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Friday, November 2, 2012

My mother tells 3 stories of abortion


In these final days of the election season, my mother has been speaking to groups around Michigan,  sharing three stories of women she personally knows who have had an abortion – both in the time when abortion was done in back alleys, and a time when abortion was more legal than it is now.

(Foreshadowing: Yesterday I joked about Dick Tracey with my 86 year-old father when he joined me in a Google hangout for the first time. His first reaction to this modern marvel? Noticing the wrinkles over his upper lip, as if for the first time. I guess he only looks at his upper lip when his is actively shaving it. I bring up my father for context. While my mother was in the hospital recovering from delivering my brother Jim [b. March 1964], my father brought her Betty Friedan’s, The Feminist Mystique [Pub: 1964] Get it? Back to Mother.)

I hold deep gratitude that I was raised in the Mad Men era by a mother and father who were strong feminists. I am fortunate to have been raised by parents who planned their pregnancies and have steadfastly supported Planned Parenthood for more than 60 years. 

Election 2012 Implications

(You didn’t really think a post with that title was going to be free of politics, did you?)

If you are undecided on who to vote for…
If you are just pissed at Obama because he doesn’t have a magic wand. (Well are you? Perhaps he sent you a span dm?)
Or are you just spoiling for a fight, like those thugs who assaulted my son’s friend while they were walking home from Middle School on Halloween afternoon.

Please. Before you cast your vote. Think about abortion as a real event, that happens to real people in many different circumstances. people. Your grandmother. Your sister-in-law. Your partner. Your best friend. You?

Who is going to best represent your opinion regarding the reality of abortion versus the morality of it. It matters. And don’t let the distractions of the day keep your heart from speaking to you.

I’m voting Pro-Choice, and I’m proud of it!

Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission. The original article is found at Granna’s Apartment. Time Suck Disclosure: 2000 words.  Please share this with your friends if it moves you.

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Women's Voices Matter!

Since the Supreme Court handed down its 1973 decisions in Roe v Wade and Doe V Bolton, states across the country have constructed a lattice work of abortion law, codifying, regulating, and limiting whether, when and under what circumstances a woman may obtain an abortion. * The New York Times, in an editorial on June 15, 2012, said that “Even at a time when extreme attacks on women’s reproductive rights and freedom are nothing unusual, a sweeping measure on a fast track in Michigan’s Republican-led State Legislature stands out.” The Michigan House not only quickly passed a sweeping anti-abortion bill but also silenced two Democratic female Representatives who spoke against the bill. The action by the majority party in Michigan’s House of Representatives threatens the reproductive health of all the women of the state and has caused a huge backlash.

I feel compelled to tell the following stories because women’s votes will matter especially in the 2012 elections. This is the year that multiple and extreme attacks on women’s reproductive health are being carried out by Republican majorities in states and in the U. S. House of Representatives. This is the year that the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States has declared that if elected, he will close down Planned Parenthood. 

The following are true stories about three women known to me personally and the decisions they made to terminate their pregnancies. These were not easy decisions. Indeed, they were seriously thought through and discussed with their loved ones and their physicians.

So, here are their stories:

It is December of 1932. A young woman has gotten off a train, having traveled overnight with her two children from her home in Connecticut to Ohio to visit her parents. Her husband plans to come later on to spend the holidays with the family. She is carrying her 13 month old daughter and is accompanied by her six year old son. The walk along the tracks to get to the terminal where her parents are waiting is a long one. A porter asks if he can help her by carrying the baby. (The baby weighed 9 pounds 11 ounces at birth and is now a considerable burden for the young mother, he believes.) She refuses his offer of help and arrives at her parents’ home exhausted from the overnight trip with the children.

A few days later, she has an attack of tachycardia when her heart beats excessively rapidly and will not let up. Bed rest is recommended. But the heart rate will not return to normal. The grandmother’s diary describes the situation: Morphine is the only medication that can give her any relief, no visitors are allowed. The grandmother is fully occupied with caring for her ill daughter as well as her year old granddaughter. A friend offers to take the brother to her house for a few days in order to give some relief. A heart specialist from the nearby city is called in to consult, but he is not able to offer any help. Heart medicines such as we have today are a long way off in 1932. The young mother’s father is minister at the local Congregational Church. All the church members and friends are praying for her, that her heart will return to normal function and that she will recover her strength. At the close of the year, the grandmother fears that her daughter will not live into the new year.

After several weeks, the young mother recovers, and is able to return with her husband to their home in Connecticut. Once there, her physician tells her that she should never again become pregnant. The risk of heart failure and death is too great.

At that time, there being no medically reliable method of contraception, she became pregnant for a third time. When she went to her physician, he told her what he would do. He would put her into the hospital, terminate the pregnancy, and tie her fallopian tubes. He told her that when people asked about her hospitalization, she should tell them that she had gone into the hospital to have her appendix removed.
This woman went on to raise her two children and become a grandmother to five. In her late 70s she had a gall bladder attack which required surgery. When she met with the surgeon and shared with him her medical history, she told the story of her abortion in 1934 and the appendix story to both the surgeon and to her daughter who had not previously known of the abortion. Her daughter recalls that when the doctor came out of surgery and into the family waiting room, he told her that her mother had come through the surgery just fine and that she had no appendix.

