With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding Roe v. Wade, it caused me to remember the summer I heard about newborns referred to as “Thalidomide babies.” I was quite young, perhaps just in my teens, when newscasters told of infants born with life-threatening birth defects. I recall sitting at our kitchen table, listening to the radio and asking my mother what had happened. She explained what she knew — that expectant mothers took something called Thalidomide, a drug prescribed by their obstetricians to ease morning sickness.
As an innocent youngster, I had no idea what “morning sickness” was and had no intention of asking Mom. Such things were not discussed in our home. All I knew was the drug caused trouble for the babies. I remember hearing that some were born with “fins” instead of hands or feet. Others were so deformed they died shortly after birth or were stillborn. Their mothers were overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. They didn’t know what they had done wrong and neither did their doctors. It seemed like nobody could explain why such a tragedy was happening.
Many decades later, I chanced upon “Call the Midwife,” a BBC mini-series. One season was devoted to the birth of Thalidomide babies in England. It showed the raw emotions of each mother as she looked at her baby. Some were so badly deformed the midwife swaddled the infant without showing it to its mother. It died shortly thereafter. The midwife felt this was the kindest thing she could do to spare the new mother more heartache than she thought the woman could bear.
That season raised ethical questions relevant today. Was the midwife wrong? Was it up to her to make a decision she knew would result in the death of the newborn? Was she playing God? Would a British court sentence her to imprisonment because she did something drastic? Did she make a rash decision in her attempt to spare the parents emotional pain as well as medical bills? The baby did not know it was deformed. Did the midwife deprive it of the affection it might have received from its family? Should she have taken the chance of a mother going mad when she saw the abnormal child she had birthed? I’m not going to offer an opinion one way or the other. I don’t know what I would have done if I had taken a prescription drug that robbed my child of a healthy brain or body. Thankfully, I was spared such anguish.
I’ve always avoided using the phrase “performed an abortion.” I thought a more apt description would be “committed an abortion.” A “performance” should be something beautiful like a ballet, not something that involves taking a life. Then I dismounted my high horse and thought about the victims of rape and incest. I thought about mothers who are forced to make a decision when they learn they’re carrying a child who will be severely physically or mentally challenged and unable to live what’s generally considered a “normal” life. Who am I to judge a woman for the choices she makes?
Who has the right to impose their will on females? Until High Court judges, state governors and legislators and people who call themselves Christians are willing to adopt severely deformed infants and those resulting from rape or incest, they have no moral right to condemn any woman who decides to end her pregnancy.
— To contact Sharon Kennedy, send her an email at authorsharonkennedy.com. Kennedy’s latest book, “The SideRoad Kids: Tales from Chippewa County,” is available from her, Amazon, or Audible.