So far, I've learned nothing from my readers that resolves the conundrum of a fervently pro-life woman risking the life of her child even in a small way by an amniocentesis. Here's one of the more succinct first-person testimonies from a pro-life couple I have received so far:
You've made some good observations in your post. My wife and I were discussing this last night. When she was pregnant with our third child, certain tests (blood or urine, I think) suggested that the baby had Down syndrome. So the doc recommended ultrasound. The ultrasound was inconclusive, so the doc recommended amnio. We declined. In our view, there is only one reason to do amnio, and (as you note) there is risk involved in doing it. Therefore, we chose not to do amnio.
So we went forward, knowing that there was some chance our child would have Down syndrome. We told no one, and just worked out the issue in our own hearts. We were at peace and ready for anything. When the child was born, the nurse quickly checked him and whispered in my wife's ear ("He doesn't have it"). As opponents of abortion, that was how we dealt with the situation. I think we are pretty typical.
Palin's decision was atypical for a pro-life mother. Here are some possible explanations:
As a retired military person, I can think of one possibility where this would make sense for a pro-life person to consider amniocentesis.
A person who is due for a military career-related household move might want to know about the health of the fetus and if any abnormalities are present before moving. We had amniocentesis done when my spouse was pregnant with our youngest child.
My spouse was over age 35 and we wanted to have this information to better help us with deciding our next military duty station (I was stationed at a military base that closing in a few months).
But that doesn't apply to Palin. Another reader writes:
At age 42, Ms. Palin was at risk for both Down's and a neural tube defect, and while the first is not a big issue for delivery concerns, the second is. So the question is not just to terminate or not, but how to prepare for delivery of a challenged infant. There is risk in ANY procedure -- this is the nature of informed consent. A well-informed pregnant woman can look at the risk profile, see clearly whether there's a greater risk from amniocentesis or from a potentially serious delivery complication, and choose. It's her decision, but at her age Palin taking the slight risk of complications from amniocentesis in order to prepare for what could be a difficult birth seems responsible to me.
But if you're preparing for a possibly difficult labor and birth, why would you then wing it for a speech and airplane flights from Texas to Wasilla after your water has broken or your amniotic fluid is already leaking and you are having contractions? If the point of the amniocentesis was to take every precaution to avoid a dangerous birth, then the decision to fly from Alaska to Texas and back, after contractions and leakage of amniotic fluid, is bizarre. One more small thing from the NYT piece - which is well worth reading and re-reading. Palin may have agreed to the amniocentesis to prepare herself. But she didn't prepare her own children in any way for the condition of their new brother:
Inside Ms. Palin’s room, her daughter Willow, 14, immediately noticed her new brother’s condition, according to People magazine. “He looks like he has Down syndrome,” Willow said. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
Another reader suggests:
I am not a women, but I am a father, so I thought I would take a shot at replying to your questions regarding amniocentesis. While my wife was pregnant with our first child she had a positive result on her triple screen blood test (which tests for Down Syndrome among other things). Based on that result my wife was presented with the option of undergoing amniocentesis, which she chose to do. I can’t say that we were strongly pro-life at the time, but, in any case, prior to opting to undergo the procedure, we had decided that we would not terminate the pregnancy based on the results.
The problem we faced was that there is a very high false positive rate for the triple screen blood test, so a positive result from that alone really leaves you in limbo. Amnio was presented as the only option available to provide a more definitive result. Without undergoing amnio we would have been faced with months of wondering and fearing the worst (again we weren’t informed of any other options other than waiting for an ultrasound much later in the pregnancy). We felt that the stress of not knowing would pose similar risks to the pregnancy as would undergoing amnio.
I have no idea if the stress caused by expecting a child with DS is greater than the demonstrated risk of an amnio to an unborn child. But I do think it's worth asking Palin herself to elucidate her reasons, and how she balanced those reasons against her pro-life principles. Is that deferent enough?
Keep emailing me and if I get any information casting more light in this, I will post it.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.