A tale of late-term abortion

One family reflects on the decision that changed their lives forever

Editor’s note:

One of the most read pieces Eternity has run on abortion is this example of prophetic truth telling – “There’s Abortion in your Church”.

In the article, Sydney pastor Michael Paget blows the whistle on the complacency that churches have about abortion. He reveals a fear, a conviction in fact, that there’s something about church culture that actually promotes abortion.

The story below can be viewed as an example of that happening – with the added complication of it being about a complicated pregnancy with a diagnosis of disability in the unborn child.

Does that mean that Eternity is endorsing the decision the story describes – of terminating the pregnancy?


For the record, I trust I would have made a different decision to the parents in this story. But in my case, although I am a parent of a child (now an adult) living with an intellectual disability, it was not something we knew about until she was born.

I have a strong pro-life view. It’s something that I have been given a great opportunity to think about. One of the strange blessings of being in the disability community.

Eternity should have put this story up with a cluster of others which support the mainstream Christian view. Articles such as this one: The joy of having a baby with down syndrome.

And this one: The greatest regret of my life and the most damaging decision I have ever made.

And here is a new one: A time to be born.

But I am reluctant to publicly criticise the parents in the story below. I am reluctant to cast the first stone. There are some people who are very critical of Eternity running this story; people who I think might be well placed to do so – I am thinking of a parent who has cared for their very special needs child (now adult) for decades.

But most of us should think about this some more. Because the task laden on parents of a person with a disability, especially with a severe disability, is a tough one. The NDIS does not generally provide accommodation, which arguably has left many parents much worse off. This is particularly sad because the existence of 70 and 80-year-olds struggling to look after 50 year olds was a key reason for establishing NDIS.

The “let those without sin cast the first stone” aspect of this story is that churches generally do a poor job of looking after families with people living with a disability, ranging from social inclusion to financial help. If you don’t have people with a person living with a disability in your church, it is because disability will leave families poor. They may not be able to afford your suburb.

That’s despite the fact that Christians are over-represented in the disability community – precisely because many take a principled stance against abortion. And pay a steep price for doing so.

As I said, I think that’s the right thing to do.

I know how hard it can be, and others have it far tougher than us.

John Sandeman

A mother’s story:

It was the hardest decision my husband and I ever had to make, a decision you would wish on no one. Yet here it was, suddenly served up to us, with precious little time to choose. Would it be life or death for our unborn child?

When I fell pregnant at age 44, we chose to have an amniotic test to rule out possible foetal abnormalities. The diagnosis came back with a high probability that our baby would have severe intellectual disability. We elected to wait several weeks in the hope that a test available after 20 weeks’ gestation would show a better prognosis. It didn’t.

We chose to have the baby delivered by Caesarean section in the belief that it would spare her suffering. As I went under the anaesthetic, I felt the tears pouring down my face. My husband, anxious and emotional, waited in the hospital, praying that we had made the right decision.

I feel all parents facing such a choice should make an informed decision, one that, ideally, includes a visit a respite facility to see how the little baby they wish to save may spend their adult lives.

How did we make this terrible choice? At 21 weeks, I could feel her kicking inside me – a lovely little girl, a sister for our two elder daughters.

We had consulted with our doctor, specialists and our local Anglican minister. Should we gamble on a happy outcome? In the end, it seemed braver to end the life of our child before birth than to leave her to face a future as a severely intellectually disabled adult. She was our responsibility. Who would take care of her when we died?

I feel all parents facing such a choice should make an informed decision, one that, ideally, includes a visit a respite facility to see how the little baby they wish to save may spend their adult lives. They should also speak with parents, worn out from caring, who cannot get a place in these facilities for their now teenage and adult “children”.

I am thankful that, even back then, medical science gave us the means to make an informed decision and that advances in technology will further inform women in the same situation now.

Today, all I can do is continue to love the beautiful little person who never made it into this world. Like so many others, we did the best we could at the time.

I hope anyone who has not had to make such a choice will be slow to theorise on how the proposed NSW abortion law, now before the parliament, should be framed. Some unhelpful theories, such as late-term abortions only being about gender selection, give no credit to the decency of the average woman seeking help. I also hope that families facing the same terrible situation as ours will be spared the doubly cruel blow of also committing an illegal act.

A sister’s story:

When my mum told me she was pregnant, I turned cartwheels across the living room floor. I was nine at the time and my big sister 13. I remember the look I shared with my sister: incredulous, full of excitement and childish naivety about the fragility of this tiny miracle inside my mum’s body.

It was, by all accounts, a miracle. My parents had trouble conceiving my sister when mum was 30 – back then, a ripe old age for childbearing. I eventually made an appearance more than four years later, following even greater effort. Without the help of modern assisted reproduction techniques, I’m told my poor, stoic dad had to put his “boys on ice” in the hope of aiding sperm production. So the news of Mum’s pregnancy, a decade after my arrival, when my mum was aged 44, took the whole family by surprise.

I can’t remember the days between the “big announcement” and our family trip to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. No doubt they were filled with the bustle of my school-time world, “lolly trips” to the local corner shop and afternoons spent roaming the streets with neighbours until the settling dusk signalled us home.

As my dad shared the news that our baby had too many problems to come into this world, I could almost feel the walls of the room pressing in on me, until the breath squeezed out of my lungs.

So when we pulled out of our country-town home and headed to the “big smoke” of Sydney and beyond, it was a welcome, although somewhat surprising, family holiday. Perhaps the most exciting part for my sister and me was that were being joined by my cousins, along with my aunt and uncle, who were going to stay in the same holiday apartment complex.

There was only one shadow across the glee we felt: the underlying purpose of trip. At the time I knew that it involved a trip to hospital for Mum, which is why my dad had called on his brother and his wife to help mind us.

Even while Mum and Dad headed out to mysterious hospital appointments, my holiday excitement wasn’t dampened. I remember an outing to The Three Sisters rock formations and racing my cousins down and up the Giant Stairway cut into the cliffs. There’s a photo of the five cousins reclining on a wooden seat on the first “sister”, sporting ’80s-style aviator sunglasses.

Yet there is one memory of this trip that is indelibly stamped on me and on the shared life of my family. It begins with a conversation in a small room of the unfamiliar holiday apartment. As my dad shared the news that our baby had too many problems to come into this world, I could almost feel the walls of the room pressing in on me, until the breath squeezed out of my lungs.

The second part of that memory takes place in a sterile chapel in a Sydney hospital. There are rows of chairs radiating outwards from a raised platform at the front of the chapel, but we are the only people using them – my mum, my dad, my sister and me. As we sit facing a small, white coffin on the platform in front of us, I see, for the first time in my life, my dad crying. He places his arms around my sister and me, and we say a prayer for the daughter and sister who wouldn’t be part of our family after all.

I am also certain that the pain I saw them express was only the tiniest glimpse of the agony they carried, and still carry, over the loss of their baby girl.

I certainly can’t remember the word “abortion” being used, but even then, I knew that’s what it was. I also had a childish understanding about the link between the weeks of pregnancy and a baby’s development – from foetus to a “real baby” – and, although I didn’t know how many weeks’ pregnant my mum was when the abortion took place, I knew it was late.

I can’t tell you exactly what complications and abnormalities grew alongside my baby sister, so I can’t determine whether these would have led to a life too cruel for her to bear or burdens too great for our family to carry. But this is the conclusion my parents came to, and I am confident it was the only decision they could make at the time. I am also certain that the pain I saw them express was only the tiniest glimpse of the agony they carried, and still carry, over the loss of their baby girl.

Over the years, we have visited our baby’s plaque at the crematorium a couple of times. While the hollowed letters in this small rectangle of brass do not record it, her name would most likely have been Elizabeth.

I used to wonder what she would have looked like and how being a big sister would feel. But I must confess, as the years wore on, I thought about her less and my little sister became, for me, a faded thread in my family tapestry.

Then when I became a mum myself, this baby began to re-emerge in my mind. I guess motherhood awakened me to the weight of grief carried by my parents. Yet, strangely, these memories also brought a sense of joy that they had never held before.

As I watched over my own growing children, I could imagine my little sister being watched over by her Heavenly Father – the one who had created her inmost being and knitted her together in the womb, even with her impassable fragilities and deficiencies. The one who had ordained all her days, even before one of them came to be. The one who knew all along how her story on this earth would begin and how it would end, as short as it was. The one who will, one day, reunite my sister with her earthly family in heaven.

Names of writers withheld for privacy reasons.