Perinatal Hospice Series Introduction
by Kristina Twitty

Sunday’s Washington Post article on this subject has brought more attention to the care available for women facing the unknown of a medical diagnosis for their unborn baby. The public comments on these articles are everything from sweetly encouraging to raging anger at the suggestion that a frail child be carried as far as they can be. National Right to Life News Today responded with two posts. The first deals with the original story in the Post. The second addressed the “unexpected (and pleasant) fallout” of the Post story–a sympathetic article that appeared on a wildly pro-abortion web site.  We’re thankful for their attention to this subject as we begin publishing this series on perinatal hospice.

The number of women who choose abortion due to a diagnosis of a fetal abnormality is so small that researchers rarely include the numbers in their reports, as noted in a 2013 series by National Right to Life. Even so, the diagnosis received are not always 100% accurate, nor are they 100% hopeless. Georgia Life Alliance first learned of the concept of Perinatal Hospice in the Summer of 2015, when I attended Notre Dame’s Vita Institute in South Bend, Indiana. I’d had already engaged in conversations at the Georgia Capitol about abortion in the case of a child diagnosed in utero with a potentially fatal illness or disability, so this was a welcomed introduction to an alternative to “early termination” of a frail or disabled child. A month later, just before the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans, Dr. Byron Calhoun, and others presented on Perinatal Hospice. One of those others was Tracy Winsor, co-founder of Be Not Afraid in Marietta, GA. After connecting in New Orleans, Tracy and I began working together to lay out a plan for making Perinatal Hospice part of the conversation to promote a Culture of Life in Georgia. From that work and Tracy’s connection to this very difficult time for any parent, this series was developed.

We hope they are encouraging to you and that you will share them with your family, friends, pastors and doctors.

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Part 1: What is Perinatal Hospice?
by Tracy Winsor

Perinatal hospice has been widely endorsed by prolife advocates because it provides an abortion alternative when a pregnancy is complicated by a prenatal diagnosis.

Perinatal hospice has been widely endorsed by prolife advocates because it provides an abortion alternative when a pregnancy is complicated by a prenatal diagnosis. About thirteen percent of women seeking abortions in the United States identify a ‘possible problems affecting the health of the fetus’ as a reason for terminating the pregnancy.[1] Only three percent indicated that it was ‘the most important reason’ for seeking abortion.[2]  The availability of perinatal hospice support can reduce the number of abortions among parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis, because most will carry to term when offered a service of comprehensive support.[3]

At the same time, it should not be assumed that all perinatal hospice service providers will encourage undecided parents to continue the pregnancy as the best medical option or even as a viable one.  This is because many services are sponsored by or otherwise related to the hospitals that provide the abortions for parents who terminate at diagnosis.  In these circumstances, often some of the medical providers supporting parents carrying to term are also supporting parents who abort.

Other community-based organizations providing perinatal hospice support may be unwilling to assert the benefits of carrying to term because they are reluctant to appear prolife.  This may impact their willingness to share research that supports continuing the pregnancy.  As a result, broadly characterizing perinatal hospice as a prolife response to prenatal diagnosis can be confusing when sometimes the outreach and information provided by individual perinatal hospice services may in fact be very abortion-neutral.

Recently, Mary O’Callaghan, a Public Policy Fellow in the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, and a regular lecturer at Notre Dame’s Vita Institute where she addresses the issue of abortion as it relates to prenatal diagnosis, surveyed perinatal hospice providers in her state.   She found that the services often did not engage in outreach with undecided parents nor were they willing generally to assert the benefits of carrying to term.  In some cases, they were unaware of the potential negative medical and emotional consequences of aborting at diagnosis. “It strikes me,” observes O’Callaghan, “that though they do much good work, there is a lack of intentionality regarding prolife advocacy.”

Frequently, parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis are not provided with information concerning the option of carrying to term. Obstetric providers may offer abortion as the best option because they presume that ending the pregnancy at diagnosis will provide emotional benefits for the mother.  On the contrary, research suggests that post-abortive mothers not only experience the same grief as those who carry to term, but are more likely to experience other emotional complications as well. If doctors fail to offer information regarding carrying to term, and perinatal hospice providers are unwilling to, parents may abort without ever knowing they had another option.

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Tracy L. Winsor, MPA, is Cofounder of Be Not Afraid (BNA), a private non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide comprehensive, practical, and peer-based support to parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis and carrying to term. She can be reached directly at Tracy.Winsor@benotafraid.net.

 

NOTES:

[1] Finer et al., “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative & Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005, 37(3):110–118; www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3711005.pdf; accessed October 20, 2011

[2] http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/abreasons.html

[3] M. D’Almeida et al., Perinatal Hospice: Family-Centered Care of the Fetus with a Lethal Condition, J. AMER. PHYSICIANS & SURGEONS 11:52 (2006); B.C. Calhoun & N. Hoeldtke, The Perinatal Hospice: Ploughing the Field of Natal Sorrow, 2005

Perinatal Hospice Part 2 can be found here.

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