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The New York Times recently reported on the growing practice of parents expecting twins electively aborting one so as to give birth to only one of the two.

The article describes the situation of a woman, “Jenny,” who “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.”

Two aspects of this article were striking.

First, the following paragraph from early in the article describes the consumerist attitude which the mother had regarding the children she was carrying:

“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.”

This is what comes from playing God. Instead of trusting God to decide our family size and whether He will or will not bless us with children, we have begun to take control of creating our own children. In a real sense, we are manufacturing them for ourselves . This is profoundly different from the biblical teaching that children are gifts from God entrusted to our care. Having become our children’s “creator,” disposing of them becomes just another manufacturing option. I am reminded of a line from C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength : “There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust . . . . Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.”

Second, this passage from later in the article presents the motivation which the mother gave for her decision to abort one of the twins and the process by which she and her husband made that decision:

Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. 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. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. “This is bad, but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,” she told me, referring to the reduction. She and her husband worked out this moral calculation on their own.

Two thoughts came to mind as I read this excerpt. The first is personal. My wife and I started our family late, having our first child when I was 38 and she was 33. We now have four, the last being born when I was 46 and she 42. Our third child is special-needs and has considerable disabilities, and our eldest child has health issues as well. None of our children gets “everything” we could give him or her had we just had two and had they been healthy. Given the modern view of children as accoutrements, we faced questions and snide comments when we announced the conception of our fourth child. Friends and family members wondered why, at our ages and with the existing health and other issues of our other children, we chose to have another. That we did not choose to have another, but merely were open to God blessing us with another child if he so chose was a concept completely foreign to many. For all this, my wife is no “second-rate parent.”

“First-rate parents” do not kill a child in order to maintain some arbitrary standard of perfect parenthood. Carrying the burden of four children is precisely what makes my wife a first-rate mother. She may not do everything the way everyone else believes is ideal. We have to make compromises and, to quote Bob Seger, figure “what to leave in, what to leave out.” That’s what parenting is all about. It was Jenny’s pride in her skills as a parent that led her to kill one of her own children. She attached more value to some artificial ideal of what a “first rate parent” is than she did to the life of her child.

This is the temptation we all face when working out a moral calculation on our own. This is precisely what T.S. Eliot expressed concern about after the Anglican bishops at the 1930 Lambeth Conference passed their resolution relaxing their church’s teaching on contraception. Eliot wrote in his essay Thoughts After Lambeth that the bishops had “placed [too] much reliance upon the Individual Conscience . . . . Certainly, anyone who is wholly sincere and pure in heart may seek guidance from the Holy Spirit; but who of us is always wholly sincere, especially where the most imperative of instincts may be strong enough to simulate to perfection the voice of the Holy Spirit?”

Letting each couple ask for counsel only if they are “perplexed in mind is almost to surrender the whole citadel of the Church,” Eliot continued. “Considering the extreme disingenuity of humanity . . . only a very small minority will be ‘perplexed’; and . . . the honest minority which takes ‘competent advice’ (and I observe that the order of the words is ‘medical and spiritual’) will have to appeal to a clergy just as perplexed as itself.”

Eliot believed that the bishops had not given adequate instruction, observing, “It is exactly this matter of ‘spiritual advice’ which should have been examined and analyzed . . . . Here, if anywhere, is definitely a matter upon which the Individual Conscience is no reliable guide; spiritual guidance should be imperative; and it should be clearly placed above medical advice.” What makes us believe that we do not need moral guidance from an outside, objective and morally mature counselor when making such momentous decisions? Yet, like Eve, we want to believe that we can, on our own, “be like God, knowing good and evil.”

It seems there is no depravity too low, not even to the point of killing of an unborn child, to which our pride cannot lead us. May God forgive me my own pride and the depravity into which it leads me and may He use this Times article to open our eyes into the nature of the world we have been creating, a world in which, as C.S. Lewis observed in The Abolition of Man : “Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

Gregory K. Laughlin is Associate Professor of Law and Law Library Director at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.


Ruth Padawer, The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy

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