If you're pregnant with twins and you kill one of the babies, is that just half an abortion?

As Jenny lay on the obstetrician's examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn't want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment -- and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny's abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.

Almost as if? So... killing one baby isn't even half an abortion. If abortions aren't bad at all anyway, why hesitate to call killing one unborn baby an abortion, much less half an abortion?

Jenny's decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. Even the twins would be robbed, because, at best, she could give each one only half of her attention and, she feared, only half of her love. Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. "This is bad, but it's not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have," she told me, referring to the reduction. She and her husband worked out this moral calculation on their own, and they intend to never tell anyone about it. Jenny is certain that no one, not even her closest friends, would understand, and she doesn't want to be the object of their curiosity or feel the sting of their judgment.

If I were killing babies I'd keep it secret too.

What is it about terminating half a twin pregnancy that seems more controversial than reducing triplets to twins or aborting a single fetus? After all, the math's the same either way: one fewer fetus. Perhaps it's because twin reduction (unlike abortion) involves selecting one fetus over another, when either one is equally wanted. Perhaps it's our culture's idealized notion of twins as lifelong soul mates, two halves of one whole. Or perhaps it's because the desire for more choices conflicts with our discomfort about meddling with ever more aspects of reproduction.

Is killing one of two really more controversial? I was surprised to hear that opinion. To me, killing a baby is no more or less acceptable if that baby has a sibling or a twin.

The justification for eliminating some fetuses in a multiple pregnancy was always to increase a woman's chance of bringing home a healthy baby, because medical risks rise with every fetus she carries. The procedure, which is usually performed around Week 12 of a pregnancy, involves a fatal injection of potassium chloride into the fetal chest. The dead fetus shrivels over time and remains in the womb until delivery. Some physicians found reduction unnerving, particularly because the procedure is viewed under ultrasound, making it quite visually explicit, which is not the case with abortion.

Yes, I can see why it would be especially unnerving to actually watch a baby be killed. That's because killing a healthy baby for the sake of convenience is evil.

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