What is a Lethal Fetal Anomaly?

An anomaly is something out of the ordinary, or different than expected. A lethal fetal anomaly is defined as a “fatal condition diagnosed before birth that, if the pregnancy results in a live birth, will with reasonable certainty result in the death of the child not more than three months after the child’s birth”. There are a wide range of conditions that can fall under this category, not limited to this list:

The ideal time to screen for fetal anomalies is between 18 and 22 weeks into a pregnancy, or during the second trimester. This is when the results of the ultrasound will be the most reliable. Although we have access to advanced medical technology, prenatal diagnosis isn’t perfect and can be wrong. Sometimes, the diagnosis is less severe than predicted, the diagnosis was ambiguous, or the child survives outside of the womb much longer than expected. On rare occasions, the diagnoses can even be inaccurate and the child is born completely healthy. According to the National Library of Medicine, about 9% of adverse fetal diagnoses are wrong, and that is only among the babies who weren’t preemptively aborted. When using a new type of non-invasive blood test, positive results for fetal anomalies can be inaccurate 50% or more of the time.

Read this story about Solomon Diamond, a baby who was born perfectly healthy after his parents were told he had Trisomy 18, a fatal genetic disorder.

Or this story about a couple in Ireland who aborted their baby after being told that he/she had Trisomy 18, only to find out after the termination that the child was “perfectly healthy”.

Unfortunately, when women and families receive a prenatal diagnosis for a fetal anomaly, whether potentially fatal or not, they are often encouraged by their doctor to have an abortion. Most abortions performed after a prenatal diagnosis are late-term abortions, because they are typically performed after 25 weeks. Watch this video where a former abortionist explains what happens in a late-term abortion.

Although Down syndrome is not a fatal diagnosis, somewhere between 60-90% of children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the U.S. are aborted. According to the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, “misconceptions about Down syndrome and a lack of counseling following a positive screening likely leads to more children being aborted than otherwise would have been had the parents had better information.” In an ideal world, doctors and medical professionals would surround parents who have received a prenatal diagnosis of an anomaly with education, resources, and care to help them feel empowered to carry the child to term. Instead, many push a woman or family towards abortion as the quick fix to her “problem”.

Abortion is never a valid option when facing a prenatal diagnosis of a fetal anomaly, even if the anomaly is considered fatal or terminal. Supporters of abortion will claim that abortion is the “compassionate option” for both mother and baby when a fetus is diagnosed with a terminal illness, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Kristan Hawkins, President of Students for Life of America, powerfully says this:

“It’s wrong for you to say, ‘You will suffer, therefore, I am going to kill you.’ We eliminate the suffering, not the sufferer.”

The preborn child is a human being with innate worth, protected by a constitutional right to Life. A child with a handicap or disability is no less of a person than someone without. Even if the child is expected to die before birth or shortly after, having an abortion would only compound the family’s grief and the child’s suffering. Instead of grieving the loss of the child after doing all they could to preserve his or her life, the family is now grieving the loss of the child after intentionally and violently ending their child’s life. In the first scenario, the family was not the perpetrator of the suffering their child experienced.

Many supporters of abortion claim that the mother will suffer mentally or emotionally from continuing a pregnancy after receiving a prenatal fatal diagnosis. While this may be true for some, “research suggests that women who terminate for fetal anomalies experience grief as intense as that of parents experiencing a spontaneous death of a baby.” Aborting a child with birth defects can actually be a “traumatic event” that further complicates the grieving process.

Carrying the child to term, even if the child is expected to die shortly after birth, allows the mother and the family time to come to terms with their child’s death, process the event, and begin to heal. It also allows the family to spend a few moments with their child before they pass away. “This child’s short life will be filled with love rather than violently ended.”

“Ultimately, it allows you to give your baby – and yourself – the full measure of your baby’s life and the gift of a peaceful, natural goodbye. Continuing the pregnancy is not about passively waiting for death. It is about actively embracing the brief, shining moment of this little life.” – perinatalhospice.org

This is the importance of perinatal hospice and palliative care, comprehensive and supportive care that prepares parents for their infant’s death. Learn more about perinatal hospice.

 Further Reading

Live Action |“We Chose Life”: Mothers of Children with Poor Prenatal Diagnoses Explain Why They Rejected Abortion
USA Today |Your Baby’s Prenatal Diagnosis is Not a Death Sentence.
Live Action |Studies: Abortion after a Prenatal Diagnosis Leads to Emotional Trauma
What is Perinatal Hospice?

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