Arizona’s “Fetal Pain” Law Could Cause More Abortions Than It Saves

Posted on April 3, 2012

RH Reality Check, April 3, 2012 by Robin Marty

When I was pregnant with my second child, I had very recently miscarried, and was terrified that there was something wrong with the new pregnancy.  It was with those wary eyes that I noticed the odd behavior of the man performing my 20 week anatomy scan — how he stopped chatting with us for a while and became very intent on scanning one particular area, how he asked as we ended exactly when I would be seeing my doctor for my next prenatal appointment, and how he never offered us a picture of our baby.

I knew there was something wrong with my baby, I just didn’t know what.  I waited three days until the appointment, cataloging the different potential issues and thinking to myself exactly what I could…and couldn’t…live with.

My doctor told me shortly after I arrived that there was a problem with the scan and they thought they detected a club foot.  I couldn’t have been more relieved.  He suggested we wait two weeks and scan again and see if it may have just been the position, or if there really was an issue.  If there was, we could set up a plan to begin treatment shortly after birth.

My son didn’t have a club foot, we learned at the next ultrasound.  He was perfect in every way.  And this time, I left with pictures to prove it.

If he had actually had club foot, we would have spoken to pediatric orthopedics and done so joyfully, happy that it was all that was wrong.  I had imagined every other dire diagnosis possible, some I could have accepted.  And, frankly, many I could not.

That was all at 20 weeks.  By the time I saw my doctor, it was 20 weeks and 3 days.  By the time we did the second scan, it was 22 weeks.

If I were in Arizona, it would have all been too late.

A majority of ob gyns do not care to do the anatomy scan any earlier than 18 weeks, as there are still major points of fetal development to finish completing before the actual scan.  When a physical problem is found, they often like to do a follow up scan a week or two later in order to confirm the initial diagnosis. But with a 20 week ban in place, time is literally not on a woman’s side.

In order to be certain of the physical viability and health of the fetus, there will need to be much more reliance on earlier tests and scans.  Quad screen, a blood test that can check for elevated levels of hormones consistent with various neural tube or chromosomal disorders, would be used much more frequently — and have a tendency to result in false positives.  More mothers will be seeking out N/T scans, More women would be seeking out amniocentesis, either because of quad screen false positives, bad N/T scans or simply as a stand alone diagnostic, a procedure that can increase risk of miscarriage.

All of these test will greatly increase the medical costs involved with pregnancy, as well as put the pregnancy at risk.  But what is even more disturbing is the pregnancies that could be lost in a rushed diagnosis.

As one doctor explained when discussing the proposed 20 week ban in Georgia:

“I saw a couple at 21 or 22 weeks. They didn’t have health insurance until then because he was transferring jobs, so they hadn’t had the screening. When they came to see me, they were distraught. The fetus had a heart defect, what turned out to have been a fixable heart defect. But we didn’t know that for sure. We had to go through amniocentesis, which takes a week. That brings us up to 22 and a half weeks. Then we had to counsel this family and convince them that this heart defect was fixable. Because we had the time, we were able to walk them through the process and they didn’t terminate.

“If I had seen them at 19 weeks and four days, and this new law gave them just three days to decide, they would have terminated that pregnancy. We told the Legislature that, but these legislators think that’s not going to happen.

“It’s going to happen.”

There are a number of things that could show up on a scan at one point, but could simply disappear as time progresses.  Heart defects, cord issues, cysts are all soft markers for a variety of Trisomys and chromosomal disorders, yet many will clear at a later ultrasound.  Without the ability to wait, how many women might rush to a decision just to beat an arbitrary deadline set not by medical professionals but a group of legislators?

Anti-choice lawmakers think it is so important to make a woman “think it over” that they’ve instituted waiting periods from 24 hours to three days.  Yet when it comes to deciding whether or not a physical or chromosomal disorder would cause too much suffering to actually bring a baby to birth, suddenly legislators want a fast, hard deadline, and no exceptions.

Posted in: Arizona