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Those who died can't talk

Tim Tebow celebrates with his parents after a Gator win. The family opposes abortion; he wouldn’t exist had his mom followed doctors’ advice. But it’s no simple decision. Her condition sometimes kills mother and baby. 

Times file photo

Tim Tebow celebrates with his parents after a Gator win. The family opposes abortion; he wouldn’t exist had his mom followed doctors’ advice. But it’s no simple decision. Her condition sometimes kills mother and baby. 

Tim Tebow was born in 1987, when his parents were missionaries in the Philippines. According to his mother Pam's account in the Gainesville Sun, she contracted amoebic dysentery and went in a coma shortly before the pregnancy. To facilitate her recovery, she was given heavy-duty drugs.

Afterward, doctors told her the fetus was damaged. They diagnosed her with placental abruption, a premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall. They predicted a stillbirth and recommended abortion.

But Pam was against abortion, and she had faith in God. She refused. Today, her reward is a healthy, athletic, stellar son. That's the prescribed moral of the story: Choose life.

Pam's story is moving. But as a guide to making abortion decisions, it's misleading. Doctors are right to worry about continuing pregnancies like hers. Placental abruption has killed thousands of women and fetuses. No doubt some of these women trusted in God and said no to abortion, as she did. But they didn't end up with Heisman-winning sons. They ended up dead.

Being dead is just the first problem with dying in pregnancy. Another problem is that the fetus you were trying to save dies with you. Today, we won't see all the women who chose life and found death. We'll just see the Tebows, because they're alive and happy to talk about it. In the business world, this is known as survivor bias: Failed mutual funds disappear, leaving behind the successful ones, which creates the illusion that mutual funds tend to beat market averages. In the Tebows' case, the survivor bias is literal. If you're diagnosed with placental abruption, you have the right to choose life. But don't be so sure that life is what you'll get.

Placental abruption is rare. In 2001, the American Journal of Epidemiology published an analysis of 7.5 million births in the United States. Abruption was documented in 46,731 of these pregnancies. In normal pregnancies, the death of the fetus after 20 weeks gestation, or death of the baby in its four weeks after birth, was less than 1 percent. In abrupted pregnancies, the rate was roughly 12 percent. Based on that percentage, the number of fetuses and babies killed by placental abruption was 5,570 during the two years of births measured by the 2001 study.

If you see no moral difference between an early fetus and a late fetus or baby, you can argue that any perinatal death rate short of 100 percent is better than pre-emptive abortion. But what about the women who carry abrupted pregnancies? By some estimates, placental abruption causes 6 percent of all maternal deaths.

Prolifers have always struggled with the invisibility of unborn life: millions of babies aborted every year, concealed in wombs behind closed doors. How do you open the world's eyes to what it can't see? In Tim Tebow, they see the invisible made visible. "If his mother had followed her doctor's advice," notes LifeSiteNews, "he would be just another abortion statistic."

But what's true of abortion is also true of pregnancy complications. If Pam Tebow's abruption had taken a different turn, her son would be just another perinatal mortality statistic, and she might be just another maternal mortality statistic. And you would know nothing of her story, just as you know nothing of the women who have died carrying pregnancies like hers.

Those who died can't talk 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 5:26pm]
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