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Op-ed: Women should make their own medical decisions

“Abortion is not a black and white issue but one that is intricately nuanced and is undeniably an intimate decision in which the only people involved should be the mother and her doctor.”

By Jennifer Solot


Abortion, that ever-present and complex topic that we dare not discuss at work, at home, at school or our place of worship.

Defined by Dictionary.com, abortion is the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy. By that definition, I’ve had two, performed by a religious hospital. Three if you include the spontaneous abortion between my son and oldest daughter.

In November 2017, at the age of 42, my sixth pregnancy resulted in the birth of my third child, a girl. Throughout that pregnancy, and even before, I worried. I worried that I would not be able to get pregnant. I had waited until I was in a committed relationship and was financially secure to have children. I had already been pregnant five times, and three of them had ended badly. I had only one ovary, the right one having been removed when an ovarian cyst caused a torsion of the fallopian tube and gangrene had set in. I was already blessed with two children, but my husband and I desperately wanted to give them a sibling. And so, we tried. For almost two years, we tried.

I would be lying if I said abortion wasn’t on my mind when I was pregnant for the sixth time. I was old. “AMA” was stamped in bold, one-inch letters on each of my medical documents. Advanced. Maternal. Age. With the AMA designation came other worries that made this last pregnancy high risk, more so than the first five. The largest of these worries for me was the increased risk for birth defects. The older a woman is, the more likely she is to have a child with a chromosomal abnormality, the most common being Down syndrome. At age 40, there is a 1 in 82 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome.

Most of us are familiar with the facial features of a baby with Down syndrome. But, since my chances of having a baby with Downs was greater than 1 in 82, I chose to learn more about it. There are both physical and intellectual disabilities. A diagnosis of Down syndrome brings an increased risk of congenital heart defects, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases and mental disorders. An individual with Down syndrome will typically develop the mental abilities of only an 8 or 9 year old at most yet live until about 60 years old.

There are, of course, other chromosomal abnormalities. At age 40, a woman’s risk of having a child with any chromosomal abnormality is 1 in 66. At times, children are born with multiple chromosomal abnormalities. Some of these are truly horrifying. Edward’s syndrome causes heart defects, small heads and severe intellectual disabilities with survival beyond one year of life at only 5 percent to 10 percent. Children with Patau syndrome can have microcephaly, failure of the forebrain to divide, structural eye defects, spinal defects, extra digits, cyclopia, abnormal genitalia and deformed feet, among many other issues. Cri du chat syndrome brings difficulty swallowing, severe cognitive, speech and motor disabilities, microcephaly and cardiac defects, just to name a few. I could go on, but I won’t.

Having two children, the prospect of having a third with severe medical issues was a terrifying thought. How would we raise that child? Care for that child? Help that child? And, since many of these diagnoses come with a limited life span, how do we explain the death of that child to our older children. Or, if the child grows to old age, who will care for that child when we are gone? Is it fair to impose the care of that child on our older children?

In 2018, state Rep. Thomas Murt sponsored and voted for HB 2050, which prohibited an abortion based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome. This bill was brought without a single public hearing. This means that no mother, no medical professional, no other person had an opportunity to weigh in or debate this prior to it being voted on. Make no mistake, this lack of public hearing was intentional on the part of the sponsors. As a direct result of the actions taken by the politicians supporting this bill, including Mr. Murt, our voices were silenced and we were essentially told that they, politicians, knew what was best for women, their bodies and their families.

Had that bill become law, the state would be the one deciding whether or not I give birth to a child with Down syndrome. The state would decide whether or not my children will bear the burden of loving, and caring for a sibling with Down syndrome, only to watch them die long before they themselves do. The state would be the one deciding that I must continue a pregnancy that, while technically viable due to the presence of a heartbeat, could ultimately result in a spontaneous abortion, a stillborn child, a severely disabled child, a limited lifespan and serious emotional harm to me, my husband and my children.

I, for one, am grateful that Mr. Murt failed in his attempt to make these decisions for me and for every other woman in the state of Pennsylvania. Abortion is not a black and white issue but one that is intricately nuanced and is undeniably an intimate decision in which the only people involved should be the mother and her doctor. ••

Jennifer Solot is a member of the Upper Moreland School Board.

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