Twin 'reduction': Is aborting one twin and not the other unethical?

A controversial procedure is adding a new twist to the already fractious debate in the abortion battle

A three dimensional ultrasound scan of a twin pregnancy at twelve weeks gestation
(Image credit: Mediscan/Corbis)

In The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Ruth Padawer reports on the rise of a procedure known as "twin reduction," or the selective abortion of one of two fetuses. Advances in reproductive medicine and fertility treatments have created a strange paradox, Padawer explains: "In creating life where none seemed possible, doctors often generate more fetuses than they intend." In the mid-1980s, fertility doctors began terminating all but two or three fetuses when a woman under their care conceived quadruplets or quintuplets (or more), as a way to lower the health risks for both mother and babies. But, in recent years, women who are pregnant with twins and only want one baby are seeking out the procedure, too. Is choosing to abort one healthy fetus but not the other unethical?

No, this a valid, personal choice: "How is this different from a first trimester abortion?" asks Ceridwen Morris at Babble. As with abortion, twin reduction is a difficult, personal choice that women should be able to make for themselves. No one else should have a say in the matter; it's a women's right to decide if, and how, to continue a pregnancy.

"Thoughts on reducing a twin pregnancy to a single pregnancy"

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Not under 'ObamaCare' it isn't: "As government takes over health care, controversial procedures such as selective reduction will need to be resolved not just by individual families, but also by the public at large who will be footing the bill," says Kelly Bartlett at RenewAmerica. Abortion, birth control, fertility treatments, and twin reduction all go against the natural order, and when taxpayers are paying for healthcare, they're no longer personal issues and choices. We'll all be paying for them eventually, and we have to ask if we can really afford to treat sex and reproduction this way.

"From Octomom to MomMinusOne, is sex in America too 'consumerish'?"

This raises some big questions: I'm torn here, says Frances Kissling in The Washington Post's On Faith blog. I want to respect both "the value of even early human life and the right of women and men to decide when and how to form families and to have — or not have — children." Ultimately, some practices that should be legal may not be ethical.

"Be fruitful and subtract?"

This exposes a contradiction in the pro-choice mindset: I find it strange that people are conflicted about twin reduction, says Jennifer Fulwiler at the National Catholic Register. It's really no different than having an abortion and the arguments for it are the same. Pro-choicers who find it troubling should do some soul searching, and ask themselves why this procedure bothers them while a standard abortion does not.

"What pro-choice intellectual honesty looks like"

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