Abortions After IVF: Scandal Created By Anti-Choice Politics

Robin Marty

Few people want a baby as badly as those who have struggled with infertility, especially those who have undergone fertility treatments.   So can't we trust abortion isn't something they'd undertake lightly?

There are few people who want a baby as badly as those who have struggled with infertility, especially those who have undergone fertility treatments.   So the shocked reaction from many media outlets in the United Kingdom to news that approximately 80 pregnancies from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures eventually ended in abortions isn’t terribly surprising.  What is surprising, however, is the vitriol in which many attacked the women that they claimed just whimsically decided they didn’t want to be mothers any more.

“Dozens of IVF babies aborted ‘after women change their minds about becoming a mother’” claims Daily Mail, as if the decision to terminate a pregnancy was taken with the thought and introspection of deciding to wear a different colored sweater, or go out for dinner rather than stay home and cook.

Dozens of women are aborting babies conceived by IVF because they have changed their minds about motherhood, figures suggest.

Many are in their teens, twenties and early thirties, implying that numerous abortions were carried out for social reasons, rather than on health grounds.

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Relationship breakdowns, fears about motherhood and simple changes of heart are all likely to have played a part in the terminations.

“Women Undergoing IVF, Get Abortions on Second Thoughts” accuses Top News, because after spending months or years trying to get pregnant, and then lots of money for treatment, obviously they didn’t think it all through to start with.  

Eighty women a year undertake expensive IVF, and then terminate the pregnancies, just because they have doubts about being a mother.

Yesterday, the startling data ignited anger that some women were cruelly treating test-tube babies like “designer goods”.

Rationales offered for abortions, some sponsored by the NHS for around £5,000, were dreaded to comprise a simple change of mind.

Others were separated from their spouses, or were weighed down by families to begin a family too early.

One IVF mother aborted her twins after finding out that her husband was not loyal to her.

Other women are believed to undergo IVF not for a baby, but just to show they can have one.

Unmentioned by either of these articles, but made clear by a report from the BBC, is that these 80 abortions included procedures done due to medical problems with the fetus, or selective reduction in order to enhance one or two fetuses’ chances for better full term birth.  Although the other articles mention the abortions occur most often in the 18-35 age range, implying more healthy babies that were aborted, the BBC also points out that that is the age range for a majority of the pregnancies in the first place, making higher abortion rates inevitable.  The conservative press made leaping assumptions about the women who abort, but the BBC spoke of not jumping to conclusions about the reasons behind the choice.

…Susan Seenan of the Infertility Network UK advised caution.

“Anyone who has undergone IVF knows what a long and difficult experience it can be. To make the decision to then terminate that pregnancy cannot be one that anyone takes lightly. I would imagine there are some pretty good reasons.”

Laura Riley, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “Women and couples who have had donor insemination or IVF to become pregnant are unfortunately no more immune from the harsh vagaries of life than others who are lucky enough to be able to conceive naturally.

“Any woman can experience overwhelming life difficulties, such as intense relationship pressures or the diagnosis of a serious or lethal fetal medical problem. These may mean that she feels unable to continue with the pregnancy.”

At this point, the information has not been released as to the reasons for the abortions, although a breakdown is expected for sometime next week.   We do know that the 80 abortions rate less than 1 percent of the successful IVF pregnancies in the country in the last year.  Knowing that approximately 3-5 percent of all pregnancies have identifiable fetal abnormailties that can be determined prior to birth, the idea of assuming the majority of abortions are being performed on women who just liked the idea of getting pregnant more than they enjoyed the actuality of having a baby is laughable.

For women who struggle with fertility, just trying to conceive a child has already been a full effort, fraught with setbacks, disappointments and roadblocks.  But to finally become pregnant, only to find out that your child may have a neural tube disorder making it incompatible with life, or a trisomy that means that should you even manage to carry the child to birth it would be doomed to a short and painful life, or a heart defect making it unlikely to even survive the process of labor itself?  The pain, frustration and loss is unimaginable.

IVF isn’t just a one time process, where you show up, have some eggs taken out, and go about your way.  It requires multiple screenings with doctors, with various meetings throughout your cycle to monitor follicles, check for ovulation, do a retrieval, insert the fertilized eggs, and run betas to check for pregnancy.  It requires daily shots of hormones, countless restrictions on activities, and a full-time commitment to the procedure.  To imply that the women simply weren’t that interested, that motherhood was some sort of whim that they can easily discard, and that they were only in it to prove they could get pregnant, or that they only wanted “designer,” perfect babies, is offensive not just to anyone who has struggled to conceive, but to women in general.

But it plays perfectly with conservative crowd, who ceaselessly push the image of the fickle woman who can’t make a decision on her own.  The one who, if left to her own devices would suddenly decide at 7 months pregnant that she was tired of carrying a child and didn’t want to be a mom, and would go out and get an abortion if it were easily available so she could have a drink and go to a concert.

It’s this myth of the woman who has to be protected from her own inability to make good decisions that anti-choice activists feed on.  They use it in their legislation, claiming that forcing a woman to look at an ultrasound before an abortion is just giving her full information, protecting her from not having enough facts.  As if somehow without their help she wouldn’t understand that she was pregnant.  They use it when they pass bills that force women to have mental health evaluations before they can get an abortion, because a woman can’t be trusted to make a decision on her own.  And they use it when they pass laws saying a doctor can lie to a woman about fetal abnormalities, because a woman might not realize it is always in her best interest to carry a child to term, no matter what.

These anti-choice myths are the stuff that abortion restrictions are made of — laws made to protect women from themselves at a time when conservatives think they are too vulnerable to think clearly about what’s best for them.  And now they are using women who have struggled with fertility, struggled with conception, and worked harder than almost all their peers to get pregnant, abusing these women’s tragic stories to try and undermine choice even more as they further their own agenda.

I’ve worked hard to get pregnant.  I’ve suffered through infertility and loss.  I only hope I will be lucky enough not to have to face the trials many of these women did, and that if I do, my actions will not be used against me by anti-choicers desperate to score points.

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