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August 5, 2009

The Abortion Debate: What Would You Do?

Holly Rossiter was pregnant with her second child when doctors discovered that, once born, it would quickly die. How could she bear to keep carrying it?

THE TIMELINE: HOW LATE-TERM TERMINATION BECAME THE THIRD RAIL IN THE ABORTION DEBATE

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Photo Credit: Melissa Ann Pinney

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My first pregnancy was a breeze. I hung out at the beach near our Orange County home and exercised right up to the birth. My biggest complaint? I was too huge to lie on my stomach. Once the baby was 18 months old, my husband, Mike, and I began to plan for another. He was a law student, rising at dawn and not getting home until dinnertime, and I'd given up my full-time job as a preschool teacher to raise our daughter, Elise, and to work part-time as a nanny. Even though we were living paycheck to paycheck, we wanted to expand our family.

I became pregnant in July 2006, and at 18 weeks, I went for my first ultrasound. Mike had organized a celebratory dinner with family and friends for that night. When the first picture of the baby appeared on the screen, Mike, 3-year-old Elise, and I oohed and aahed over the baby's fingers and toes.

We waited for the technician to tell us the sex. But she was strangely quiet. Then she said, "I'm not getting the right readings." I told Mike to take Elise out of the room. "Is it something to do with the heart?" I asked. No, she said, the heart was fine—but something was severely wrong, and my OB/GYN would have to diagnose it. Still, I pressed for details. She said, "Your child is sick. I don't think it's going to survive." I broke into tears. I was 26. I was too young, too fit, too healthy for something like this to happen to me. The thought of abortion came to mind immediately, but along with it came a feeling of walking into the ocean and never coming back.

Mike was waiting outside. I told him we were having a little girl (whom we wanted to name Aubrielle), and that she might not be with us for very long. He hugged me, asked if I was OK, then called everyone to cancel the dinner.

That evening we told Elise. Mike and I were worried about how she would take the news, or whether she could even begin to understand, but she simply leaned over, kissed my belly, and said, "Aubrielle, you're sick, but you're going to heaven, and you'll get better there with Grandpa."

When I went to the hospital to see my OB/GYN, she diagnosed the baby with trisomy 13, also known as Patau syndrome—a genetic disorder involving multiple abnormalities, many of which are fatal. The disease occurs in about one out of every 10,000 newborns; more than 80 percent of children with it die within the first month. My doctor warned me that Aubrielle could die at any moment during the pregnancy, and certainly wouldn't live much beyond the birth. She concluded that abortion was the best option.


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