Jia Tolentino interviewedSusan Robinson, one of only four American abortionists who openly perform third-trimester abortions. Robinson is featured in the new documentary After Tiller, which premiered in New York last weekend:
Tolentino: I was really moved and amazed by the scene where you're writing down a baby’s name, noting the family’s request for a memory box and a viewing, showing the little ink footprints. Do families often want to engage with their baby like this after an abortion? How many people are ready to—as you say—say hello to their baby at the same time that they’re telling it goodbye?
Robinson: With fetal anomaly patients, we ask them right up front if they plan to hold their baby after it's born. These patients, their emotional needs are so different from the ones who are looking at their pregnancy as an absolute disaster, who are just thinking, “Get it out of me, please, please, please.” Those patients—the maternal indications patients—they are not relating to their fetus as a baby, they’re relating to it as a problem.
But with a fetal indications patient—if she refers to it as her baby, I'll refer to it as her baby. If she’s named the baby, I’ll use the baby’s name too. I would say that most of these patients do decide to see and hold their baby, although many of them have a hard time dealing with the idea at first. We’ll take remembrance photographs, we’ll give them a teddy bear, the footprints. I mean, imagine being six months pregnant and finding out your baby’s missing half its brain, and you’ve got this nursery you’ve painted at home, you’re so ready—I don’t want them to go home from the procedure with absolutely nothing to remember and honor the baby, and its birth.
Tolentino: Wow. You’ll say “birth?”
Robinson: Yes. I try to mirror what will be the most consoling to the patient. In general, these patients – fetal indications – do talk about giving birth, so I’ll say that as well.
After Robinson said she sometimes will say “non-denominational prayers” with the mother and the family following the abortion, Tolentino wondered about this seemingly “macabre” situation of loving a baby in one’s arms “that you just committed yourself to ending its life…”
“That’s not macabre!” said Robinson. “Yes, that’s the first part of the procedure. We sedate the patient and euthanize their fetus, their baby, with an injection. The fetus passes away, doesn’t feel anything.”
In June, however, the House of Representatives passed a measurerestricting abortion to the first 20 weeks after conception, based, in part, on testimony by a neurobiologist who provided audio-visual data that indicated that unborn babies can clearly feel pain at 20 weeks gestation, and likely have a capacity to feel pain much earlier than that.