Abortion ‘is never, ever a casual decision’
‘I thought the days of assassinating abortion providers were over,’ says Dr Shelley Sella, one of four remaining doctors in the US willing to terminate third-trimester pregnancies
The documentary film, directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, shows the hands of heavily pregnant women, held protectively over their baby bumps, as they weep and share their stories. In the cases of congenital abnormality, the parents want to spare their babies the pain of intrusive medical procedures. They cannot face the prospect of seeing their baby slowly die over weeks or months, says Sella, and sometimes feel they cannot trust hospitals to respect their instructions for no resuscitation.
But have these parents been shown the other picture: giving birth full term and at least having the fulfilment of holding and loving their living baby until it dies? “Before they come to us they already know all the options, although we also counsel them fully. A foetal hospice organisation, ARC, is there to support parents who choose to go full term,” Sella says.
The abortion procedure after 25 weeks is an agonising four-day trial. The baby is first euthanised with an injection of a drug, through the mother’s abdomen, that gradually stops the heart. Whether the baby experiences pain is unknown, although the sedation given to the mother passes through the placenta, likely sedating the baby as well, Sella says. The cervix is then softened with a seaweed-based pessary, then birth is induced with a drip. The labour itself is as arduous as with a live baby.
These babies are usually given names. The parents (Sella describes them as such) usually want to see and hold their stillborns afterwards.
Sella and her colleagues help the couples or individuals in a ceremony after the birth, if they wish it, and give them memory boxes containing keepsakes: foot- and handprints, photographs, the blanket in which the baby was wrapped.
They go away with the reassurance that by having a safe vaginal birth, rather than a Caesarean during a high-risk labour, they have a good chance of healthy babies in the future, Sella says.
The reaction is different for people who have chosen abortions for social reasons. “Total joy – a more overwhelming sense of relief,” says Sella. “They come to us faces down, depressed and sad, and at the end of the week we see their radiant smiles – an amazing transformation.”
“A woman who has escaped domestic violence and got on a bus to travel more than 1,000km by herself, telling no one, and is so desperate that she has managed to come to us is a phenomenally courageous woman,” says Sella.