This column introduces a regular feature from Opinion Editor Susan Young. Her commentary will appear on Fridays.
Until recently, I never thought that I’d had an abortion.
My husband and I had been married for two years and were excited to have our first child. A pregnancy test at my OB-GYN’s office confirmed that I was pregnant. The first few weeks were a blur of excitement and anticipation. The details of those weeks more than 20 years ago are also a blur because it is not a time that I wish to revisit.
At my first ultrasound appointment, around 12 weeks, things were quiet. Too quiet. There was no sound because there was no cardiac activity. The image showed a growing amniotic sack but no embryo.
I technically wasn’t pregnant, but my body was acting as if I was. There would be no baby.
My doctor — who was extremely kind and spent a long time, on multiple occasions, talking to me (care that could soon be restricted in many states) — suggested a surgical procedure to remove the nonviable pregnancy tissue.
I was naive. Couldn’t I just go home and let the pregnancy end itself with a miscarriage?
I could, the doctor said. But, it was hard to know how long that would take. The longer the amniotic sack grew before being expelled on its own, the more hemorrhaging and bleeding that would happen.
He also said something that was critically important, but that I had not considered: There could be a heavy psychological toll of continuing to carry a “pregnancy” that was not viable. The same could be said about carrying a pregnancy that was not intended, say because of marital rape or the inability to care for a child because an employer offers limited leave or the burdens of caring for others.
Why would we force anyone to bear that toll? Not just for the term of their pregnancy, but possibly for their entire life.
I scheduled the procedure. It was brief, but painful. The ride home to recover was mournful.
Less than a year later, we were fortunate to welcome our first child.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling, released Friday, to overrule the Roe v. Wade decision, which had protected a woman’s right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution, procedures like I underwent more than 20 years ago – not to end a pregnancy but to deal with the health consequences of one that never actually existed – could be heavily restricted or even banned in many states. Although the procedure I underwent was not technically an abortion, it could be considered one as part of the widening net of restrictions and time limits that likely will rapidly spread across the country with the court’s decision.
With the court’s words — “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion” — the decisions I and my husband were able to make with guidance from my doctor could now be made by politicians and judges.
This ruling – and state-level abortion restrictions, some of them so ridicilously strict that they are effectively bans, that are sure to follow – aren’t just about protecting life (which isn’t the result of every pregnancy, even those that are very much wanted) but about controlling and restricting the decisions and lives of women.
Some will say that restricting abortion is about just that, limiting when pregnancies can be terminated, which is a problematic usurpation of a woman’s power in itself. But it is not that simple.
Already, women and medical providers in Texas, where lawmakers passed one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, are reporting difficulty obtaining needed medications and procedures to help with miscarriages and to end dangerous pregnancies.
“The challenge is that the treatment for an abortion and the treatment for a miscarriage are exactly the same,” Dr. Sarah Prager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle and an expert in early pregnancy loss recently told NPR. Roughly one in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage, many of which include a medical intervention.
This is one of the many, but sometimes overlooked, reasons that this decision is so misplaced and so infuriating to so many Americans.
Time, hope, prayers wouldn’t have made a fetus appear in my uterus just as it wouldn’t fix abnormalities that threaten the health and life of both a fetus and a mother. Nor would they fix the life situations that prompt some to end their pregnancies.
Taking family planning decisions out of the hands of potential parents and their doctors and putting them in the hands of politicians, and even law enforcement and vigilante neighbors, is dangerously paternalistic and arrogant.
Just as I had a choice — and a doctor who could be supportive — in how to handle my failed pregnancy, all Americans should direct their own family planning decisions. The Supreme Court just took that right away from millions of Americans.