June 21, 2013 — In a New York Times opinion piece, former Seattle City Council member Judy Nicastro describes her decision to have an abortion at 23 weeks of pregnancy after learning the fetus' major organs were not properly developing.
Nicastro decided to share her story "in the hope that our leaders will be more responsible and compassionate when they weigh what it means to truly value the lives of women and children." She notes that the House's recent passage of a bill (HR 1797) that would ban most abortions beginning at 22 weeks after fertilization "is part of a trend toward restricting second- and even first-trimester abortions."
Nicastro explains that she and her husband conceived their first child using in vitro fertilization and, a few years later, conceived twins -- a male and a female -- using the same method.
During an ultrasound in her 20th week of her second pregnancy, a technician had trouble finding the heartbeat of the male fetus. After a second ultrasound and an M.R.I., the fetus was found to have a herniated diaphragm, and his organs were "in his chest and not developing." Another 10 days of testing and consultations pushed Nicastro into the 23rd week of pregnancy -- one week before the procedure is no longer allowed under Washington state law.
Nicastro and her husband met with a surgeon, a nurse and a pediatrician to discuss their options. They were told the fetus had a hole in his diaphragm and only one lung chamber, which was 20% developed. "The thought of hearing him gasp for air and linger in pain was our nightmare," Nicastro writes, adding that she and her husband decided on an abortion so their "son was not born only to suffer."
Nicastro notes that 10 states already ban abortion at 20 or 22 weeks, although some of the laws have been challenged in court. "While some of these new restrictions allow exceptions for fetal genetic defects, second-trimester abortions must remain legal because, until a child is viable outside the womb, these decisions belong with the mother," she writes (Nicastro, New York Times, 6/20).