My Thoughts on North Dakota’s Abortion Ban

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.

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27 thoughts on “My Thoughts on North Dakota’s Abortion Ban

  1. I firmly believe that abortions needs to remain “safe, legal, and rare”. Safe and legal, because people are GOING to have abortions, regardless of legality. They should remain legal so they can be regulated and safe. And rare, meaning we should be providing comprehensive sex education and free birth control so that less people end up in a situation with an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy they cannot afford, for whatever reason (emotional, mental, financial, physical, etc). Or for the instances of a much wanted pregnancy that cannot continue.

    I got asked the other day if trying (and failing) to get pregnant has changed my views on abortion. The answer is no. In fact, struggling to get/stay pregnant has strengthened my convictions on this issue. I had absolutely no idea it could be this hard to get/stay pregnant with a healthy baby. And I had no idea how hard pregnancy could be on women – physically and mentally I mean. As desperate as I am to get/stay pregnant, I understand that there are some women just as desperate to NOT be. How could I not have compassion for them? I have their feelings – I’m just the flip side of the coin.

    I get that it’s a very very touchy issue for many people (my step mother in law is one of those “pro-life-all-the-way-no-exceptions-for-rape-or-to-save-the-life-of-the-mother” people). I think you did a really good job expressing yourself without flaming anyone. Well done!

  2. Thank you for addressing this issue.

    Like Sarah, I’ve also been asked repeatedly how or if my views on abortion have changed after 3.5 years of battling infertility. In my case, looking at just one part of the equation, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

    While I have always supported a woman’s right to choose, I also had absolutely no conception of the complexities that went along with the issue. I believed in the right to end a pregnancy, but I also accepted that that pregnancy inherently equaled a life. And also ignorantly assumed that these decisions would always be informed (even if only on the part of the doctor) by a cut and dry medical assessment of the situation. My experiences with infertility – coming as they have in the era of “personhood” legislation – have radically redefined my ideas of what it is that makes a person. I no longer see the act of abortion as an act of stopping a life; I now view it as terminating a ball of cells, a mere potentiality.

    I want a child more than anything in this world, but being in the medical trenches of IF for so long has removed all emotion from my conception of early pregnancy.

    My first pregnancy was a “suspected” ectopic, diagnosed by bad blood work and one quick ultrasound at under 5 weeks. 16 months of trying and I had to walk into maternity triage to terminate the pregnancy with chemotherapy. Two injections and my dream was gone, but my mind was changed. Those rapidly expanding cells were threatening my life; they were not my baby. I didn’t mourn the loss of that child, I mourned the loss the version of our future in which I would have a child in my arms in July 2012. It’s the same act of mourning I repeat each month that we fail to conceive. Two other miscarriages have followed and I’m even firmer in my convictions that aborting a fertilized embryo – for whatever reason – does not mean ending a life, it means ending the possibility that there might be life.

    Had you told me 5 years ago that infertility would make me stronger in my support of abortion, I would have thought you were mad. You are right. This stuff is messy, it’s difficult, and there’s absolutely no cut and dry.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story and point of view. Someone asked me why I mourned after my miscarriage, if I didn’t believe that it was a baby to begin with. I tried to explain that I mourned the loss of a pregnancy, and the loss of the potential baby and all that comes with that. This person has several children, no infertility, no losses. For her, a positive pregnancy test=baby.

  3. Amen to that! Thanks for such an articulate, well argued point of view. I totally agree (I don’t actually know how many divisive comments you’ll get from this community on the topic). I only wish that those with the decision making power could hear such arguments, because the fact that none of what you raise is even being considered is really scary.

    • Oh, these very points have been raised. I wrote the same in letters to my representatives. Two of the REs at my clinic testified several times in opposition to the bills, and brought up these same points. It didn’t seem to matter. They think they are “saving babies” and saving the “souls” of women in North Dakota.

  4. The whole situation in your state boggles my mind, and terrifies me. I know that there is a very serious group in my state just waiting to see what happens in ND so that they can move forward with abortion bans here. I am not pro-abortion – but I am pro-choice. I don’t like abortion any more than anyone else, but it does have its place in this country and it needs to stay safe and legal. Unfortunately, I do feel things shifting here and I worry that this right is on its way out the door for many.

