The “Elective” Selective Reduction

Anyone who spends a lot of time researching infertility and its treatments has at some point waded into the controversy surrounding selective reduction.  Whether it’s the doctor who implants three or more embryos during in vitro fertilization, just hoping to improve the odds that one will implant, or the over-stimulation of eggs during an intrauterine insemination that results in the cases of sextuplets or octuplets that never make the news, any woman undergoing treatment knows about the possibility of more embryos or fetuses than she hoped, and the likely need to reduce via abortion in order to make for a greater chance for a healthier pregnancy that will result in full term, healthy babies.

The possibility of needing abortion, just like the possibility or failure, or of miscarriage, is always in the back of a woman’s mind.

So it doesn’t bother me per se to read an article about a woman who is choosing to abort one twin, despite both fetuses being healthy and the result of round after round of fertility treatments.

That is, until I read this section:

“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

If she had gotten pregnant on her own, she would have been willing to keep both twins, but since it was already “so consumerish” she didn’t feel like the same “rules” applied?  I find it hard to wrap my head around the idea that someone would abort a twin just because of the way the pregnancy was conceived.  If you feel that it was somehow part of the “natural order” for twins without intervention, why would medical assistance change that mindset?

Am I overreacting?  Maybe I’m alone in this?  Let me know in the comments.

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  • jeff-fecke

    My feeling is always that being pro-choice doesn’t mean one has to approve of every abortion. It just means that one has to support the right of a pregnant woman to make that decision for herself. I think sometimes we get caught up in trying to push back against the narrative of “abortion is always wrong” and end up arguing “abortion is always right.”


    I agree, I find this woman’s logic problematic. What’s more, I think she was wrong. That said, I believe that it was her right to be wrong. I don’t approve of her rationale. But I don’t have to.

  • beenthere72

    Can you link us to the original article?

  • kp

    Pro-choice is about CHOICE.  You are confusing this woman’s ability to choose with the choice she made.  Isn’t this what trusting women is all about?


    Yes, we can disagree with the choice she ultimately made.  On a moral level, I mostly disagree with her choice to undergo infertility treatments in the first place–but it’s her constitutional right to make that decision.  I can also disagree with using early sex detection to terminate females in favor of males.  But, again, it’s about the woman having the right to make the choice.


    BTW, thanks Jeff!  I am a fan of pro-choice men who speak up.

  • jennifer-starr

    Okay, this woman’s logic (if it can be called that), is clearly screwy.  But I have to agree with everyone else, that while I might disagree with her choice I do fullyagree that it was her choice and I respect  her right to make that choice. 

  • stacey-burns

    This woman clearly made the decision that she felt was best for her health and for her family, regardless of whether or not I “approve” of her line of reasoning.

    Furthermore, any pregnancy with multiples, including twins, is considered high risk–whether this woman would have accepted that risk if she had fewer children or were younger is not my business.

  • robin-marty

    I put the link in, sorry I missed it the first time.

    if you read the full article, many of the women who chose to reduce explained their reasoning, and I totally understand it even f I wouldn’t do it myself.  It’s just this first one that doesn’t sit well with me, because of her assertion that she would likely have kept them both if they happened “naturally” but since it was a “commerical” process, it wasn’t as necessary.  I’ve known many women who have undergone IVF, and there is nothing any less “natural” about their babies or pregnancies, despite how they started.  it feels too much like “these aren’t real babies, these are goods” to me.  It would be like saying some women don’t love their children as much when they are adopted than if they are genetically related.

  • johann7

    …with abortion in any case, barring force or coercion. Bodily autonomy is bodily autonomy. While I think this woman’s reasoning is goofy, and I find discourses relying on some sort of naturalistic essentialism (What does “natural order” mean here? It can’t mean “without human activity/intervention”, as a pregnancy resulting from sex unmediated by fertility technologies is a conscious human action…) to be problematic for a variety of reasons, I don’t disagree with this woman’s decision, especially since I think having a child is universally more ethically-problematic than not having a child (not necessarily bad or “wrong”, but being the proximate cause for someone’s existence is a weighty decision, as it’s the single most important decision of that person’s life – none of the joy or pain that sie will experience over the entireity of hir life is possible without that decision – and necessarily is made without any possibility of input or agency on behalf of the person it affects most; I don’t see any reason to say that existence is somehow intrinsically better than non-existence, since questions of ‘goodness’ or ‘wellness’ are meaningless when we’re talking about something that doesn’t exist).

    Do people above disagree with her decision or reasoning? There seems to be some conflation of the two.

    Ah! Just read the follow-up post: you’re objecting to the classification of IVF-resultant pregnancies as somehow less “natural” because “natural” is a vlaue-loaded term. I agree completely, though I think it’s an ultimately meaningless term used only to make value judgements, always without rationale. As a result, I don’t think IVF is any more or less “natural” than any other method of conception, but I also disagree with the conflation of “less natural”, however it’s defined” with “worse” or “less legitimate”. If we don’t assign any intrinsic value to “nturalness” in the first place, it doesn’t matter if something is or isn’t what we classify as “natural”.

  • jrm83

    I get the impression that this is someone who normally views abortion as “going against God’s will,” so simply deciding that abortion is the best decision for her isn’t a good enough reason (by those standards) to have one. Her rationale seems to be that a pregnancy that occurs “naturally” occurred because it is “God’s will,” but a pregnancy that results from medical intervention is not the result of God’s will, but that of human beings. Selective reduction is thereby permissible in her circumstance because it can’t go against God’s will to abort a fetus that was conceived outside of His will. While her logic may seem nonsensical–or even immoral–it may just be her way of coping with a decision that she feels she needs to make, but feels guilty for making.

  • grammaragious

    I find it appalling that you’re honestly questioning a woman’s judgment in having an abortion. It’s none of your business. I have no ability to wrap my head around the fact that you’re a pro-choice blogger who fiercely criticizes anyone who stands in the way of a woman’s right to choose, and then you do just that. (By the way, I normally really, really like what you write, Robyn, which is why this is so shocking to me.)