I have two friends who had to make the heartbreaking decision to fly to Kansas for a late term abortion. These were not women who were sloppy with birth control or didn't desperately want to have children. As with many of the women who visited Dr. George Tiller, they had found out after their amnio tests that the babies they were carrying would be horribly deformed.
Amnios, which test for abnormal chromosomal problems, usually takes place between 14-16 weeks of a pregnancy and then it's usually another week before the diagnosis.
One of my friends waited an extra week to have hers because she was on a business trip. By the time she discovered that the baby inside her -- whom she had already made a room for in her heart and in her apartment -- was going to be sentenced to a lifetime of care and emotional and physical agony, my friend made the heart-wrenching decision to terminate the pregnancy.
I remember so vividly her crying into the phone as we spoke.
"I'm going to have to fly to Kansas," she said.
"Kansas! We live in New York. Why Kansas?," I had asked. "There has to be a doctor here."
"It's the only place that will do late term abortions," she said, as an ear-splitting sob interrupted her sentence. "I have another few days to think this through before it's even too late to go there."
After I ran over to her apartment, we discussed the pros and cons of this decision, one that I can promise you, was not made cavalierly or without anguish.
Part of the discussion, and what is often misplaced in the abortion debate, is the underlying truth that couples face.
Raising a child with severe medical or physical deformities tests you and sentences you to a life filled with many obstacles both emotionally and financially. It not only impacts the child, but the whole family.
"I can't do it, " my friend finally declared. "What does that say about me?"
It says, I assured her, that she's honest. And the reason that technology has given us these choices is to make the right decision for her family. I would have made the same decision, as I also told my other friend who was faced with this dilemma.
Because amnio doesn't reveal many issues -- including autism -- other couples who now bravely battle these daily pressures of a child with disabilities teach us about compassion and courage.
In conversations that I've had with quite a few friends who have children with issues, they wished they would have had that choice. However, they are now accepting their destiny with grace and often tears.
And yes, I do admire Sarah Palin for making the choice she did for her family when she learned she would have a son with Down's Syndrome. I have another friend who made a similar decision, based on many factors, and the experience made her firmly pro-choice. And that is what we need to protect -that choice - and why Dr. George Tiller's murder -- in church -- is so tragic.
Because where will my friends or others who want that choice go now?
After learning of Tiller's murder, I called my friend who went to Dr. Tiller. In the background, her two daughters were playing as we discussed this injustice. "He's a hero," she said, her voice a whisper.. "He literally saved our family from a lifetime of heartache.." My other friend now has a healthy son whom she cherishes. As she told me, she says a prayer for Dr. Tiller almost every day, and now will say it for his family.