  5. Great post! (Over here from the blog round up comments, fyi.. someone gave you a shout out).

    I’m openly terrified by what’s going on in your state. The bottom line is people think they’re stopping abortions when really what they’re doing is stopping SAFE abortions. Big difference.

    If infertility has taught me anything it’s that no one should go forcefully telling people what to do with their own uterus… If I had an unwanted pregnancy (ha!) it doesn’t really matter what I would do – maybe I’d have an abortion without batting an eye, maybe I’d throw up at the very idea of it – the point is I wouldn’t go telling anyone ELSE what to do.. The audacity of it is nauseating.

  6. I too live in ND and agree 100% with you and I am also struggling with infertility. We have a real issue in this state with the line between church and state. Because if this a lot if female rights get squashed. I thank you for sharing and think you did so in a respectful manner.

  7. Thank you for your articulate and well-thought out post. I have always been pro-choice, but believed it was not a choice I would make. In June of this past year, my much wanted daughter was diagnosed in utero with a genetic disease. We kept a close eye on her progress and watched , over time, as her little body filled with fluid and multiple organs began to fail. In July, we chose to end her life. I chose abortion. And it was with love in my heart and the desire to save my daughter a slow and painful death. It was, quite simply, the hardest decision of my life. But I am glad that I got to make this decision for my family and my beloved daughter. Of all the decisions I wanted to make for her – this was the only one that I got to make.

    Thank you for presenting my side in such an eloquent way.

  8. Here from the roundup.

    I agree totally. I have seen some strident opposition on pro choice posts within the ALI community, so whenever I see one, particularly one as well thought out as this one, I feel the need to stand up and be counted. Another infertile woman for reproductive choice. All reproductive choice.

  9. I do not agree with your views here. True there are situational issues – health of baby, emotional health of mother, relationship health of parents, etc. etc. that make carrying a pregnancy through to birth difficult, more difficult for some than for others. True that whether abortion is legal or illegal those that are forced to end it, or want to put it behind them will find a way. If it isn’t legal, it may be more likely to be physically harmful to the woman.

    Whether it is legal or not, whether any of those situational issues exist or not, 9 out of 10 women who have the baby will bear an emotional wound from ending the life of the unborn child (and I will not negotiate the science on this, that is the biological fact, it is an unborn, human, child . . . .fetus in fact means “little one” not ball of tissue).

    It is actually the opposite for those 90% of women to make it easier, more accessible, more subsidized, or free to have that abortion. Because while the pregnancy may be behind her, the post-traumatic-abortion syndrome is ahead of her, and her entire life will be marked by moments of the scab being torn off of that deep, soulful, emotional wound.

    I don’t see finding a way to justify ending the life, i.e. killing a child for any situational issue. Life is never easy. Pregnancy is harder and labor is harder for some than others, but don’t ever conclude that pregnancy through to birth is harder than perservering and coming through to birth, even of a still-born child, or child with low viability, or child with mental or physical disability is harder than bearing the wound of having killed your unborn child, and wondering your whole life what might have happened if you hadn’t. Simple fact is you are assuming it is easier on the woman and fairer for her to make that choice. I disagree with you completely. My friend and her husband delivered a baby with half a brain. She lived for only 2.5 hours after being born, but they would not trade that for anything. That love, and those precious moments will be treasured by them, their other children, and the baby’s grandparents and aunts and uncle for the rest of their lives.

    Really perspective is needed. A person of faith is able to trust God, no matter how difficult current situations seem, and no matter what some in this culture would say is a respectable and defensible choice when the law written on their hearts says, “Yes, it is wrong to kill an unborn child. That is why the commandment, I wrote on the stone tablet said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.” Good for North Dakota and Arkansas that they get this and are legislating protections for the most defenseless among us.

