Wood
I have followed with interest the public and legislative debates surrounding House Bill 2218, which places new restrictions on women who seek an abortion. Judging from personal family experience, these additional restrictions are a disservice to women undergoing a problematic pregnancy.
My wife and I very much wished to have another child, but were unsuccessful and so decided to have a GIFT procedure (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) at University Hospital in Columbia, Mo., in which a fertilized egg is reimplanted. We were overjoyed to learn that we would be having twins.
At 16 weeks into my wife’s pregnancy, however, an ultrasound revealed twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. The blood vessel of one twin had crossed the placenta to the other, leaving one twin with too much blood for its heart capacity and one with too little blood and nourishment. Our doctors concluded that the smaller twin posed a risk to the life of the other. They recommended a surgery to tie off the smaller twin’s umbilical cord in hopes of saving the other. Because this procedure is not available in Columbia, we were referred to a Florida specialist.
At 21 weeks we drove to Florida because my wife could not fly on doctor’s orders. The specialist in Florida performed an ultrasound and told us that the larger twin now was in heart failure and that the surgery to tie off the smaller one’s umbilical cord no longer could be performed. He told us that both twins would die regardless, and that my wife should have an abortion if she ever desired another pregnancy because there was a significant risk of rupture of the uterus along with some risk of amniotic embolism.
His hospital, a Catholic one, did not perform abortions. We went back home and, at 22 weeks, tried to get an abortion in St. Louis, Mo. It was impossible, we were told, because the head of the larger twin was too large.
Three days later, at 22 weeks, we were in the care of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller. Kansas law required us to sign a number of papers that recited state-mandated language about the fetuses’ brain development, how human they looked in utero and their ability to feel pain. I found myself wondering what quality of life they would have had if we continued the pregnancy further, and thought that surely they could not feel very good as sick as they were.
Tiller was later murdered in his church for helping families like mine. He was especially caring and helped me and my wife grieve for our sons. We held a baptism that, while very sad, meant a great deal to me and that I will forever cherish.
My wife and I were not alone. We met other couples at Tiller’s clinic that had similar cases in which a genetically healthy child had something bad happen in utero. It was all too obvious that wanted pregnancies sometimes become difficult ones that require difficult decisions.
I hope this story shows how advances in medicine lead a family to make more, rather than fewer, medical decisions during a problem pregnancy. Families and their doctors must now sometimes balance the odds of preserving the reproductive health of the mother for a subsequent pregnancy versus continuing a pregnancy with its outcome. Others, such as our family, also must weigh whether to bring two children into the world who may both have a poor quality of life against the option of terminating the life of one fetus to improve the other’s chances. These decisions are revisited again and again during the course of a difficult pregnancy as new information and developments present themselves.
Do we really want to force families to make hasty, possibly ill-informed decisions regarding pregnancy and abortion because politicians have set a bright, arbitrary line regarding termination of pregnancy? Don’t we want to give families every available opportunity to make the best decisions for them?
Given that situations such as ours do occur, I do not believe that the Kansas Legislature should have passed increased restrictions on abortion. I am further saddened that Gov. Sam Brownback did not take families facing difficult pregnancies into consideration when he signed HB 2218 into law.
Phillip Wood lives in Columbia, Mo.
Reprinted from The Wichita Eagle, Friday, April 15, 2011