I was not at all interested in reading Judy Nicastro’s New York Times op-ed. Not at first, anyway.
A piece in any newspaper titled “My Abortion, at 23 Weeks” stands a pretty good chance of ruining my day. But in the Times? Breezy titles like this are usually confined to the posh pages of the Travel section (“My Kashmir Adventure, at 23 Weeks”). Make no mistake: The Times knows what it’s doing. Slapping such a title on an op-ed is part of the Grey Lady’s non-agenda agenda to help you understand that abortion is as morally consequential as getting a mole removed. It’s no big deal, you see—just something a pregnant woman does for herself, like 36 hours in Baden-Baden.
So I didn’t want to read it, because I knew it would upset me. And I was right. “My Abortion, at 23 Weeks” by former Seattle City Council member Judy Nicastro is a towering example of how our elite culture has benumbed itself to the needs of the truly vulnerable.
To summarize: Nicastro and her husband had one child with the help of in vitro fertilization. When that child was 4, they conceived twins, also through I.V.F. One of the twins was diagnosed in utero with a herniated diaphragm, which caused his internal organs to develop improperly. Doctors thought the baby could live, but that he would surely need “oxygen and other life supports for a long time.” The Nicastros felt it would be a nightmare to hear their son gasping for air and in pain, so they did what they thought was the responsible thing—they let a doctor inject poison into the baby’s heart and kill him.
The abortion of one of the twins came with the risk of miscarriage for the other. This would have, of course, added a further dimension of tragedy to an already sad story. That it didn’t happen is a blessing. That it could have happened should give pause to anyone who thinks I.V.F. has been a boon to our gross national happiness. It is, in fact, an ethical morass.
Among the more revolting justifications for abortion that I can think of holds that killing one child in utero is a gift you give to your other children. Typically, the child on the losing end of the bargain has been prenatally diagnosed with a disability or disease. Should such a child be born, rationalizers like to claim, it will in time become a burden on his already-born siblings. No parent should saddle children with such a baleful future.
One wonders, had Nicastro lost both babies, whether she would have grieved more for the twin she didn’t intend to kill than for the one she did.
I shall forego discussion of the tired argument that death by murder is a humane health care option for the disabled (especially for those who, by virtue of their extreme youth, have no say in the matter) except to note that it was the Nicastro’s pediatrician who blessed the procedure as “a reasonable option that I can support.” I have long harbored a pet theory that certain physicians—namely, post-natal caregivers such as pediatricians and surgeons—are less likely than prenatal specialists to counsel abortion. This was, I thought, a result of their having seen babies overcome "bad" prenatal diagnoses to live happy, loving, and productive lives. According to my theory, obstetricians and gynecologists viewed the woman, not the baby, as their patient, and so were quicker to pull the trigger on what is often coldly—though, deliberately—referred to as "termination."
I might need to reexamine this.
Anyway, in the story of abortion at 23 weeks, Nicastro offers the helpful detail that her husband is a conservative and a Catholic. I suppose this is meant to underscore how difficult the ordeal was for both of them, and how much pity they are rightfully entitled to. But I can’t help but conclude that Nicastro’s husband must not be the world’s most devout Catholic if he agreed, first, to in vitro fertilization and, later, to an abortion. There are a few matters of prudential discretion afforded to followers of the Church of Rome, but these are not among them.
Suffice it to say that the diagnosis, abortion, and aftermath didn’t add up to a fun few days for Nicastro’s family. On balance, though, she feels good about the whole thing. It is evidently the editorial policy of the New York Times that no woman should be made to feel guilty about aborting a baby. She must feel good about her “choice,” no matter the circumstances. Only so deliberate and cynical a bending of the moral reality could lead Nicastro to the conclusion that abortion wasn’t just something she did for herself, it was something she did for her baby, too.
“We made sure our son was not born only to suffer. He died in a warm and loving place, inside me,” she writes. This is surely one of the most morally confused and willfully self-deceptive sentences ever published in a major American newspaper. It might be the most painful thing I have ever read. You will not be surprised to learn that Times commenters lauded Nicastro for her courage and showered her with compassion. Not one mentioned her departed son.
May God have mercy on his soul.
Matthew Hennessey is a writer and editor who lives in New Canaan, Connecticut. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHennessey.