Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Ending the pregnancy for family & personal reasons

Making the decision to end a pregnancy faced parents with a choice many had never imagined having to make. Some said that making the decision was the hardest thing they had ever done, and for many it was a turning point in their lives. Several described how they had been faced with 'a great moral dilemma', and explained how they had dealt with their guilt. (See  "Coping with bereavement'.)

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Parents took many different factors into account. They talked about weighing up ethical, moral and religious beliefs as well as thinking about how they would manage the demands of full-time caring for a disabled baby and child.  We have separated people's thoughts about the baby into a companion summary 'Deciding to end the pregnancy for the baby's sake'. Here we consider what people said about the decision in relation to themselves and their families.

The decision made many people think deeply about how they wanted to live their lives and what they wanted for their families. Most people had never imagined having a disabled or extremely sick child, and found when given the choice that ending the pregnancy seemed like the best option for them and their families. 

Those who had always believed that they would never terminate a pregnancy explained that their views changed once they were faced with the decision. Even when people had already talked with their partners beforehand about the possibility of ending a pregnancy, they found that when they faced the decision for real it was a 'different ballgame'.

People talked about not being able to cope long-term with a disabled child and how it might affect their own health and well-being. Women were especially concerned about how the baby's future needs would affect their relationships with their partners and also with their other children. 

Some parents talked about what kind of future a child with long-term physical or learning disabilities might have, and imagined their child in the context of a world that could be 'cruel' and 'tough at the best of times'. 

Parents talked about taking on a life-time's responsibility for another person who would never be able to look after themselves and what it would feel like to have to protect the child throughout his/her life. Many said they didn't know who would take responsibility for the child's care if or when they themselves had died. Many said they felt quite strongly that they didn't want any of their other children to have to take responsibility for a disabled sibling.

Women who were told their babies would need surgery and long spells in hospital in their first months of life, said the strain of being separated from the rest of their families would be too much for them. 

Several people said that they knew mothers who cared for disabled children and who found it exhausting. Some thought that state support might be difficult to get when you needed it, and that taking care of a disabled child ended up being a lifelong commitment for the mother. People also talked about being too old to look after a child with a physical handicap, about living too far from specialist hospitals, and about not being able to afford to give up work to care for a disabled child. 

While some people acknowledged that others may think they had made a 'selfish decision', they explained that no one really knew what they would do until it happened to them. 

Last reviewed July 2017.


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