By Judy Nicastro
I believe that parenthood starts before conception, at the moment you decide that you want a child and are ready and able to create a safe and loving home for her or him. I support abortion rights, but I reject the false distinction between the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Here’s why.
I was 38 when I completed a term on the Seattle City Council. Two years later I married my husband, who is five years younger. We wanted children, but had trouble conceiving.
Using in-vitro fertilization we had Matthew, now 4. When he was 2, after another round of in-vitro, we conceived again. When I learned that I was carrying twins, a boy and a girl, we were elated.
In my 20th week, however, during an ultrasound, we got the first hint that something might be wrong. The next day, a Friday, my obstetrician called to say that the technician had had a hard time seeing the heart of the male fetus.
On Monday I had a second ultrasound, and my husband and I spent two hours with a different doctor and technician. “It looks as if the boy has a herniated diaphragm,” they told us. “All the organs are in his chest and not developing.”
My world stopped. I loved being pregnant with twins. Sometimes it felt like a party in there, with eight limbs moving. The thought of losing one was unbearable.
The MRI confirmed our fears. We were in the 22nd week. In Washington state abortion is legal until the 24th week.
After 10 more days of tests and meetings, we were in the 23rd week. My husband is more conservative than I am. He also is a Catholic. I am an old-school liberal, and I am not religious. From the start, though, and through this ordeal, we were in agreement. We desperately wanted this child and would do whatever we could to save him, if his hernia was fixable and he could have a good quality of life.
Once we had all the data, we met with a nurse, a surgeon and a pediatrician. The surgeon said our boy had a hole in his diaphragm. Only one lung chamber had formed, and it was only 20 percent complete. If our boy survived birth, he would be on oxygen and other life supports for a long time. The thought of hearing him gasp for air and linger in pain was our nightmare.
The pediatrician could tell that we were looking for candid guidance. He cautioned that medical ethics constrained what he could say, then added, “Termination is a reasonable option, and a reasonable option that I can support.”
The surgeon and nurse nodded. I burst out sobbing. My husband cried too.
The next day, at a clinic near my home, I felt my son’s budding life end as the doctor inserted a needle through my belly into his tiny heart. She had trouble finding it because of its abnormal position. As horrible as that moment was, I am grateful. We made sure that our son was not born only to suffer. He died in a warm and loving place, inside me.
In having the abortion, we took a risk that my body would expel both fetuses, and that we would lose our daughter. In fact, I asked if we could postpone the abortion until the third trimester. My doctor pointed out that abortions after 24 weeks are illegal. Thankfully, Kaitlyn was born, healthy and beautiful, on March 2, 2011. My little boy partially dissolved into me, and I like to think that his soul is in his sister.
Last Tuesday the House of Representatives voted to ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed theory that fetuses at that stage can feel pain. Ten states have banned most abortions after 20 or 22 weeks, Arkansas after 12 and North Dakota after six.
While some of these new restrictions allow exceptions for fetal genetic defects, second-trimester abortions must remain legal because, until a child is viable outside the womb, these decisions belong with the mother. I share my story in the hope that our leaders will be more responsible and compassionate when they weigh what it means to truly value the lives of women and children.
Judy Nicastro wrote this for The New York Times.