In memory of Angel Nicole Gallagher (July 10, 1992 - July 10, 1992)

Readers write in with their own stories of late-term abortion. Plus: Letters on the Clinton marriage.


Salon Staff
June 12, 2003 12:19AM (UTC)

[Read "Real Women, Agonizing Choices," by Stephanie Booth.]

Thank you, thank you for writing an article that genuinely mirrors the exact emotions, difficulties and agonizing choices of such a situation.

As a moderately conservative Catholic, I do not label myself as pro-choice. But I am glad the government was not there to tie my doctor's hands.

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I, too, had to have a late-term abortion due to my daughter's being diagnosed by ultrasound and later confirmed by amniocentesis, as having osteogenesis imperfecta type II (a fatal form of brittle-bone disease and dwarfism). It is not a decision anyone should have to make, nor is it a decision that should be impeded by the government.

This was not an unwanted baby. This was not a child with a surmountable defect.

My body was the only thing sustaining her life, yet sadly that was not even enough to protect her as she suffered many bone fractures while in my womb. I was her mother. It was my directive, as it is with my four other children, to protect her as best I could. Many will argue with me on that point, but they have not been in my shoes.

Too many people see this issue as an easy "evil" to eradicate. It is far simpler than that; it is an informed, difficult judgment call based in an impossible situation. Those who label this black and white, right and wrong, good and evil are greatly misinformed, and the mothers forced to make such a decision ... continue to suffer the aftermath in silence. THAT is barbarism. Especially when so many medical breakthroughs could have been achieved via stem cell research. Breakthroughs that could have saved my daughter if we had only been allowed that choice.

In memory of Angel Nicole Gallagher, born July 10, 1992, died July 10, 1992. Body donated to research in an effort to lessen the suffering of others, her spirit joined in my heart

-- Cheryl Gallagher

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I was just 32 this summer when my husband and I decided to try to have a second child. We were already blessed with a beautiful baby boy who was 2 and perfectly healthy. I had experienced a normal pregnancy with my son and expected the same with our second child. People would ask me if I cared whether the baby was a boy or girl, and I always dutifully replied that "it didn't matter so long as the baby was healthy." We had no record of birth defects on either side of our families and never dreamed we would be exposed to the hell of losing a child.

I opted to take the triple screen test and agreed to a sonogram, thinking both tests routine, and we were eager to find out the gender of the baby so we could begin to celebrate our new life. At 18 weeks I went in for the sonogram, and everything seemed normal. It did seem to take a bit longer, and the test administrator did ask me if I had received my triple screen results. I told her not yet. After a long test she said she would be right back -- she was just going to show the photos to the doctor. She came right back and said everything was fine and that we were having a baby girl. I was so happy! We had been secretly hoping for a girl. Later I got the results of my triple screen, and they were in the normal range.

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About two weeks later I went to my regularly scheduled O.B. appointment. The exam was normal until my doctor asked if the sonogram technician had told me about the slight thickening of my baby's nucal fold. I said, no, what does that mean? She said that the fold was a little thick but still in "normal" range. The thickening of this fold is often an indicator of Down syndrome. I was shocked and began to cry. She said it was probably nothing, but that I could go next door and have them double-check just to make me feel better. I said I would like them to double-check.

After another long sonogram the technician went to get a doctor, who informed me that the nucal fold had grown and I now had a 1 in 100 chance of having a baby with Down's and that she recommended I have an amnio. I was frantic. I was now 20 weeks along. I had pictures of my little girl. What if something was wrong? I agreed and after some genetic counseling was told my baby was most likely fine. I had left my husband at home with our son, thinking this doctor's visit was routine, but after three hours finally called him and told him what was going on. We decided to pay for a quick preliminary test (FISH) in addition to the full amnio. We would get those results in about 48 hours and they were fairly reliable in the detection of Down's. The amnio results would not be in for at least two weeks.

After an agonizing five days (we had to wait over a holiday weekend) we got the results we had hoped for. Our baby girl looked fine. Again pure joy! I felt so lucky. I began to purchase baby clothes and painted her nursery. My husband and I felt we had escaped from hell and were basking in our precious baby's every kick.

