Pregnancy & Childbirth

When and whether to become a mother

I am 100% pro-choice. I believe that a woman should have the absolute right to determine when and whether to become a mother. I also believe that reproductive issues are not just women’s issues, they are human issues. Every child deserves to be wanted, loved and cared for. When children are born to families who want them, who will love them and who have the ability to care for them, the world is better. Period. And when women have control over their bodies and reproductive self-determination, their lives are better…and the lives of their children are, too. As a society, if we give women reproductive rights, we can make life better for everyone. Don’t believe me? Check out this report.

LifeSupport_0Last week, I was horrified to learn that in many states, including mine, a woman’s living will or other advance directives about end of life care can or will be disregarded if that woman is pregnant at the time of brain death. Some states have exceptions for pain or harm caused to a woman by life sustaining measures and some have limits based on the probability that the fetus can reach viability, but twelve states don’t have any exceptions. And only two states – Oklahoma (I didn’t see that one coming) and Minnesota – allow women to include pregnancy in their advance directives and guarantee that their wishes will be followed.

In one current case, Marlise Munoz, 33, was 14 weeks pregnant when she suffered brain death from a blood clot in her lung. She had let her family know that she did not want to be kept alive on life support. But because Texas is one of those states that prohibits physicians from withholding life-sustaining treatment to pregnant patients, she has been on life support for over six weeks. Many believe that brain death constitutes legal death and therefore, she should not be subjected to the law – she is dead and no longer a patient and should be allowed to die with dignity. If she were still living, she would have the option of abortion. But because she is dead, she is now a living incubator. The hospital is keeping her alive until the fetus reaches viability before deciding how to proceed. Her family is suing, but with little hope of relief and no ability to make decisions about their loved one or her unborn fetus.

2730_61374528357_6149245_nThis becomes not only an issue of law, but one of science, ethics and decency. How can I have the right, as a living, breathing woman and citizen, to dictate my wishes about end of life care, but if I am pregnant, even just a few weeks, have those rights disregarded and essentially become an incubator? Even if the fetus has little chance of survival or my body cannot sustain that life long enough to result in living fetus outside of the womb. Even if that process will cause me or my family significant pain.

These laws assume so much. First, that an unborn fetus, at any gestational age, is more valuable than the adult woman who carries it. Let’s reflect on that for a second. The thought brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Great book. Terrifying reality.

When does life begin and when does potential life supersede existing life?

And what about the fetus? Don’t they also assume that the fetus is wanted, has someone to care for her after those months of incubation, even if she is born prematurely and/or severely disabled from the process? And that both the woman and her unborn fetus should not be allowed to die with dignity in accordance with her stated wishes.

It seems that pregnancy has become a condition that diminishes the rights of women in our country. Scary thought.

Featured image and pregnant belly credit: Steph, all rights reserved.
US Map image credit: Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post, Source: Center for Women Policy Studies

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Steph

Steph

Steph recently traded single parenthood to two awesome kids (3 and 7) for marriage to a great guy with two awesome kids (5 and 10). Their adventures in parenting are set in a tiny town in the middle of a corn field. Their newest edition is due in February 2017. In late 2015 she left her stressful, more than full-time job with a victim services agency to pursue writing and activism. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes and engaging in social justice warfare, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, engaging in debates on the internet, yoga, and fitness. A recovered natural parent, Steph now considers herself a semi-crunchy peaceful parent and trusts science, evidence and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist.

7 Comments

  1. January 14, 2014 at 9:37 am —

    It’s the magical Baby!
    If there is a Baby! then everything will be allright. Who cares if the father is not only grieving for his wife AND has to care for a 3 yo and might be conceiveably be too stressed out to care for a baby.
    Who cares if the father and the grandparents will forever see the violence against the woman that was carried out for that baby.
    Who cares if the baby ends up with severe health issues and might need intensive and special care (see first point!)?
    Who cares about what this child (if it ever becomes a child and then a child who is able to understand these matters) will have to feel about themself for the rest of their life once they learn the story of their birth?
    This is not in any way in the best interest of that fetus.

  2. Katherine
    January 14, 2014 at 1:03 pm —

    Is the image of a headless, heavily pregnant woman really the best image to use for this story? Apart from that, this article makes me want to find out what the law is in my country.

    • January 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm —

      The image is me and I prefer to not include my face. I think the image of a headless pregnant body is TOTALLY appropriate for a story about how states are treating women like incubators.

  3. hanoumatoi
    January 20, 2014 at 9:46 pm —

    I love the choice of a headless pregnant woman as the picture for this story. As an expecting father myself, I am horrified to find out that my wife would not get to choose how to proceed if she were to fall ill/be in an accident. Especially since our hospital was just purchased by the Franciscans.

  4. January 23, 2014 at 12:29 pm —

    There’s been an update that the fetus is probably not even viable. The last article read said ultrasounds had detected a lot of developmental anomalies, potentially including the heart.

  5. deERcountry
    January 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm —

    The attorneys ended the statement reiterating the complaints filed in the suit are not directly related to the condition of the fetus, but rather to the vital status of the mother, saying the statute requiring life-sustaining measures for a pregnant patient “does not apply to the dead.”

    “Were that to be true, then it would be incumbent upon all health care providers to immediately conduct pregnancy tests on any woman of childbearing age who becomes deceased, and upon determining the deceased body was pregnant, hooking the body up to machines in an attempt to continue gestation,” the statement reads. “Surely, such a result was never intended nor should it be inferred.”

  6. deERcountry
    January 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm —

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