The XX Factor

Is It Morally Wrong To Abort an Implanted Embryo When You’re Expecting Twins?

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Three years ago my husband and I welcomed our twin boys into the world. We weren’t sure we’d ever be able to have children, but thanks to in vitro fertilization we now have the family we’d always wanted. So it was with great interest that I read the piece by Ruth Padawer in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about women who get IVF, become pregnant with two babies, and decide to selectively reduce to one. Here’s how a woman featured in the article, “Jenny,” describes her choice:

If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.

Jenny’s reasoning leaves me deeply unsettled. We struggled with infertility for years. Ours was the dreaded “unexplained” type. Our tests all came back fine, but month after month no baby. We did many types of less invasive treatments, all unsuccessful, before we decided on IVF.

IVF worked for us on the very first try with my husband’s sperm and my own eggs. We were (still are) elated. Pregnant at last! And then we learned we were having two. I’m not going to lie—even though we implanted two “great quality” embryos, finding out there were two babies was still a shock. But for me, it was shocking in the best possible way. Two babies! We felt doubly blessed.  

My heart breaks for this lady for the choice she has to live with. Still, I get a lump in my throat over her description of the IVF process as “consumerish.” I’m not sure if it’s the way she belittles the whole process, likening it to a shopping experience, or the fact that she never would have reduced the pregnancy if it had occurred “naturally” that bothers me more. Sure, my pregnancy involved test tubes, lab coats, and teams of doctors all rooting for us, but it never felt unnatural to me. The science takes only you so far. Once the embryos were transferred back into my belly, it was a leap of faith. It’s not a given that IVF will result in a baby. Or two. I have plenty of friends who have lived through that painful truth. No, after the science, it’s nature or God or luck—or whatever you believe—that takes control. There’s nothing artificial about that.

“Jenny” chose to reduce one fetus because twins didn’t fit into the life she’d pictured for herself. Her choice to end one of her pregnancies upsets me not just because of how rationally she made it, but because she crossed some sort of line. But here’s the kicker: Didn’t I cross that line too? Both of us, “Jenny” and I, meddled with nature to get the families we so desperately wanted. So why is what I did OK in my eyes and what she did not? That’s a question I’m still grappling with.