Opinion Pieces

Wall Street Journal: We Overcame a Grim Prenatal Diagnosis

Doctors said our baby couldn’t survive birth. We tried something new, and it worked.

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Washington, February 18, 2019 | comments
Radical legislation in New York and Virginia has brought late-term abortion into the spotlight. Advocates justify the practice on the ground that, as one put it, “terminations after 24 weeks are for severe fetal anomalies.”
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Radical legislation in New York and Virginia has brought late-term abortion into the spotlight. Advocates justify the practice on the ground that, as one put it, “terminations after 24 weeks are for severe fetal anomalies.”

I have some personal perspective on the matter. In 2013, during my second term in Congress, my husband, Dan, and I were excited first-time parents when we went in for my 20-week ultrasound. We weren’t prepared for what we were told: Our unborn baby had no chance of survival. There were no kidneys. She had bilateral renal agenesis, also known as Potter syndrome, meaning she would either miscarry or suffocate at birth because lungs wouldn’t develop.

Being told that my wiggly, kicking baby would certainly die felt like hell screaming in my face, sucking all the air out of my lungs and leaving fear in its place. Our doctor told us that often when women get this news, they terminate the pregnancy.


When parents are told that their in utero baby won’t survive or won’t have “quality of life”—and that the best option is to “start over, hit reset emotionally” and try again, as I was—they’re not being presented a choice at all.

Miraculously, our doctors were wrong. We tried something that had never been successful before: saline infusions in utero to mimic amniotic fluid. Our baby developed lungs even without kidneys—an impossible outcome to the medical world until that moment. Our doctors had given us their honest professional opinions: They hadn’t seen a baby with our daughter’s condition survive. But doctors aren’t infallible, and we’d never have known if we hadn’t tried.

Through divine intervention and some courageous doctors we now have Abigail in our lives. She is a healthy, happy big sister who says someday she wants to be the boss of mommy’s work. Look out, Speaker Pelosi.

I’ve now talked to moms all over the world who, like me, got devastating diagnoses in the second or third trimester. But what if the doctors are wrong about their babies, too? What if we used this discussion to go on the offensive against the disease instead of attacking the pregnancy? Abigail was the first baby to survive this condition, but after her breakthrough she’s no longer the only survivor.

What if the baby won’t have that health condition or disability after all? Even if she does, what about those loving families eager to raise a child in anticipation of a fulfilling life?

Frank Stephens, a joy-filled disability champion with Down syndrome, described how he is “a medical gift to society” and says his “extra chromosome might lead to the answer for Alzheimer’s.” Our society celebrates diversity; shouldn’t that mean full diversity, which includes all abilities? We step onto very shaky ground when we decide who lives or dies based on one’s ability, or possible lack thereof, in utero.

Care, understanding and compassion are needed at every stage of a woman’s maternal journey. To me, that means empowering mothers to dwell in the realm of the possible, even if it’s never been tried.

Ms. Herrera Beutler, a Republican, represents Washington’s Third Congressional District.
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