I am 100% Pro-choice. No exceptions. I believe a person should have absolute bodily autonomy and be able to control when and if to become or stay pregnant. Women and other people with uteruses should be able to make decisions about what happens to their bodies and make choices about the health care they receive. I often find, especially living in the Midwest, that I am in the minority, even in progressive circles. I hear: “I am pro-choice, but…[fill in the blank with a variety of qualifiers]
“I would never have an abortion myself!”
“only during the first trimester.”
“not after 8, 10, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22 weeks…”
“only if the mother’s life is in grave danger”
“only in cases of rape.”
“only if a woman was using birth control.”
“never because the baby is sick or will be disabled…what if there’s a miracle?”
As with most statements, which include the word “but”, the disclaimer that comes after the “but” negates the statement that precedes it. In this case, the power of the words – “pro-choice.”
There are many exceptions to what some pro-choice people deem “acceptable” abortion. I live in a state where abortion is illegal after 20 weeks. Later abortions are only permitted to protect a woman’s life or prevent major physical problems. This bill was the first of many similar bills in other states based on a premise that has been largely refuted by scientific evidence that 20 week old fetuses can feel pain. It was passed by an overwhelming majority nearly four years ago. Only four brave state legislators in my state voted against it.
Many, many people I speak with, even in progressive circles, have a hard time with late-term abortion. When one doesn’t consider all of the facts about late-term abortion, it’s almost easy to support a ban. Especially when they hear the propaganda of anti-choice extremists or hear stories about monsters like Kermit Gosnell, who in no way resembles the physicians who provide this care. But when one considers the truth, the facts, the stories and the lives impacted, they realize that late-term abortion is compassionate, necessary care. For women and for families. I urge anyone who tells me that they are pro-choice, but don’t support abortion after a certain point in pregnancy to go to the website – aheartbreakingchoice.com. Be sure to find a box of tissues first. Read the stories. Learn the truth.
The Facts: In the United States, only 1.5% of all abortions are performed after 20 weeks. Late term abortions almost always are a desired pregnancy that has developed serious complications. This usually means the discovery of a catastrophic fetal anomaly or genetic disorder which will result in death, suffering, or serious disability for that baby if the pregnancy were to continue. Other times, a woman makes this choice because of her own severe medical illness. Or she has no money for an abortion, a procedure which many insurance plans and Medicaid won’t cover, except in the most extreme circumstances and for which the cost goes up with every week of gestation. Abortions past 20 weeks are very expensive – from $1,500 to more than $10,000. A low-income woman may be forced to wait until she can raise the funds necessary to pay for the procedure. And late-term abortions are more dangerous than early abortions. This is not a decision women make lightly and often, it is one that is made with compassion, love and sometimes desperation. I can’t imagine having to make that choice.
I remember my 20 week ultrasounds fondly, catching my first glimpses of my unborn children, learning the sex, and hearing their heartbeats. However, what if I had learned during those screening or follow-up testing that my baby had a diagnosis that was incompatible with life? What if I could make a choice that would allow her to die a painless death in the comfort of my womb rather than carry her to term, only to live a short and painful life full of needless and futile interventions to keep her alive for a few moments or hours. What if my life were at risk? Should I leave my children without a mother? What if I lacked the ability or financial capacity to care for a severely disabled child? What if I had been raped and couldn’t come to terms with my pregnancy? So many scenarios make this not a simple choice at all.
During my second pregnancy my midwife, who had become affiliated with a Catholic health system, told me that they were no longer able to schedule screening ultrasounds before 20 weeks, because of fear that a woman would consider abortion if they received an incompatible with life diagnosis. The fuck?!
And there are few brave providers left who can or are willing to provide this important care. After Dr. George Tiller was murdered in 2009, only four doctors remained in the US who provide abortions in the third trimester and most medical schools don’t teach students or residents how to perform abortions.
Last May, the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals ruled that Arizona’s late-term abortion law was unconstitutional, as it violated previous Supreme Court rulings that expanded access to abortion, including Roe v. Wade. They dismissed arguments based on the unborn baby’s ability to feel pain, saying that the state of Arizona could “require anesthetization of fetuses.” On January 13, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case, offering no comments on its decision. This allows the ruling from the appeals court to stand, overturning the regulation, but won’t impact other states’ laws. On this 41st anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade case, I have some hope that we can gain more ground.
If you consider yourself pro-choice, I urge you to consider dropping the “but”. One out of three women in the United States has had or will have an abortion. Consider the power of supporting their choice without qualifiers. Say it with me. Loud and clear: I am PRO-CHOICE!
Image credit: Steph, all rights reserved.