Why Is Abortion After IVF Different Than Any Other Abortion?

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IN VITRO FERTILIZATION OVUM

When we read Stephanie Klein's Moose for my book club, one person countered that they couldn't read her because she had gotten an abortion post fertility treatments. At the time, I hadn't read Straight Up and Dirty and didn't know the story, but even without the background information, I couldn't see what place we had to judge her.

No one I know who has had an abortion enters into the decision lightly. The majority of people who have an abortion must have an abortion -- if not for their physical health, then for their mental health. Just as we would never dismiss our reproductive health or our cardiac health, we can't separate out parts of our body and dismiss the importance of our mental health.

As explained in heart-wrenching detail in Straight Up and Dirty, the abortion comes after she discovers that her husband is having an affair early in their pregnancy, and in leaving him, she has the abortion, because if not she would be parenting a child -- not yet brought into the world -- with the man she is trying to sever from her life. It is such a detrimental relationship that the decision is clear -- even if this was a hard-sought pregnancy. Either we believe in the woman's right to choose, or we don't. And frankly, I believe that women should have full control of their uterus and therefore be able to seek help via treatments when their body is unable to get pregnant unassisted and I believe a woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy -- which is the other side of that fertility coin.

British news sources have exploded with a similar story this week: around 80 abortions are performed each year after IVF. The reasons quoted in the newspaper articles range from husbands pressuring women into starting families that they don't want to have to a situation similar to Klein's -- the end of a marriage and a lack of desire to be forever tied to the person via a child.

Oh -- and selective reduction (reducing a multiples pregnancy to a singleton or twins) is also included in that one percent of all IVFs figure. In other words, there is no distinction in this news story between the two people they're quoting who had abortions for social reasons and the women who had abortions for medical reasons to protect their own health or to give a fetus the best chance at survival.

Oh -- and it also includes those who have an abortion because they discover that the child they are carrying has a terminal condition and won't be able to survive outside the womb.

Which begs the question: If the person had conceived unassisted and decided to have an abortion post-divorce or conceived quadruplets naturally and reduced them to a singleton pregnancy in order to protect the mother's health or conceived a child and discovered that child would be born with no kidneys and therefore performed euthanasia, would we judge them?

So is this a news story? There are abortions daily for the exact same reasons with unassisted pregnancies and yet they don't make every major British news source. Nor do we accuse those who have an abortion after an unassisted pregnancy of "treating babies like designer goods."

The Telegraph's blog asserts that it is a news story, but the villain shouldn't be the woman who has the abortion but the IVF clinics and doctors who don't prepare couples for the reality of IVF and place an undue strain on the marriage:

Those 80 abortions are at least in part their fault, for failing to prepare their clients adequately for what IVF involves. It’s clear why the IVF professionals fail to warn their clients, who are about to hand over thousands of pounds, of the hardships ahead; but it is not forgivable.

Jezebel also does a good job wondering if this story is truly news-worthy, pointing out that the simplification of the situation "shows a general lack of understanding over the concept of choice."

Because, at the end of the day, it returns to the idea that choice -- both to start a family or to end a pregnancy -- rests with the woman. And just as she made the choice to start a family (a choice that few would want the government to make for them), she also needs to have the choice to stop a family -- especially when physical or mental health is at stake.

Choices are not really choices if they only have an "in" door and no "out" door.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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