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About two weeks later I received a phone call that has changed me and my life forever. The genetic counselor called with our full amnio results. Our baby was not fine. It turned out she had a rare genetic disorder called Cri Du Chat. She told me that it was worse that Down syndrome and resulted in severe mental retardation. Also likely were heart and kidney defects. Our daughter would have an IQ of less than 20 and might never be able to communicate with us. The whole phone conversation was surreal. I know I screamed and cried through most of it. I kept thinking I was in a bad dream and if I blinked my eyes hard enough I would wake up.

I was now 23 weeks pregnant with no time to waste. If we decided to terminate this pregnancy, we had to do so in the next few days (our state allows for legal termination until the 24th week). The next day we spoke to the head of the genetic department at our local medical college. We decided to abort our much loved and wanted daughter. I was scheduled that day to begin the D-and-E procedure.

I have always been pro-choice and believe strongly in a woman's right to choose. I just never wanted to be that woman who had make that decision. It is a choice no one should ever have to make. I hope I did the best thing for my sweet baby. I did the best I could.

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-- Allie K. Hutchins

Talk about biased reporting. The author states the most recent data on late-term abortions indicates that only 6 percent of the women who undergo the procedure do so out of concern for the health of the mother or child. The author gives no evidence to refute the claims of the bill's supporters that those who have late-term abortions do so for apparently frivolous reasons; instead, she cites the "claims" of supporters and defenders, as if that were real reporting. And then proceeds to tell the stories of two women who had the procedure for health reasons -- apparently part of that 6 percent. Now there's some objective reporting. What about the other 94 percent? Or was the author too lazy to find anyone who fit in that category? What's that? Oh, reporting the stories of the apparently vast majority of those who have the procedure wouldn't have fit so snugly with the author's interest in defending late-term abortions. I see.

-- Brian Gabriel

If, as your article states, few women undergo partial-birth abortions for medical reasons, why did you choose two such cases as the only testimonials in your article? To me this seems a dishonest attempt to scare people into feeling that they have to support abortion, which isn't the best strategy. Moreover, your framing deprives your story of having a far greater impact. If you really want to convert pro-lifers, you don't need to convince them that babies who will not develop a skull or brains might be better off not being born; you need to convince them that morally decent and responsible women have good reason to terminate healthy pregnancies.

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-- Sam Kean

Thank you for a heartbreakingly candid story about the lives of real women who face the difficult choice of terminating a much wanted pregnancy.

Political rhetoric and religious zealotry tend to ignore the human side of the debate. Very often, those who most vehemently oppose abortion make a very different choice when it is their wife, their sister, or their daughter who has a doomed pregnancy. Would that their compassion could extend to all women who suffer.

-- Cynthia Fine

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I have to say, I cringed while reading this article. I am very much pro-choice, even in the case of late-term abortions, but the examples Ms. Booth uses are very problematic for me. Ironically, her examples would play much better to a conservative audience.

The health of the baby should not be the primary consideration. Granted, those two cases are extreme -- there is no question that babies born with anencephaly have no quality of life and should not be given a chance. However, where do you draw the line? Down syndrome? Spina bifida? The quality-of-life argument is an extremely slippery slope and often devolves into eugenics.

I am a 32-year-old man with cerebral palsy, and I happen to use a power wheelchair. Even though C.P. is not genetic, I have many colleagues and friends with disabilities due to chromosomal abnormalities. They have no less of a life than you or I, and Ms. Booth's underlying premise to the contrary is both troubling and hurtful.

Thank you for your time.

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-- David M. Clark

The voices of women who choose to have so-called partial-birth abortions have not been included in the debate over this procedure, and the article did an invaluable job of including them. My own experience points to both the legal necessity of this procedure and the anguish of women who face this horrible choice. I was diagnosed with cancer when I was four months pregnant and had surgery to remove the tumor. Subsequent pathology reports indicated that the cancer had spread, but my doctors could not determine the extent of the metastasis without further tests -- tests my pregnancy made impossible.

