another doctor did an amnioinfusion, filling Vargas’s uterus with fluid to provide better pictures of the fetus. A technician held the sonogram wand to her belly, and the Vargases and their doctor watched the results projected onto a monitor near the ceiling.
“The doctor had his arms folded and just stared at the pictures,” Vargas says. “He was lost for words.”
What everyone saw above them that day was gruesome and heartbreaking. “The baby’s limbs were bent and broken, and he had facial deformities from being crushed,” Vargas says. Not only were his kidneys not functioning, but this had also prevented his lungs from developing.
Now nearly 22 weeks pregnant, Vargas had two choices: terminate immediately or wait, in which case she would miscarry at any point or spontaneously go into labor at as early as 28 weeks. If her son was still alive at his delivery, doctors warned, he would perish within a short time. And that death would likely be very painful for him.
Later-term abortions — those performed at 16 weeks and beyond — account for only 4.3 percent of the 1.21 million pregnancies ended in the United States each year, according to the Guttmacher Institute in New York City. These cases are often misunderstood, says Michael F. Greene, M.D., director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Part of the strategy of [anti-abortion activists] is to demonize these women and make them into unsympathetic characters who view second-trimester abortion as a trivial decision,” Dr. Greene says. “I have never met a woman who didn’t agonize over this decision.”