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Prenatal testing has enabled the early diagnosis of birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities.

Medical advances such as these have many benefits, but they also mean some families will face a terrible dilemma to terminate the pregnancy, or give birth to a child that may have a poor quality of life and perhaps a very short life expectancy. 

Medical reasons to have a termination of pregnancy

Abortion is a highly political issue, perhaps more so now than ever before in history and abortion, the intentional termination of pregnancy, has a history dating back thousands of years. Not everyone, anywhere on the spectrum of views on abortion, will agree on what constitutes a medical reason to have a termination of pregnancy. A situation in which abortion is clearly the best solution in one parent's mind may get totally different views from someone else. Still, we can easily argue that medical reasons necessarily includes one of these:

  • The mother's life is in danger
  • The baby would not be viable outside the womb
  • The baby's quality of life outside the womb would be questionable
  • The pregnancy risks life in some other way, as with higher order multiples and selective reduction

When discussing abortion for medical reasons, we are usually talking about birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities in the baby. In some cases, a pregnancy can place the mother's life in danger. In that case, a termination of pregnancy would also have a medical reason. A third situation in which abortion comes up is a higher order multiple pregnancy. A pregnancy of triplets or beyond places a serious strain on the mother's body, but a pregnancy of so many fetuses also puts the fetuses themselves at risk. Finally, "abortion" can be carried out after a fetus has passed away inside the mother's uterus. This is called a dilation and curettage or dilation and evacuation (D&C or D&E, different procedures with the same aim) and they are not carried out beyond the second trimester of pregnancy.

Deciding to have an abortion for medical reasons

Terminating a pregnancy is almost always an agonizing decision. There are exceptions, but most parents especially mothers have an extremely hard time with making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, not matter whether it was planned or not, and wanted or unwanted. Deciding to terminate a planned and very wanted pregnancy because of a birth defect that is irreconcilable with life, or that would severely affect the baby's quality of life along with the rest of the family's, is not something anyone would ever want to face. Here, too, it is terribly difficult to make any comments without getting into a political debate. Families who are facing this decision don't benefit from the controversy surrounding abortion, even for medical reasons all that matters is making the right choice for them, no matter how hard.

Abortion for medical reasons is legal in most jurisdictions across the developed world, even where abortion for other reasons is not. Would mom's life be in danger by continuing the pregnancy (with the same number of fetuses)?

What would the quality of life of a baby born with a serious birth defect be? How about a condition in which life expectancy does not exceed a year, a month, or even several hours? Would the baby be in pain? Would giving birth to the baby mean a future of medical interventions? How would the birth of a baby with a severe birth defect affect others in the family? Is the family able to provide appropriate care to such a baby? Is terminating such a pregnancy morally justified? Families in a situation where abortion for medical reasons is even a consideration may have these, and many other questions, going through their heads. Some really struggle with the decision. Others are very certain the decision to abort is best for them, but have enormous amounts of grief to deal with.

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