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July 18, 2004

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» When Is An Abortion Okay, and Who Gets To Decide? from Trish Wilson's Blog
I generally don't let to get involved in abortion debates because they tend to devolve into pissing matches between people who throw terms like "baby-killer" and "save-the-fetus Nazi" at each other. However, Amy Richards' story caught my attention. Ric... [Read More]

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Comments

Xrlq

To say that Amy Richards "fucked up" is to let her off way too lightly. Everybody fucks up. I did myself yesterday, when I missed an intersection and had to make a u-turn later. What Richards did was nothing of the sort; it was pure evil.

John

Bravo, Hugo. It's very comforting to know that pure evil does excite unmitigated and unconflicted responses, even in you! ;-)

I shall pray for the poor child she has bourne, who will have to do without his brothers and sisters. God have mercy on her.

rick

this is one of those times when you wish this is a jason blair holdover and it's completely made up...... dang it.

anj

Ann Richards is an adult woman, what she chose was a choice, and Hugo, it is a choice that is well worth the rest of us crying over. I don't have the energy right now to feel anger, but the tears as I type this are real. I'm gonno go watch my three sons sleep.

Mumcat

The woman is a human being, and as such is as liklely to screw things up as anybody else. What about the guys who get loaded and drive drunk, hit other cars and kill people? Do you cry as much for that loss? Or is it only the pre-term individuals who cause your tears?

I'm a woman. I've had a child. I can't say for sure what I'd do in the identical situation, but can only speculate on what I might do. From what has been said, she has been portrayed as a thorougly selfish, "think of me and my creature comforts" kind of woman. But I've raised a child alone for a period of time and it's tough. How much more so when there are 3? Maybe she is selfish -- but can I really judge? No. I see how someone has chosen to portray her. It may or may not be an accurate depiction of what went on.

So I can't totally condemn her. I haven't walked in her shoes, experienced what she has, and seen things as she does. Call me a sicko if you want, but I'm pro-choice -- which does not mean "pro death" but rather giving more weight to the woman in the situation than outsiders who don't know the situation or who won't be there after the birth to help her cope.

Jonathan Dresner

OK, I'll say it. What she did was morally defensible. Not in your terms, because there is not apparently anything defensible about any abortion. But someone who views abortion as an option under extenuating circustances would consider this to be a reasonable case, as presented.

First, aside from some last-minute reservations (and it's not clear from the article that they were disclosed), it seems that the boyfriend was a consenting part of the decision-making process, so any "the man should have a say" arguments are tenuous, at best.

Second, how is multiple-reduction abortion different from solitary abortion? It's not as easily dismissable as a selfish decision, because it's not just about the quality of life of the mother: it's also about the quality of life of the surviving fetus/child. In this case, there is a very strong sense that this is someone who would deeply regret and resent the life changes that came with triplets. I used to joke with my wife that we should have twins up front and save ourselves time and trouble, but one was and is quite enough to deal with; there's no efficiency of scale with multiples: any savings of time or spending is more than offset by the extra work of having three children in the same phases but different states. Some people really can't deal well with more than one energetic, demanding, irrational, totally dependent soul at a time.

Now I have to go play with my son. Not out of despair, out of voluntary obligation.

Michelle

This article really got to me. I aborted twins at 5 1/2 weeks, and it was the most horrible thing I've ever done. I wanted those children so bad, but my moral dilemma was whether or not I should carry any child to term when I was taking 4 mg of Xanax a day. It is physically impossible to quit that large of a dose after you have been taking it for years, and I researched it, asked docs, pharmacists, etc., and they all said it was harmful to a fetus. So I thought it would be a sin to willfully bring life that I had damaged into the world. To me, it seems that the real sin took place before I ever got pregnant, by not taking double precautions, since I knew Xanax and pregnancy don't mix.

