Politics & Policy

Abortion by Any Other Name…

...is still a murder.

“Selective reduction.” Just when you thought you’d heard every euphemism in the “pro-choice” movement’s book (see “The Abortion Distortion,” National Review, (July 12, 2004)), along comes a chilling article in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine entitled “When One is Enough.” In it, feminist author Amy Richards tells of her experience with aborting two of three triplets, in a process she calls “selective reduction.”

Miss Richards’s account of her abortions is disturbing in its candor. A thirty-something freelance writer living with her boyfriend, she described her reaction when told that she was pregnant not with one baby–which she would have accepted–but with three:

My immediate response was, I cannot have triplets. I was not married; I lived in a five-story walk up in the East Village; I worked freelance; and I would have to go on bedrest in March. I lecture at colleges, and my biggest months are March and April. I would have to give up my main income for the rest of the year. There was a part of me that was sure I could work around that. But it was a matter of, Do I want to?

She described other reasons compelling her decision to abort her unborn children, such as having “to be on bed rest at 20 weeks,” not being “able to fly after 15,” and thinking that she would “have to move to Staten Island,” and be doomed to a life of “shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise.”

Apparently within moments of finding out about her multiple pregnancy, she found her route to retail salvation. She asked her doctor whether it was “possible to get rid of one of them? Or two of them?” Her article then describes her process of “selective reduction,” in which her doctor first did a sonogram “to see if one fetus appears to be struggling.” The doctor and mother then choose which of the children are to die by a lethal injection of potassium chloride. In her case, since she wanted to “reduce” the number of children from three to one, that meant two had to be selected for reduction–or as Miss Richards describes, making “two disappear.” So after learning from her doctor that she was pregnant with two twins and a “stand alone” that was, in the doctor’s view, a few days older, she chose to keep the “stand alone.” “There was something psychologically comforting about that,” she writes, “since I wanted to have just one.”

“Reduction” seems to be a favorite linguistic shroud for abortion advocates–one that has multiple meanings. In recently completed trials challenging the constitutionality of the federal partial-birth-abortion ban, doctors describing the partial-birth-abortion method described how they “reduced” the “fetal calvarium.” By that clinical terminology, these doctors cloaked from public scrutiny the process by which they crushed a partially born child’s skull in order to complete the delivery of the aborted child. But “selective reduction” reaches a new low in the distortion of the language. Heard in a vacuum, the term could speak to any number of innocuous human experiences–perhaps it describes the process of clearing out deadwood in a forest to prevent forest fires or maybe it depicts a targeted weight-loss program. But spoken by a pro-abortion advocate, watch out. Seemingly harmless terms become lethal.

Having read Miss Richards’s account of her selective reduction, I could not help but wonder whether, in hindsight, my parents might have applied similar criterion in determining which of their six children deserved to live. Did any of us appear to struggle? Well, my oldest brother Jamie is the shortest of the lot, so maybe that would have been a good reason to reduce him. Sure, he’s a brilliant executive with a Ph.D. in quantum chemistry, but he has the least hair of all of us. My brother Chris has plenty of back problems–even had to surgery a few years back. And his sinuses? They are always bothering him. Maybe he should be reduced. Forget that he’s the father of two great kids and an electrical engineer. Tim? Well, he was born the third kid in just over three years. That’s really inconvenient. This Air Force Academy graduate, husband, and father of four could easily be made to “disappear.” Kelly’s the only girl, so maybe she gets a pass. But we were really broke when she came around. Dad was back in college when mom got pregnant with Kelly–in school with four boys and making $2.50 an hour as a part time cop? Costco would have been Bloomingdales to us back then. So I guess she’s a candidate, terrific nurse or not. Kyle never really had a chance. Mom was in her 40s when she got pregnant with him. She could have started retirement years ago if she had just decided that five is enough. And me? I’m a lawyer–that’s probably enough to qualify me for the “procedure.”

Despite the troubling picture drawn by Miss Richards’s account, she is to be commended for one thing: She does not rely on the favorite pretext of the pro-abortion movement–women’s “health.” The evidence relied upon by pro-abortion advocates in the recent trials challenging the constitutionality of the federal partial-birth-abortion ban was designed to show that nearly every abortion in this country happens to save a woman’s life and that elective abortions are exceedingly rare. But Miss Richards is unapologetic about her “selection,” and her account lays bare the cold utilitarianism and disquieting narcissism of the pro-abortion movement today.

Shannen W. Coffin, a Washington, D.C., attorney, is a former deputy assistant attorney general for the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In that capacity, he coordinated the government’s defense of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 in the three recently completed federal trials.


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