Prenatal Surgery Could Make Abortion Obsolete?

Photo by Ignacio Campo on Unsplash

Innovation in the medical industry paved a new way for prenatal surgery to be available to the general public. In light of the situation, pro-life advocates are praising the ability to improve the quality of life rather than putting an end to it—claiming that abortion can now be rendered obsolete.

Prenatal surgeries or fetal surgeries are medical procedures where a practitioner operates on the baby before it is even born. The surgery would allow the fetus to develop in better circumstances as compared to having the operation after labor. Specifically, doctors would recommend this for fetuses with specific life-threatening congenital abnormalities.

Prenatal surgery is a relatively new and growing branch of medicine. However, the procedure was first introduced and performed in the early 80s, but the complexity and lack of needed technology hampered its growth. In 2019, the situation is looking better with new technological advancements.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), congenital disabilities affect one in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Out of that number, 20% of all infants die, making the problem the leading cause of infant mortality.

Accurately, in cases of Spina bifida (myelomeningocele), which can render a person quadriplegic, can be detected and treated during pregnancy. However, once untreated, the defect can be incredibly hard to manage because the damage is taking place from the womb up until the fetus is born and continues with the child’s growth. The defect affects 1 in 2,858 cases and 1,460 cases a year.

Pro-life activists claim that because of cases like these, parents opt to have their fetus aborted than raise them with poor quality of life. However, with the rise of prenatal surgeries that can prevent or correct these said defects, children can grow with better chances and should hamper abortion rates.

The claim boomed after a recent New York Times feature, where a 17-month old baby was successfully operated for Spina bifida via prenatal surgery when he was only six months old.

Doctors explained the fetal surgery used an advanced approach called a fetoscopic operation, a surgical procedure developed at Texas Children’s Hospital by Dr. Michael A. Belfort, the obstetrician and gynecologist in chief, and Dr. William Whitehead, a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Notably, a fetoscopic operation allows doctors to make a small incision on the uterus and insert tiny cameras to function as the surgeon’s eyes while operating inside the mother’s womb. The “experimental” procedure is said to be a better alternative to a hysterectomy where the mother’s womb is opened to expose the baby and perform the surgery partially.

“Fetal surgery is not a cure,” Lexi Royer, the mother, said. “Damage was done before the surgery, and all they can do is close it up so the damage doesn’t get worse. He’ll have to be monitored for the rest of his life. He’ll have this condition for the rest of his life. His outcome is great. But things could change.”

In other news, surgeons at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio also say that a baby girl was born healthy after undergoing the hospital’s first-ever fetal surgery for the same defect.

Dr. Darrell Cass, director of fetal surgery at Cleveland Clinic’s Fetal Center, led the multispecialty team. Cass has performed more than 160 fetal surgeries for other conditions since 2002, the Daily Mail reported.

Meanwhile, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website, a host of conditions can be treated with fetal surgery, including:

-Amniotic band syndrome
-Bronchopulmonary sequestration of the lung
-Congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation of the lung (CCAM)
-Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH)
-Congenital high airway obstruction syndrome (CHAOS)
-Intrauterine transfusion (IUT)
-Lower urinary tract obstruction (LUTO)
-Mediastinal teratoma
-Neck mass
-Pulmonary agenesis
-Sacrococcygeal teratoma
-Spina bifida (myelomeningocele)
-Twin reversed arterial perfusion sequence (TRAP sequence)
-Twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS)

Prenatal surgeries are growing to be a procedure with increasing success rates and are partnered with parents’ success stories. It is a revolutionary milestone for parents seeking a good quality of life for their children. However, the claims of this science rendering abortion obsolete remains vague.

Based on the latest state-level data, approximately 879,000 abortions took place in the United States in 2017—down from around 892,000 abortions in 2016 and 913,000 abortions in 2015. However, only a small 3% of which decided on abortion with consideration of their fetus’ health. Another 3% accounted for the mother’s health and capability of giving birth.

Meanwhile, 25% still claim that they get an abortion because they are not ready to have a child, and 23% do because they cannot afford to raise one.

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