A brave couple shared their story of the consequences of being denied an abortion in the Des Moines Register last week. Danielle and Robb detail the heartbreaking weeks they endured after finding out the fetus that in their minds was to become a healthy baby girl would most likely die, and would never have anything resembling a normal life. Because they were past 20 weeks gestational age, a newly-enacted law in Nebraska prevented them from obtaining an abortion. Eight days later, a severely premature infant was born and died within 15 minutes.
I had a patient in a similar position. But her story ends differently.
Maria’s* early ultrasound showed a normal pregnancy, and everything went according to plan until her 20-week ultrasound. That ultrasound looked abnormal, and she returned for a more detailed look a week later. That was when she found out the fetus she was carrying, the baby girl she was dreaming of holding in a few months, had severe brain and spine abnormalities. At this point Maria was at 21 weeks. She had two choices in front of her: have an abortion or continue the pregnancy. We talked about her options, and she decided that the prospect of waiting for the fetus to die inside her, or giving birth to an infant who would know nothing but pain for no more than a few days in her life, was a more heart-wrenching option than an abortion would be for her.
Because she lives in New York, we could schedule for her abortion just a few days later. It was hard for her, and she was sad afterward. But Maria wasn’t grieving because of the abortion; she was mourning the loss of that baby girl she had dreamed of.
Maria was confronted with two undesirable options. When she thought about what was best for her child, her decision was to spare her the agony of the few hours or days of pain that would have been the entirety of her life. She made a considered, moral decision, and made one of the most difficult choices any parent could ever be required to make.
Maria soon became pregnant again and now has a healthy 20-month-old daughter. When I think about later abortions, I don’t think about “irresponsible” teenagers, substance abusers, or women who are making “lifestyle” choices. I think about Maria, and I think about all the women who confront these choices. I also think about those who have no choice, like Danielle and Robb. They are why we keep fighting for abortion rights in the second trimester and beyond. The Nebraska legislature has no right to force parenting decisions on its constituents, nor does any government actor.