This woman seems selfish beyond belief. I don't think women like her should be forced to carry children that they don't want to term. She could have made those childrens' life a living hell. I don't think she was capable of doing the right thing either way. It is chilling how cold she is. I had the abortion two years ago and cannot seem to get over it. I dream about those babies frequently. How someone could make that choice that cavelierly, I don't know. I would have gladly taken the bed rest and the large jars of mayo...but I guess we are all different, and that is why choice should remain an option. God knows I've seen many irreparably (arguable, I know) damaged children in our criminal justice system. The thing that is the larger crime, is to allow horrible parents to do horrible things to children and make their lives a hell on earth.

One more thing, although I do find this woman's actions deplorable, right now it might be a better course of action to focus on how we can stop the genocide of thousands upon thousands of children in Sudan, and the bombing of children in Iraq.

Anne

I agree with Jonathan. What she did was morally defensible to the same extent that any abortion is morally defensible. This is no different than any other abortion.

It just seems to have caught your attention, Hugo. because the odd circumstances created some publicity. (What's wrong with a woman realizing that trying to raise triplets was going to result in her and her children living in near-poverty and making a choice not to live like that?)

(Are you an expert on such pregnancies, including the dangers to the mother and the fetuses? Are you an expert on this woman's financial situation and home life?)

I could go on and on, but I won't. The bottom line is that it's hypocritical to come over all sentimental about a fetus in the womb when this country can't manage to provide decent lives for the children already living here.

People who say they're deeply concerned about "life" should consider the nightmare that "life" is to too many children in this country.

If you want to do something useful, leave the women who choose not to bring forth lives they can't take care of alone and put your energy into reforming something like the "family welfare" agencies in this country so that the people charged with overseeing and protecting our most vulnerable citizens have the resources, finances, and training they need to do just that.

Anne

Jonathan, there is no "savings' with having twins or triplets. In fact, it's more expensive.

Instead of saving the first child's outgrown clothing for the next arrival, you have to outfit two or three at once.

Medical care...every expense is doubled or tripled immediately, instead of being spread out over a number of years. Food bills...again, you have to feed two or three extra mouths from "day one" instead of one extra mouth. Strollers, car seats, cribs, everything has to be purchased in multiples.

Housing can be a nightmare. For the first year you might be able to put three children in one apartment-sized bedroom, but shortly thereafter you're going to need a lot more space.

The Angry Clam

I'm still trying to decide which is worse- the shallowness or the selfishness of this woman.

Twins are dead because of it.

This is her, by the way.

She closes her bio with "Who knows what tomorrow holds, but I hope more of all of the above," after detailing various not overly noteworthy activities.

Guess who didn't get to have a tomorrow because you had to keep your East Village loft.

The Angry Clam

Anne-

A few points. First, if you read the article, you'll note that, at the point she terminated the twins, the doctor had told her that there was minimal risk.

Secondly, people who can afford to live in Manhattan aren't financially ill-equipped to have children, even several at once.

Putting aside the larger abortion or not argument for a moment, none of the concerns you raise justify what this woman did.

Anne

Jonathan - I came back to apologize to you. :)

I should not, of course, have forgotten all of the work you do with kids, and I'm sorry that I did forget for a moment. You didn't deserve that particular rant.

DJW

Hugo, I often agree with your perspectives even when we're coming from completely different places, but this time I had the exact opposite reaction as you when I read this--the article made me feel quite good. Here's why: as a pro-choice with feminist convictions, I've always been troubled by the way many, many pro-choice advocates and politicians join with pro-lifers when it comes to heaping shame on women who have abortions. I want to live in a world where women aren't lead that their abortion is a moral and personal failing that leaves them with a horrible stain and so on. The only way to get to that point is for women to stand up and and say "I've had an abortion. I'm still a moral person, I don't need to justify myself to you through shame or defiance." Amy Richards should be applauded for doing just that. I don't expect this will win me many fans around these parts, but it's my honest reaction to this story.

Jonathan Dresner

Anne: I was trying to be funny with the line about savings, but it didn't work. You're right, which is something that I came to realize very quickly once we had our own solitary child.

