EDITOR’S NOTE: Abortion is, as Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in Dobbs, “a profoundly difficult and contentious issue.” At Broad + Liberty, we endeavor to publish varying opinions on the major issues of the day. As with every Broad + Liberty op-ed, the views do not necessarily represent those of editors or the organization. In almost every instance we attempt to place an name behind each opinion, but in this instance because of the sensitive nature of this deeply personal matter, we granted anonymity to the author, who is known to us.
I was 34 years old. My husband and I were expecting twins. We were elated. We had the cribs, the double stroller, two highchairs, and yes, the cool truck got replaced with the not-so-cool minivan. My four-year-old son would rub my enormous belly and talk to his sisters. He had come to love them too.
At 32 weeks’ gestation (eight months along), Twin A experienced a cord strangulation, and died. I was told to wait. I would deliver them both, one dead, one alive.
It would not end like that.
Because of the shared placenta, when Twin A died, it caused an imbalance in Twin B’s circulatory system, damaging her brain. I remember vividly, sitting in the neurologist’s office, staring at the ultrasound. I was given the option of a termination, a decision that I would not wish on anyone.
I am a pediatric physical therapist. I know what measures will be taken to rescue a newborn struggling to breathe due to brain damage: if the brain cannot sustain life, then intubate, mechanically ventilate, and they will live.
I did not want a baby with brain damage.
For over a decade, my life’s work was to help babies diagnosed with “damage to the brain” (hypoxia, ischemia, encephalopathy, hemorrhage). I would work with them and teach parents how to help them hold their head up, roll over, sit, and sometimes learn to walk with assistive devices, orthotics, and a revolving door of professionals, doctors, and specialists.
I watched families fall apart, mothers become exhausted, depressed versions of their former selves, and siblings become the forever “helper.” I watched fathers fade out of family life. As “fixers” and protectors, they no longer had a leg to stand on. If you think your life with a disabled child would be different, more stable, more … something, you are wrong. You have no idea.
I did not want that life for myself, or for my family.
Together, we chose the termination.
The decision nearly broke me.
My husband and I flew to Kansas, to the only abortion clinic that would complete a third trimester “late term” abortion in the US. As we arrived, right-to-life protesters swarmed our car holding up signs and pictures of dead babies, screaming at me and my husband … ”murderers!”
We entered the clinic and met Dr. George Tiller, a kind, quiet man. Sadly, he was murdered (while sitting in church with his wife and five children) by an anti-abortion activist a few years later. I felt numb, dizzy with shame. How could I do this when all my patients and families didn’t have the choice? I felt like a hypocrite.
In the abortion clinic, I was expecting a waiting room filled with poor, young women; women without support, no partner, no job. Women who had no way out, or had made bad mistakes, or worse. Instead, I found myself sitting next to a couple from France who was terminating because her daughter did not have any limbs. The woman next to her, from Germany, was terminating because her daughter did not have a brain. A woman from Florida was terminating because her son had a rare genetic condition that had left her first born unable to move, think, speak, or breathe on his own. These babies were deeply loved, and these women had a choice.
Choice is a privilege. Did my choice come with long lasting grief, chronic sorrow, and longing? Yes.
Would I do it again? Yes.
As Roe v. Wade is overturned, I have paused. The work of the Supreme Court is to determine whether a law is constitutional. Abortion is not constitutional. Healthy babies have a right to life. Just like Plessy v. Ferguson was utterly wrong, Roe v. Wade was wrong.
At the same time, I cringe when I hear absolutes: right, wrong, ban, prosecute, murder. It is not that simple.
Just because we have the medical means, the brilliant physicians, the ventilators, it does not mean that we should act without pause. Resuscitating a newborn with a fetal diagnosis takes one moment in time. The consequences of that moment for the baby, the mother, the father, the family, are life-long, full of grief, chronic sorrow, and longing.
Both abortion and resuscitation come with those three elements: grief, chronic sorrow, and longing. The only difference is the element of choice.
I often think back to that time and know this: I would have liked to have given birth to both twins. I would have wanted the choice to resuscitate or allow her to pass away on her own. I would have liked to have held both my girls, one dead, one dying, and kiss each one goodbye. I wanted the experience and the choice.
My hope is that one day, women will receive the individualized care that they deserve, so that they fully understand the severity and life-long consequences of their fetus’s health conditions. This must consider their mental and emotional health, their means to support a family, their support systems, and their wishes. When an in-utero diagnosis is made, a woman can come to fully understand the influence of their decisions.
Ending the cycle of judgement, regulation, and shame can change the rigid architecture of pro-life or pro-choice and look at the quality of a human life. Isn’t that what this is about?
In the wake of Roe v. Wade, I realize again and again how resilient women are. Whether it is the right to vote or the fight for equality, we show up and do the work. Today’s women, if we are truthful, feel yet another systematic, palpable storm coming, where choice is being taken away from us … where your thirteen-year-old must change in the locker room next to “Betsy,” who happens to have a penis, where you can no longer find tampons, or baby formula, and where you are now competing in sports next to, well, “Betsy,” who will be taking your scholarship.
Let’s take back our power. Let’s not be diminished. Let’s call out truth rather than succumbing to indoctrination and ideology. Let’s support one another, for all the young women who will follow in our footsteps.