I could terminate the pregnancy and proceed with the tests and further treatment or postpone the tests and treatment and possibly risk my own health. There were indications as well that pregnancy in general, and my own pregnancy in particular, made my type of cancer more aggressive. Certainly, the tumor had grown in the brief span since my diagnosis. It took weeks to plan the surgery, recover, receive the reports from the pathology reports, and consult with more doctors. By this time, the pregnancy was well into the second trimester. In order to preserve my fertility for the future, a "partial birth" procedure was mentioned by physicians.

I decided to proceed with the pregnancy, a decision made not with joy but fear and anguish. I ultimately delivered a beautiful baby boy and my cancer has been successfully treated. I am healthy and I have a wonderful toddler. But this happy ending does not obscure for me that it was my choice to continue my pregnancy and that if I had chosen to have an abortion and use the procedure about to be outlawed, it was a decision that only I could make, not Congress or Bush or the courts. Women who have second-trimester abortions are in crises -- emotional, financial or health-related. Forcing them to continue their pregnancies or to choose a different procedure does not end the crisis; it only makes it more acute. I would not have been a bad person had I used the "partial birth" method, any more than I am a good person because I chose to continue the pregnancy. I was placed in an impossible position, forced to make a choice that no woman should have to make.

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But, the fact is that women are faced with these choices, whether they are 15, poor, and alone or, like me, 35, educated, and married. For Congress and the president to take away our ability to choose what is right for us is an abomination.

-- Rebecca Lord

[Read "Mystery Marriage," by Stephanie Zacharek.]

I appreciated Stephanie Zacharek's article and wanted to add another level of complexity.

As someone who is one-half of a sometimes tumultuous marriage, in which we both try to support each other's work, I appreciated the view of the Clintons as a private endeavor about which those outside may be intensely curious but can never really understand.

What I don't agree with is the writer's last thoughts, about how the Clintons were working to better the life of Americans. They may look pretty good now, compared to the ruthless attacks on the poor, immigrants, and anyone else you can think of who's not white, straight, male, from Texas, and in possession of either an energy company or a supplier to the military, but the Clinton administration was partially responsible for moving the Democratic Party to the right, ending welfare as we know it, and flubbing national healthcare in such a major way as to make the wreckage almost impossible to dig out of. Bill may have been loyal to Hillary, but he sure as hell turned his back on Lani Guinier when she needed him.

Is it possible that the Clintons have a great marriage and that they are still also political opportunists in the worst way? My own feeling is their complexities make them truly human figures, and truly mythic in both their flaws and virtues. But that doesn't mean they made my life better.

-- Aaron Landsman

Thank you for telling America to mind its own business about Bill and Hillary. This issue proves how little this country really does think of marriage, despite all the attempts to pass intrusive "support of marriage" laws.

If Hillary had left Bill as everyone seems to wish she had, the same critics would accuse her of being selfish and unforgiving and would be wailing, "What about Chelsea?"

-- Kate McClare

Some of us women have lives and jobs of our own, totally independent of our husbands' careers. Some of us women have marriages -- with joys, with problems, with difficulties -- in which we don't have to accept lies from our husbands about serious issues. I am sick to death of the Clintons and their lame excuse for a marriage. I am sick to death of the left-leaning media hyping them as good examples of anything. Hillary Clinton's actions continually prove that she is weak, pathetic, and not nearly as intelligent as others wish she was -- and an example I hope my strong, smart, wonderful teenage daughter never has to see, much less hear others hold up as good and worthwhile. Please, get on to other subjects, Salon. There are lots of other women worth writing about.

-- Grace Walker Monk

This article hits the mark precisely.

I don't know when we got such a rigid view of marriage, but Cole Porter lyrics suggest there was a time when we understood human frailty better ("But I'm always true to you, darling, in my fashion. I'm always true to you, darling, in my way").

Europe seems to have a 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy on infidelity. It's not that affairs don't hurt, but they seem to recognize that eros is mysterious and hesitate to judge the appearances or actions of others. Our childish view (probably fueled by Hollywood), which views anything less than unrelenting emotional and sexual devotion as a failed marriage merely sets all of us up for failure.

-- Ray Walsh


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