And those who think that she should have kept all three might also want to consider the following: it takes approximately twenty-five acres of resources to sustain the lifestyle of the average American, but there are only five acres of land per person on the world. So in the long run, her decision saved the lives of several, possibly dozens, of other people. I'm not a utilitarian consequentialist, by nature, but population and natural resources is an issue which needs to be considered.

joe

Hugo:

Another one of your better works. I don't see anything wrong with being consistent in how you feel and what you believe in. Nor do I see reason to try and reconcile opposing views. The excerpts in your post said enough and the link The Angry Clam left-- only enforced the same "shallowness or the selfishness of this woman."

Again, there is no point in trying to reconcile these two views. DJW hits the point on the head with the argument regarding shame. Shame leads to guilt. If pro-choicers can absolve themselves of shame then there is no guilt therefore no wrong and no reason to change. As pro-choicers absolve themselves of shame they begin to cast shame on those who have children that they believe the parents cannot "afford".

So both sides can create arguments, even some "intelligent" ones that sound all fancy and rational. Though I don't see what is rational in "intentionally" getting pregnant and then aborting, which is a clue as to when abortions may truely have justification. It is what you believe and if it helps... I will help you say it-- it's fucked up what she did.

DJW

As pro-choicers absolve themselves of shame they begin to cast shame on those who have children that they believe the parents cannot "afford".

Does it have to be one or the other? I certainly don't align myself with people who do that. I'd rather work to build a society that supports childrearing as a valued and financially feasible for all, regardless of their means, and works to eliminate the disadvantages the children of the poor face. Though we're not there, I think the decision to raise children should be honored and respected regardless, and what help we as a community can offer for those of lesser means should be made.

Jonathan Dresner

DJW (and joe): The connection you note between pro-choice and anti-poverty rhetoric has its roots in the early 20th century relationship between abortion and eugenics, as well as in the very real "demographic transition" which took place around the same time.

In short, the late 19th/early 20th centuries is when the demographic transition took place in the industrialized West. The demographic transition, for those of you who aren't social historians or demographers, is the point at which the majority of the population stops trying to have as many children as possible, because it is no longer economically advantageous or viable. In other words, in order to preserve and protect their family finances, lots of families limit their size, and average family size drops sharply. Life expectancies usually rise, due in part to drops in infant/childhood mortality rates (which is also a factor in attempts to control births).

This is all well and good, but this also happened around the time of the eugenics movements, which sought to "improve the species" by promoting birth among "good quality" populations and discouraging it among "poor quality" populations. It was believed by many of the theorists and followers of this movement, including one Margaret Sanger, that most people were poor because they didn't have the qualities necessary to succeed, and so reducing the size of the poor family would both improve the financial situation of the families involved and decrease the share of the population occupied by such unsuccessful breeders (never noting, apparently, the contradiction between these propositions).

There was indeed a very strong strain of rhetoric, in popular science, in social science, in women's magazines, etc., which equated birth control with intelligent family practice and cast large families as moral and financial failures.

Before we get too condemnatory, I just want to point out that this was the height of social and anthropological science at the time, and these views were held by a very wide swath of educated Western society, middle- and upper-classes, across the US and Europe and in some strongly Western-influenced Asian societies.

That said, there are a number of clear, fatal flaws in the logic (and science) involved, which is why those of us who support choice try, usually, not to invoke too many economic choice arguments. Sometimes it makes sense, but the ghosts of those old arguments are hard to shake off.

I would, though, like to point out that this whole debate hinges, in part, on contraceptive choices, which only one of the commenters here have addressed.

Lorie

I'm going to try to keep my comment brief today, because if I'm ever going to get a good post up on my site today, I need to curb my commenting impulses a bit!

My immediate reaction was this: Amy made a terrible mistake, and a terribly selfish choice. There may be more to it than that, but that's what I felt right away. It's very sad.

But I think we should all be careful not to paint all pro-choice women (or men, for that matter) with that same brush.

