This past Saturday, in Belfast, thousands of pro-life demonstrators from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland joined together to send a clear message to their respective governments that “the lives of the unborn must be protected.”
Bernadette Smyth of the pro-life organization Precious in Northern Life stated that the rally was clear sign to North Ireland’s Justice Minister David Ford that he should not attempt to bring in legislation that would allow for abortion in cases of fetal abnormality. Justice Ford is currently considering such legislation.
The abortion debate has risen to prominence over the past year in Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal, in the past year as two women have revealed that their unborn babies had been diagnosed prenatally with anencephaly, a condition that typically results in the death of the newborn within a few hours, days, or occasionally weeks after birth. An appeal was made to the Minister of Health to change the law to allow for abortion in cases of fetal abnormality.
Regarding fetal abnormality, Niamh Ui Bhrain of the Life Institute stated that “abortion campaigners sought to broaden abortion laws by using the distress felt by every family facing such tragic news and such a distressing diagnosis.”
Ms. Ui Bhrain added, “Seeking to push abortion on vulnerable families really is the worst form of discrimination, and for these unborn children who are severely disabled, this is a lethal form of discrimination.”
What makes the threat of abortion based on a baby’s physical condition all the more tragic is that there is that better options are available but are rarely discussed. Abortion proponents argue that aborting a baby with a severe disability is a kindness- for the child and for the family. However this robs that child of their right to live, for as long as they can, based on their physical limitations. While the desire to “spare” the mother and family a distressing experience is natural and many people believe that terminating the pregnancy as quickly as possible will enable the parents to get over the sad experience, this actually may be a disservice to the family.
As discussed at length in a CLI paper on perinatal hospice by Dr. Byron Calhoun, a number of studies have shown that the emotional pain of pregnancy lost from termination due to anomaly is often as intense as spontaneous pregnancy loss. A 2005 study which looked at 253 women between 2-7 years after termination of pregnancy for fetal anomalies found that pathologic grief persisted in 3% of patients and that 17% suffered from symptoms of posttraumatic stress. A 2009 study found persistent and significant grief responses at 4, 8, and 16 months following the termination. At 16 months following the abortion, 21% of women were still at pathologic levels of posttraumatic stress. In stark contrast, mothers who chose not to abort were doing considerably better a year after giving birth.
A more humane option, both for the baby and the family, seems to be to let the child live and provide care and support for the family before the child is born, during its life, and after its eventual death.
A recent case in Ireland demonstrates how positive perinatal hospice can be for the entire family. In December 2011, Tom and Mandy Dunne of County Wexford discovered when they went for their 20 week scan that their daughter had Patau’s syndrome and was therefore “incompatible with life.” The family decided against a termination. Mandy stated, “When her time was up, it was to be on her terms and not ours.”
Their daughter, Murieann, was born at 39 weeks. Despite concerns that she would not live through birth, Muireann surprised everyone by being declared well enough to go home with her family. With the help and support of hospice care, the Dunne family was able to make the most of their time with their daughter- her parents were allowed to be parents.
When Muireann died at 6 weeks old, she was surrounded by her family. In an essay written by her older brother Conor on the topic “A Place I Consider Beautiful”, Conor described Muireann’s gravesite at their parish church which he described as “monument to the joy she brought to our lives in the short time we had her.”
Families who are presented with such distressing diagnosis deserve more than an abortion referral. They deserve the best care and support possible.
Regardless of how short they are, the lives of these children have value. In the words of Conor Dunne, “There is no foot to small it cannot leave an imprint on this world.”
Nora Sullivan is a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.