A ‘Twin Reduction’ Should Be Called Exactly What It Is — An Abortion

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twin reductionTwin reduction — or the termination of a fetus following the successful take of multiple pregnancies — is clearly a dilemma that science has brought us to. In age in which talk of IVF is common following infertility, the urge to conceive often trumps the practicality of transferring multiple embryos. But when four embryos or even twins do take, couples who were hoping for just one miracle baby find themselves suddenly confronted with multiples. As has been documented and whispered in the deep recesses of the most intimate of mommy circles, many of these women have “twin reductions” for a variety of personal, economical, and health reasons. But identifying their procedure as a “reduction” seeks to rename a procedure for which we already have a stigmatizing and divisive term, an “abortion.”

Whether pro-life or pro-choice, giving one set of women a different term for the same procedure muddies an important element of the abortion debate: a lot of women have them and for so very many different reasons.

The politics of naming and labels in the abortion dialogue carries all kinds of personal gray areas — the actual procedure aside. Slate writer William Saletan captured this well when explaining the delicate terminology that surrounds quantifying the unborn:

Embryos fertilized for procreation are embryos; embryos cloned for research are “activated eggs.” A fetus you want is a baby; a fetus you don’t want is a pregnancy. Under federal law, anyone who injures or kills a “child in utero” during a violent crime gets the same punishment as if he had injured or killed “the unborn child’s mother,” but no such penalty applies to “an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman … has been obtained.” Reduction destroys this distinction. It combines, in a single pregnancy, a wanted and an unwanted fetus.

Pro-choice crowds were notably unnerved following The New York Times‘ big story on twin reduction last summer, invoking the “I’m pro-choice but…” line in the comments. Many expressed discomfort at the idea of a couple who so fervently sought out to conceive then terminating “surplus” fetuses. [tagbox tag=”abortion”]

But the women profiled in The Times, as well as elsewhere who find themselves carrying triplets or quadruplets mostly come from a distinct area of pronounced privilege. Anyone who has been there knows that IVF doesn’t come cheap (unless you live in Israel and the government pays for it), and so for the most part, we’re looking at a very distinct socioeconomic bracket of women who are having “reductions.” Yet, underprivileged women scrambling to find their local Planned Parenthood aren’t having “reductions,” as their procedures most certainly count as “abortions” in our national conversation surrounding reproductive rights.

This type of language risks dividing and differentiating women on what the UN has deemed a human right. The creativity in terms complicates one of the fundamental truths about abortion in that so many women, many of whom have birthed babies already, have a deeply intricate array of personal reasons for doing so. To rename that same procedure for a select group of women does a colossal disservice to the abortion discussion by not addressing the experiences of a very distinct cohort of women.

(photo: Melissa King/