I don't see Amy's situation as evidence that a pro-choice stance is an inherently selfish one. I see it as one woman - one educated, adult, American woman - making what seems to some of us to be a poor choice. That doesn't mean (in my opinion, of course) that the right to choose should be revoked for everyone because some people don't use that right wisely.

I think there are plenty of pro-choicers out there who could never possibly terminate a pregnancy, but realize that sometimes this is the best or the ONLY option for other women. I don't call that selfish.

Anne

First, my earlier apology should have been tendered to Hugo and not Jonathan. That's what I get for posting when I'm tired.

And I did understand you were joking, Jonathan, but there are a fair number of people who do, in fact, believe you can raise twins or triplets for just a fraction more than a solitary child.

Clam - Your points are valid, but that doesn't change the fact that having triplets would have a severe, negative impact on anyone's financial situation. (I'm leaving the Rockefellers and their ilk aside, of course)

Consequently, it also doesn't change the fact that she was right in saying that giving birth to triplets would necessitate a much lower standard of life for her and for the babies. Especially when you consider that she would have had to spend months in bed for a "safe" pregnancy even before the babies were born. After the birth...well, three babies take three times as much care, so that's a substantial amount of time she wouldn't have to spend making the money she needed to support her family.

Your own first comment, where you sneer at her work, says plainly enough that you believe she should have put reproduction ahead of everything else, regardless of how she actually wanted to spend her life.

A woman is more than a womb and a pregnancy shouldn't be the end of her life as an independent adult.

blackkoffeeblues

I have to second Lorie, this was one woman's choice, and although it appears to be a poor choice to many and an option to some, her decision is not a valid reason for arguing to revoke the right to choose for all.

The fact is that if we all made the right choice the first time around then we wouldn't need options like these...but that it is not realistic is it.

I think that if we boil it down to whether a woman (or family) can afford, care for, have time to manage a child or multiple children, we are really focusing on the wrong thing. In my mind, what it really comes down to is whether the person or persons whose choice it is to make, want the child or children. If you have children and love them, then it is almost impossible for you to understand the desire to not want a child.

Our society label women as selfish when they choose, for whatever reason, not to have children. These women, myself included, are seen as incorrect somehow. Devoid and unfulfilled are terms that I have been forced to endure. And its okay, for now. I know that my choice and that of my husband to refrain from producing offspring is and will continue to be the correct decision for us. But we have been lucky. I could say that we have been very careful, having taken necessary steps for permanent birth control, but even more drastic steps have been known to fail.

I applaud those couples who choose to have children and then raise them well. I am horrified by people who just have children and set them loose upon society. My ideal world would be one where people make responsible and loving choices for marriage and family, where our first choices were made wisely and with real thought and communication. Although it sounds simple, it is rarely achieved.

And, perhaps, those of us who are watching Rudy and Sam and are sympathizing with the difficulties that this loving family are going through, are more sensitive to the cold, harsh reality of another persons life decision and more quick to be critical and judgemental than usual.

annika

Very good comment thread. Anything i might add would simply make me sound like a right wing, anti-abortion zealot (which i probably am, by the way). Although, like Hugo, i was pro-choice until just a few years ago when i realized that i couldn't logically justify that position with my belief that a fetus is a human life. And like John Kerry, i believe that abortion is murder, so for me to feel the slightest sympathy whatsoever for that Richards woman is completely out of the question. Sorry.

Again, Hugo, Happy Seneca Falls Day!

Xrlq

Anne: that sound you're hearing in the background is the world's smallest violin. Heaven forbid that a larger than expected pregnancy might conflict with a woman's "independence," or even force her to move to - horror of all horrors - Staten Island. A word to the wise: as long as you plan to maintain a lifestyle as an "independent adult," Do. Not. Get. Pregnant. It's really that simple.

