I had not planned on addressing controversial issues in this blog, but due to recent legislation passed here in my home state of North Dakota–legislation that severely restricts a woman’s access to reproductive health care–I cannot stay silent on the subject. I know that some of you will disagree with me, and that’s okay. I welcome comments from all sides of the issue, as long as they are respectful. I reserve the right to delete any comments that are mean-spirited, or to disable commenting if things get out of hand. My blog. My rules. Freedom of speech does not apply.
In case you are not familiar, here’s a quick run-down of the bills signed by the governor: One law makes it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion when a heartbeat can be detected. Depending on the method of detection used, that could be as early as 6 weeks, even before most women know they are pregnant. Another law specifically bans abortion for reasons of fetal abnormalities or gender selection. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, but there is an exception for cases in which the mother’s health is at risk (but does not specify what constitutes such risk).
It saddens and frustrates me that many of my friends and family (and plenty of others) see this as a black-and-white issue: abortion, for any reason, is wrong, end of story. In reality, the story has only just begun. The blanket statement that all abortion is wrong ignores a whole range of valid circumstances that lead to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. You simply cannot ignore the very large grey area created by those circumstances.
In an ideal world, only women who are willing and able to care for a child would get pregnant. In an ideal world, we would have only healthy babies. We don’t live in an ideal world. In the real world, women who are addicted to meth, or who lack the emotional and financial capacity to properly care for a baby get pregnant. In the real world, women get pregnant from rape and incest. In the real world, healthy women who want babies get pregnant with unhealthy babies who will not survive birth, or who will suffer their entire lives (however long that might be). How can anyone believe that it’s right to force those women to continue those pregnancies? Just a small amount of empathy is all it should take for someone to pause and say, “Maybe a complete ban on abortion isn’t such a good idea.”
I find it admirable when a woman decides to continue a pregnancy she knows is doomed. Maybe she believes in miracles, that there’s a chance–however slim–that her baby might survive. Maybe she wants as much time with her baby as possible. Maybe she simply cannot bring herself to end her baby’s life and wants to let nature take its course. Those are all valid reasons to stay pregnant.
But what about the woman who cannot emotionally handle being pregnant with a dying baby? Should she be forced to carry that pregnancy to term, only to watch her baby suffer and die within minutes of birth, or to suffer for months, or even years? What if the burden is so great, she cannot care for herself or her family, or keep her job? She’ll end up broke and unemployed with a dead baby and a broken family.
There are so many other issues with these new laws, such as, how does a doctor determine whether or not a woman’s life is at risk? The example that often arises is ectopic pregnancy. We know that those pregnancies will not survive, and that they can lead to the mother’s death, if allowed to continue too long. Should a doctor wait until her life is actually at risk, or is it okay to act before it gets to that point? Shouldn’t that always be a doctor’s goal, to make sure that things don’t get that bad? What about saving the woman’s fallopian tube? Does that meet the criteria for health risk? What about her mental health? What doctor will want to risk her career and freedom by making guesses as to what the law actually means? It’s hard enough to attract doctors to this state; how will we encourage them to come and stay if they can’t practice medicine without the risk of going to jail?
The truth is, these laws severely restrict a doctor’s ability to adequately treat her pregnant patients. Yes, it’s unfortunate that sometimes treating a patient means ending a pregnancy. But that’s the messy world we live in. Human reproduction is far from perfect: it’s delicate and dangerous (and by delicate, I mean that a whole hell of a lot can go wrong at any point during a pregnancy). It’s less dangerous than it used to be, due to scientific advancements, but it will be a long time (if ever) before it’s perfectly safe. As a woman trying to get pregnant, these laws frighten me, because they limit how my doctor can treat me once I get pregnant. They take away my right to make decisions about my own body and the body of my unborn baby.
I haven’t even addressed the broader issue of choice. This is where I’m going to clash with a lot of people, but it’s my opinion that no woman should have to stay pregnant if she doesn’t want to be pregnant, for whatever reason. Ideally, a woman wouldn’t get pregnant if she doesn’t want to be, but we all know that in the real world, unplanned pregnancies happen. A lot. While it’s true that there are many parents out there who would love to adopt one of those babies, the reality is that adoption is fraught with its own set of financial and emotional hurdles. It’s not easy for a woman to give up a baby she carried for 9 months, even if she never wanted or intended to be a mother. Being pregnant may make it difficult to keep her job, and if something goes wrong during childbirth, she may end up in the hospital or recovering at home for a long time. Those are things women who desperately want a baby are more than willing to risk, but why should we expect a birth mother to be a martyr?
Abortion opponents can scream all day long about how the fetus doesn’t have a choice, but it doesn’t make the argument any less ridiculous. Of course it doesn’t have a choice; it’s a fetus, wholly incapable of making decisions of any kind. Hell, we don’t even let born babies make any decisions. It’s up to the parents to decide what a baby eats, where she sleeps, what she wears, what she watches on TV. Those aren’t even big decisions, yet parents make them on behalf of their children without a second thought, because they understand that their children are incapable of making those decisions on their own. It’s a good 18 years before we let a person make all their own decisions (and even then, some parents have a hard time letting go).
What this all boils down to is this: Pregnancy is a medical condition, and women should be free to make decisions about it without government restrictions. You don’t have to agree with someone’s decision, but that’s okay, because it’s none of your business.