The Tragedy of Pregnancy Reduction

As I write this post, I am waiting to get the phone call from my wife saying we need to head to the hospital for the birth of our fourth child. The last forty weeks have passed amazingly fast and painfully slow at the same time. In the midst of what will most likely be the longest streak of 100+ degree days on record in Fort Worth, we await the arrival of our precious daughter. Some people think we are crazy for having four children. When they find out our oldest is only 6, it confirms it in their minds.

In contrast to our anticipation of our child’s birth, the New York Times ran a story this week on the increasing phenomenon of pregnancy reduction—specifically the reduction of twins to a singleton. The article is heartbreaking and painful at times to read. The article opens with the following story:

As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment—and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.

“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner—in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me—and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

Jenny’s last sentence tells it all. She said, “The pregnancy was all so consumerish.” If she could choose to get pregnant in the first place through donor-based IVF, why couldn’t she simply choose that she only wanted one of the babies?

The language found throughout the article relates to choices and desires. The story about Jenny continues:

The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love.

Dr. Richard Berkowitz, a perinatologist at Columbia University Medical Center, asks, “In a society where women can terminate a single pregnancy for any reason—financial, social, emotional—if we have a way to reduce a twin pregnancy with very little risk, isn’t it legitimate to offer that service to women with twins who want to reduce to a singleton?” His question sums up the whole debate from a secular perspective. If our society has already opened the door for abortion-on-demand with no concern for reason, then there is nothing standing in the way of pregnancy reduction except social mores.

Despite the logic of the argument, society is still uneasy with certain forms of pregnancy reduction. Reducing twins to a single birth receives the least amount of public support. An interesting facet of this discussion is that the option of pregnancy reduction was not even possible a few decades ago. Most proponents proclaim it as a victory for women’s choice, but Josephine Johnston, a bioethicist at the Hastings Center, sees it differently:

In an environment where you can have so many choices, you own the outcome in a way that you wouldn’t have, had the choices not existed. If reduction didn’t exist, women wouldn’t worry that by not reducing, they’re at fault for making life more difficult for their existing kids. In an odd way, having more choices actually places a much greater burden on women, because we become the creators of our circumstance, whereas, before, we were the recipients of them. I’m not saying we should have less choices; I’m saying choices are not always as liberating and empowering as we hope they will be.

The culture of death that views abortion and pregnancy reduction as socially acceptable has gripped our American culture. This article, however, exposes the unease with which our culture has accepted these horrendous practices. It reminds me of Romans 2:14–16 where Paul writes, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” Their consciences are bearing witness against their actions because they know that what they are doing is wrong. The guilt is a result of God’s general revelation to mankind testifying that such pregnancy reductions are sinful.

I pray that we would stop seeing these precious lives in the womb as fetuses and see them as God sees them—humans made in the image of God. In Psalm 139:13–16, David proclaims:

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.


Ruth Padawer, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy,” The New York Times, August 10, 2011.

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