I think that doctor in Connecticut was not only a caring physician but also a bold one who was willing to risk his career to do what he believed was right for his patient.

Fast forward to 1997. Imagine terminating a wanted pregnancy. A couple has been in a committed relationship for 15 and years and busy with their careers: one is a police officer and the other works for a major bank. Now, late into their 30s, they realize time is running out. They both come from Protestant families, both are college educated: they have much in common. One is Caucasian and the other is African American. They live in a large city where gay couples with children are not uncommon and where gay people in general are openly accepted. Oh, did I forget to mention this couple consists of two women?

They decide that they would like to have a biological child. Wanting a child that reflects their family as well as to be a legacy to her father; the African American partner becomes pregnant using a sperm donor. As with all women who desire children, they are overjoyed. However, as the pregnancy progresses, the normal tests that most women undergo indicate that the fetus is a trisomy 21, or Down’s syndrome child. 

They wrestle with the implications for the future of their child, one raised by an interracial lesbian couple. With great sadness, they decide that this would be a triple burden for the child: African-American, disabled, with lesbian parents. After great prayer, contemplation and discussion with both sets of parents, they decide that the appropriate course of action is to terminate the pregnancy.

They go to the largest hospital in their pro-choice city for the procedure, where the abortion is performed. There, they receive grief counseling and participate in a support group with other parents who had terminated a wanted child.

But their story does not end there. The couple tries again to become pregnant. This time, not wanting to undergo the 1:100 odds of another chromosomal defect, the younger woman tries, but fails to conceive.

The follow up to this story is that the couple has since adopted two bi-racial children. The hospital that served them so well was subsequently acquired by the Sisters of Providence who announced that it would no longer provide abortion services.

The third story concerns a young couple who married in 1992. Their first pregnancy ended early in miscarriage. So, naturally, they are delighted to learn they are pregnant again. She works at a Catholic hospital, has her health insurance coverage there and goes to see her doctor who practices at that hospital. At 17 weeks she has an ultrasound test which shows that there could be some problem with the fetus. There is a possible cerebral defect and cleft palate is clearly identified. The doctor wants her to have a second ultrasound, but he is going on vacation, so the follow up test will not occur until 19 weeks. At the time of the second ultrasound, multiple problems show up: cleft palate, heart chambers malformed and hydro-cephalic syndrome. The doctor at the Catholic hospital knows that he can offer her no further medical advice. He refers her to a specialist, a peri-natologist whose services are not available at the Catholic hospital.

The specialist recommends a further test: amniocentesis, a test which can definitively detect fetal abnormalities. The couple waits 10 days for the test results to come back. Finally, at about 22 weeks into the pregnancy, they learn that the baby has an extra thirteenth chromosome.

Trisomy thirteen syndrome babies rarely survive as long in the pregnancy as theirs has. In fact, the defects are so severe, that nature usually aborts them spontaneously. (Many women prior to the availability of low cost pregnancy tests, did not even know they were pregnant; they just thought they were having a late period, when it was actually a spontaneous abortion of a fetal abnormality.) If the fatally flawed baby does happen to survive to term, it dies soon after birth.

The specialist advises aborting the baby. At 23 weeks into the pregnancy she enters a hospital and undergoes an induced labor procedure.

The couple was grateful to have found a specialist who was able to provide this legal service. He apologized that at that time it had to occur in the labor and delivery section of the hospital, where newborns could be heard crying. Instead, this couple were the ones crying, crying over their lost hope for a child.

(It is interesting to note that had there been any further delay, at 24 weeks, they would have had to go to travel out of Michigan to terminate the pregnancy.)

The Catholic health insurance plan refused to pay for the abortion, calling it an “experimental procedure”. If she had carried this pregnancy to term, the insurance would have paid the childbirth expenses, but at the cost of an additional 16 weeks of emotional pain for the parents, knowing that their child was so severely deformed that it would not survive.

The epilogue to this third story is that the couple now has two healthy children, who give them great joy. 

In all three cases, the individuals involved gave thanks for doctors who were willing to do what was best for the women who were facing difficult decisions. With the pressure that extremely conservative and religiously restrictive legislators are putting on women today, it may not be possible for women in the future to find qualified doctors to advise them and hospitals where the doctors can perform abortions in cases such as these.

Politicians who seek to shut down Planned Parenthood, do so at the risk of causing great harm to the millions of women who go there not only to receive contraception services that will help them prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also receive cancer screening and basic health care, as well as advice on abortion services.

Abortion must remain a legal option, one that a woman can make with the advice of her physician and those closest to her, should she choose to involve them in the decision. Women must not let politicians decide if and how it takes place.

• Guttmacher Institute, “State Policies in Brief” as of June 1, 2012
Posted by Betsy Dole, Granna's Apartment at 6:30 AM