Rare Diseases and Abortion Bans: What is the Impact?

With the advent of a majority conservative Supreme Court with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh last year, several US states have recently passed laws that effectively ban abortions. Many of these laws make abortion illegal very early in a pregnancy, around six or eight weeks, which is often earlier than when someone would even know if they were pregnant in the first place. 

The goal of these laws is to challenge the ruling that made abortion legal in the first place. The authors of these bills expect their legality to be dismissed by lower courts so that they can ultimately make their way to the Supreme Court, where, with a conservative majority in place, the bill authors hope that they will be upheld.  None of them are currently in effect.

Most of these laws don’t allow for many exceptions, such as in cases of incest or rape. Another area that is often being overlooked are cases in which rare diseases play a role.

These extreme anti-abortion laws expect women to carry their offspring to term even in cases where it is clear that the baby will be unable to survive for very long once they are born. Take the story of Allison Chang. It became clear after an ultrasound that there were some serious developmental abnormalities going on with her and her husband’s daughter, who was still developing in Allison’s uterus. The fetus had an abnormal fluid filled mass on her neck and fluid surrounding her lung and abdominal organs that was inhibiting their development.

The developing child was diagnosed with trisomy 18, a rare development disorder. Most babies diagnosed are dead before they are born and those that survive birth are often dead within 15 days. Any that survive beyond that point are stuck with major medical problems that inflict great suffering. Allison ultimately made the decision to terminate the pregnancy, and the developing baby was dead before the abortion operation commenced. Allison was fortunate to live in a state that allowed abortions to be covered by insurance. Many women in similar situations live in states that don’t.

Current restrictive laws as well as the latest outbreak of anti-abortion laws are making it increasingly clear that women are expected carry to term pregnancies even when it is clear that the baby will not survive. Some examples include anencephaly (when the child doesn’t have a brain) and Potter syndrome (when then child’s lungs are not developed enough to function). 

Regardless of where you stand on abortion, forcing women to carry pregnancies to term in which the baby is affected by a severe or lethal rare condition isn’t “pro life.” It is simply inflicting needless pain and suffering to the child, the mother, and the rest of the family. These laws are an indication that many of our country’s policy makers are failing to take into consideration the possibility that there are times when an abortion is the most humane option possible.


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