Q: When is an abortion not an abortion?

Elizabeth's picture

A: When it is a selective reduction

I don't imagine this post is going to make me popular.

Today's New York Times has an article about the very painful choices faced by prospective parents who make use of fertility treatments, find that they are pregnant with multiples, and then are faced with the risk of those pregnancies - both to the hopeful mom and the soon to be children. Successful fertility treatments often produce multiples because hormones are used to stimulate egg production or because multiple embryos are implanted. But because being pregnant wtih twins or triplets or even more developing fetuses is risky, and because children born from those pregancies are more likely to be born very premature and are thus at risk for greater and more serious health problems than babies born from singleton pregnancies, doctors sometimes counsel prospective parents to consider "selective reduction" where some fetuses are eliminated.

I am not going to write about the painful choice this must be. I am not going to write about whether or not such fertility treatments are ethical given their potential for resulting in pregnancies risky enough to warrent advising abortion. Nor am I going to address the fact that in vitro treatments require the creation of more embroys than anyone intends to implant. I am not even going to write about whether we should be spending so much health care money on helping people to reproduce and then paying for the complications that occur as a result of those treatments. Not today anyway.

Today all I am going to write about is the use of the term "selective reduction" itself.

It is notable that the Times article only twice in nearly 2500 words uses the term abortion, and when it does it uses it in this context:

Many opponents criticize selective reduction as a form of abortion. And for many parents who elect to carry all of the fetuses, the decision often hinges on religious convictions. There is also a chance, up to 5 percent, that selective reduction will be followed by a miscarriage of all the fetuses, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

For the Stansels, the decision was influenced by their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church generally opposes abortion. After learning that Mrs. Stansel was carrying sextuplets, the Stansels decided to meet with church elders and consult with a reduction specialist.

While the term "abortion" is used only twice and in the above context, the term "selective reduction" is used six times. In fact "selective reduction" is the only term used to refer to the procedure itself.

Why do I care about this? Because by separating out one kind of abortion, and one reason for having abortions, from all others the Times (and the doctors they are quoting) are saying that one set of reasons for eliminating pregnancies is so much better than any other that it deserves a name that doesn't share the stigma of abortion or end up regulated by the same restrictive laws that apply abortions. And what is that one reason? To increase the chance of becoming a mother.

Abortion is okay if you want to increase the number of children you have. It is so okay then that we'll give it another name to try to make it easier. If on the other hand you want to end a pregnancy because you aren't ready to be a parent, you're stuck with the word that draws protesters and forced-birther legislation.

The upshot? Reproductive justice is much more readily available to those who are ready and willing to reproduce.