Oh, but if she hadn't killed 2/3 of her babies, she might have had to go on bed rest for a few months! Boo frickin' hoo. Mrs. X has been on bed rest since early May for a single baby that's not due until October. You know what? That really sucks! Primarily, it sucks for her, of course, but it sucks for me, too, and for everyone else involved. Nevertheless, neither of us ever considered abortion, even though both of us are pro-choice. Part of the deal with freedom on any issue is a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to use that freedom responsibly. Amy Richards did not do that, which is bad. Now she's out advertising her bad choice and encouraging others to do the same, which is worse. If I abused my constitutional right to free speech or press (to say nothing of my constitutional right to bear arms) half as badly as Richards abused her pseudo-constitutional right to abortion, I'd be in prison, and rightly so.

Perhaps the silliest defense of all that I've seen in this thread is the notion that the Richards Massacre was a selfless act that helped preserve a higher standard of living for the one child that survived it. I say we reserve judgement on that one until he as least old enough to speak for himself. Then let him tell us if his life would have been better growing up on the mean streets of Staten Island with two siblings his own age and the shame of a mother having to shop at Costco, or if mommy did the right thing by bumping them off so he could grow up as an only child in posh Manhattan.

david galvez

As the saying goes, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". It appears to me that those who hold to a Christian viewpoint tend to be the first to judge other people. As a so-called man you should let this woman's decision be her decision. Whatever results occur due her decision is for her to deal with. Are you her parent? As a side note, I don't see you or the church and its sheep taking in homeless or abused children and women. Your outrage is nothing more than feigned concern for the "unborn child".

David Morrison

First of all none of us can really comment effectively because none of us are 1) either one of the two children in this case who were killed or, 2) the father of those children who had no real say in their deaths other than to be told that having them live would be impossible.

Our society's policies on abortion now are incoherent. On the third floor of a hospital in a major urban area doctors and nurses can gather, smock and begin a medical testing procedure on a 16 week old preborn needed to save her life. In this case they treat her as their patient because, in fact, that is what she is.

On another floor of the same hospital, or in a clinic only miles away, a preborn the same age can be defined as inhuman and done away with. Same city, same age child, same everything, but one child is a patient and the other not even a human being.

This is a logical break as unsustainable as slavery was in the 1850's and the steadily marching advance of medical technology will make the divide loom only larger.

With all that said, there is nothing for situations like this one but conversion. Having kids of any number is tough. Having three infants is tough, but then so is having a two year old and an infant (as my god daughters family), so is having five kids under the age of five (as does another family I know).

The only love that makes any sense in a sitution like this is the love of Christ, the love that gives itself away in order to find itself in the end. I feel badly for the everyone in this case, for Amy and for the father, who likely mourns, for the kids who were killed and for the one who remains who faces life (if the witness of other twins is true) echoing with the syblings no longer here. I know who will be part of my prayers this week.

Oh, for the record to David, who wrote above, I feel very confident that had Amy felt she needed financial or other support to have raised these kids, or to have two of them adopted, she would have found ample support in the New York area from among the city's Christians and others of good will.

candace

Anne -- I had the same reaction as another commenter below you, but I'll take it further: independence is a farce. You can't be in a relationship of any kind and maintain full independence. Full independence requires full selfishness, full of not giving a shit about anyone else because if you did, concerns for them would infringe on your independence. It doesn't matter whether you're having one child or five: you are no longer beholden only to yourself.

As for Ms. Richards' contempt for suburbia and Costco, I can't say that isn't what I'd expect from someone who doesn't see value in anything but her narrowminded goals and ideals. Life changes when you have children, just like life changes when you fall in love, just like life changes when you see a little more of the world, look at it a little bit closer, have the courage to challenge your values, accept the possibility of change.

I certainly think relative independence is a time in life to be cherished, celebrated, and enjoyed (within reason, not doing harm to others or to your future). Some people never become adults capable of having others depend on them. But to stop two hearts because you can't stand the thought of being like the rest of American women not only demonstrates a foul contempt for motherhood, but an unwillingness to compromise with perceived ideals.

Would I be more financially privileged today if my parents had only had one kid? You had better believe it. But I wouldn't be the person I am, and my life would be empty by comparison. I'd trade all the niceties of Manhattan and the world for my siblings.

And the sad thing is, I would bet that Amy Richards' little boy would, too.

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