Human Interest

Abortion doesn’t help babies with spina bifida, but prenatal surgery does

spina bifida, Hand of Hope

Two babies, one from Scotland and one from England, both recently underwent spinal surgery before birth to stop damage to the spinal cord caused by spina bifida. Previously, surgery has been performed after birth, but a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when a baby is operated on before birth, the most serious complications of even the worst form of spina bifida can be lessened.

At 22 weeks gestation, Amanda and Benjamin Somers of Scotland were told their preborn son Augustine had spina bifida, a condition in which the spine doesn’t properly develop and a hole is left, causing the spinal cord to be damaged. It can cause the inability to walk, as well as brain damage. Desperate to save their son, the couple sought out ways to help him, and discovered that babies in England and around the world were able to undergo surgery in the womb to stop any further damage from occurring — but the surgery must be performed before 26 weeks.


They traveled to London to meet with a team of specialists, and were scheduled for surgery. It lasted four hours, according to The Sunday Post, with a team of 30 medical personnel. Amanda spent seven weeks on bed rest to attempt to prevent premature labor, a risk of surgery. She gave birth at 33 weeks by C-section, and baby Augustine weighed five pounds and nine ounces.

READ: Born with spina bifida, doctors offered to let her die. Today, she’s thriving.

“When Augustine was born I felt overwhelming relief,” she told The Sunday Post. “My part was complete and we waited for the doctors to examine him. He was well and we are so happy.” Doctors say that all of Augustine’s major nerves for walking are working.

Bethan Simpson and her husband Kieron learned at 20 weeks that their preborn daughter had spina bifida. They were offered abortion or surgery. They chose surgery, but she told Yahoo UK that about 80 percent of parents in England who receive this diagnosis abort their babies.

At 24 weeks, Simpson was taken into surgery, and her baby was removed from the womb for the operation, making Simpson the fourth mother in the UK to undergo the procedure. “We were a success,” she told Yahoo UK. “Her lesion was small and she smashed surgery like you wouldn’t believe. I’m fragile and sore but as long as she is doing fine that’s all we care about.”

She said that spina bifida is “not a death sentence,” and that her daughter has “the same potential as every one of us.” Still, the majority of parents choose abortion for their preborn babies with spina bifida.

In the Netherlands, they will actually kill newborns who have the condition.

“I feel our baby kick me day in and day out, that’s never changed,” Simpson said. “She’s extra special, she’s part of history and our daughter has shown just how much she deserves life.”

According to CNN, researchers have found that after two and a half years, 42 percent of the children who received the surgery in the womb could walk without crutches, compared to just 21 percent of the children who received the surgery after birth. In addition, of the babies who developed hydrocephalus as a result of spina bifida, 40 percent of those who had prenatal surgery had to get shunts to drain fluid from their brain, compared to 82 percent who had the surgery after birth.

Dr. Jan Deprest, leading international fetal surgeon, pioneered the operation for spina bifida in the womb. He has performed the surgery more than 40 times, and now trains other surgical teams around the world. He is also working on treating preborn children with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a life-threatening fetal abnormality that limits lung growth. Deprest and the other doctors working to help preborn babies with birth defects and disabilities show that abortion isn’t the answer.

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