Opinions

The kind of woman who needs a late-term abortion

Introduce me to the woman who has an abortion after 20 weeks because she is cruel and heartless. Introduce me to the lazy gal who gets knocked up and ignores her condition until, more than halfway through her pregnancy, she ends it because it has become too darn inconvenient for her selfish lifestyle.

If such a woman exists, I have never met her. Sadly, however, she appears to have influenced the thinking of even savvy, politically informed people in this country. Otherwise, how could they argue that carrying to term is always the right decision late in pregnancy? In fact, the myth of such callous women has been compelling enough to push along a bill that would ban abortion in the District after 20 weeks of pregnancy; the bill was approved this month by the House Judiciary Committee, moving it forward for consideration by the full House, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

Believing this fabrication of the radical right depends on one’s ability to conjure at once a perfectly unfeeling woman and a perfectly healthy child, a stand-in for the much more tragic and complex reality. Meet, instead, a real live, breathing woman who terminated a much-wanted pregnancy at almost 22 weeks, when her baby was found to have severe fetal anomalies of the brain.

My son’s condition could not have been detected earlier in the pregnancy. Far from lazy, I was conscientious about prenatal care. I received excellent medical attention from my obstetrician, one of the District’s best. Only at our 20-week sonogram were there warning signs, and only with a high-powered MRI did we discover the devastating truth of our son’s condition. He was missing the corpus callosum, the central connecting structure of the brain, and essentially one side of his brain.

If he survived the pregnancy and birth, the doctors told us, he would have been born into a life of continuous seizures and near-constant pain. He might never have left the hospital. To help control the seizures, he would have needed surgery to remove more of what little brain matter he had. That was the reality for me and for my family.

Meet, too, the many real women I know who belong to one of the saddest groups in the world: those carrying babies for whom there was no real hope and who made the heartbreaking decision to end their pregnancies for medical reasons. Meet the women among this group who had gotten, they thought, safely to the middle of pregnancy, who had been planning nurseries and filling baby registries, only to find they would need to plan a memorial service and to build, somehow, a life in aftermath.

We are not reckless, ruthless creatures. Our hearts hurt each day for our losses. We mourn. We speak the names and nicknames of each other’s babies to one another; we hold each other up on the anniversaries of our losses, and we celebrate new babies and new accomplishments, all bittersweet because they arrive in the wake of grief. We extend our arms to the women who must join our community, and we lament that our numbers rise every day.

Medical research from the Guttmacher Institute shows that post-21-week terminations make up less than 2 percent of all abortions in this country. Women like me can seem an exception. You also rarely hear stories like mine, because they involve intensely private sorrow and because there is no small amount of shame still associated with terminating a pregnancy, no matter how medically necessary.

The consequences of the House bill, if it becomes law, will be inhumane. If the restrictions in this bill had been the law of the land when my husband and I received our diagnosis, I would have had to carry to term and give birth to a baby who the doctors concurred had no chance of a real life and who would have faced severe, continual pain. The decision my husband and I made to terminate the pregnancy was made out of love — to spare my son pain and suffering.

The ugly politics in this Congress and the sheer number of Republicans mean that this bill will likely pass in the House. I understand any citizen’s hesitancy when the issue of the right to middle-term to late-term abortion arises. But I also know from my own experience that this bill would have calamitous ramifications for real women and real families, and that the women it would most affect could never imagine they would need their right to abortion protected in this way.

Women and their families must be able to trust their doctors and retain their access to medical care when they most need it. To make sure that happens, members of the Senate and ordinary people across this country must see through the stereotype of the late-term aborter and see, instead, the true face of a woman who has been in this situation. I extend my hand; it is an honor to make your acquaintance.

 
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