The Right to Fashion Our Lives How We Want

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 08/18/2011

I was going to comment on this article in the New York Times, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy,” but I think the horror of it speaks more clearly for itself than I ever could. (If you can stomach reading the whole article, I think it’s an important read.) The story is about the increasing number of women who are choosing to end the life of one of their twins because they only want one:

Consider the choice of which fetus to eliminate: if both appear healthy (which is typical with twins), doctors aim for whichever one is easier to reach. If both are equally accessible, the decision of who lives and who dies is random. To the relief of patients, it’s the doctor who chooses—with one exception. If the fetuses are different sexes, some doctors ask the parents which one they want to keep.

At first, “reductions” were only done for medical reasons—i.e., to save the lives of the other unborn children. But since our culture can offer no consistent argument as to why the deaths of these children shouldn’t be obtained for other reasons, the practice has become just another way for women to design their perfect lives.

So here are a couple stories to give a face to what happens when we decide that “ethics evolve with technology,” as one doctor put it.

[“This is not what I want for my life”] was the thinking of Dr. Naomi Bloomfield, an obstetrician near Albany who found out she was pregnant with twins when her first child was not quite a year old. “I couldn’t have imagined reducing twins for non-medical reasons,” she said, “but 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?”

(No, it isn’t. It’s just easier to see it for what it really is.)

Evans estimates that the majority of doctors who perform reductions will not go below twins. Shelby Van Voris was pregnant with triplets when she discovered this for herself. After she and her husband tried for three years to get pregnant, they went to a fertility doctor near their home in Savannah, Ga. He put Shelby, then 30, on fertility drugs, and when that didn't work, he ramped things up with injections. By then, her husband, a 33-year-old Army officer, had been deployed to Iraq. He left behind three vials of sperm, and she was artificially inseminated. “You do weird things when mortars are flying at your husband’s head,” she said. She soon found out she was carrying triplets. Frantic, she yelled at the doctor: “This is not an option for us! I want only one!”

Her fertility specialist referred her to a doctor in Atlanta who did reductions. But when Shelby called, the office manager told her that she would have to pay extra for temporary staff to assist with the procedure, because the regular staff refused to reduce pregnancies below twins. She contacted three more doctors, and in each case was told: not below two. “It was horrible,” she says. “I felt like the pregnancy was a monster, and I just wanted it out, but because we tried for so long, abortion wasn’t an option. My No. 1 priority was to be the best mom I could be, but how was I supposed to juggle two newborns or two screaming infants while my husband was away being shot at? We don’t have family just sitting around waiting to get called to help me with a baby.”

Eventually, she heard about Evans and flew to New York for the procedure. “I said, ’You choose whoever is going to be safe and healthy,’” she says. “I didn’t give him any other criteria. I didn’t choose gender. None of that was up for grabs, because I had to make it as ethically O.K. for me as I could. But I wanted only one.”

She paid $6,500 for the reduction and left Evans’s office incredibly relieved. “I went out on that street with my mother and jumped up and down saying: ’I’m pregnant! I’m pregnant!’ And then I went and bought baby clothes for the first time.”

Today, her daughter is 2½ years old. Shelby intends to tell her about the reduction someday, to teach her that women have choices, even if they’re sometimes difficult.

What have we become? God have mercy on us.