    • I have never assumed that it’s easier for a woman to choose to end a pregnancy, whatever the reason for ending it. If I came across that way in my post, it was not my intention. If you read a few comments up, “J” says that making the decision to end her pregnancy was the hardest decision of her life. I know other women who would say the same. I also know women who, like your friend, chose to carry to term (or as long as they could) and give birth to a baby who died soon after. None of those decisions were without great emotional pain. No one forces anyone to have an abortion. A doctor may offer it as an option (when safe and legal), but it is and always should be the choice of the mother whether or not to continue a pregnancy. To make it illegal puts women in a second-class citizen category: their rights don’t matter once they become pregnant. Where do we draw the line? Should we make it illegal for a pregnant woman to drink or smoke? To eat fast food? To hold physical jobs? You should absolutely follow your heart and religion when it comes to this. I don’t share your religious views and I don’t think it’s right to force them on me and other women.

      • Not “forcing” my religious views on you or any of your readers.

        I think there is logic to the position apart from faith, but I agree for the person, or persons doing the deciding, taking what seems like the harder, more uncertain path is less likely without faith.

        Without faith the logic is:
        1)What is in the womb?
        2) Is it right, wrong, or does it depend whether it is OK to end the life of the unborn child?
        3) Is it right, wrong, or does it depend whether the woman’s right to absolute freedom over whether her body should be used for gestation supercedes the right of the baby to be born?

        Certainly for someone of faith the answers are:
        1) unborn human child
        2) wrong
        3) wrong

        For someone of secular mindset it the answers might be:
        1) unborn human or fetus
        2) it depends
        3) it might be wrong, but protect that it depends or we lose the right in extreme cases like euthanasia, rape, incest, and it will chip away at other rights, including ART and IVF

        I think it would be more logical and honest to agree: it is an unborn child, and while there are some especially difficult situations: e.g. diagnosis of “incompatible with life”, incest, rape it is not valid to agree with the Declaration of Independence’s statement that we have an inalienable right to life and to say that a woman’s right to not be enslaved as a gestational carrier for 8 months (deducting the 1 month she didn’t know she was pregnant) supercedes the unborn child’s inalienable right to life.

        If it is an unborn human child in the womb, and science and common sense tell us it is, despite attempts to say it is a clump of tissue over the years, then ending the life is either killing the child for some reason considered more important than the child’s life. For someone confronted with a diagnosis of Trisomy 18 or Hydrocephalus or others, who is told by well-educated medical professionals the child will suffer then the person who chooses to end the life is in effect euthanizes the unborn child. Often these babies are given anesthetic whereas this is NOT the practice for 99.9999% of surgical abortions in this country.

        If a person is going to go against the prognosis and advice of well-educated medical professionals, and often one’s own mother, father, sister, brother, husband, their is only one source for that kind of strength and it is faith and trust in God, vis a vis Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.” Without that type of faith, euthanasia is the compassionate and logical alternative. I am truly sorry if that offends J or anyone else. It is only that kind of faith that let my other friend carry her baby to term given the prognosis and it is that kind of faith that led the Santorums to have their little Bella, still alive and happy against all the projections of the medical professionals given her utero diagnosis of Trisomy 18.

        As to whether a woman should be “enslaved” for 8 months of carrying a child and whether the right to be free of an unwanted, unplanned unborn child is “righter” than ending the life of that child, I don’t know how you can get to it logically without an ounce of faith, that it is relatively more right for women to not be forced to carry a child to term. That it is a valid reason to end another human being’s right to life (Declaration of Independence)? That is an illogical position. The right to be free of a pregnancy (8 months regardless of physical and emotional strain of a pregnancy) it is only 8 months. Obviously abortion, even on a relative, rational, non-faith scale is permanent. Pregnancy may be life changing whereas abortion is life ending. The non-faith based example is found in why battery is punished less severely by the courts than manslaughter or murder.

        It is no doubt requires a generousity on the part of the biological mother, but that is a human quality that can be completely devoid of faith. Atheists, agnostics, theists are known to be generous and compassionate.

        Does the right to achieve a college degree by the same age as her peers, or graduate from high school on time supercede the unborn child’s right to not be killed within the womb without anesthetic without being given a chance at life? How could that EVER be more right than carrying the baby to term? Even without faith, how can someone defend that position? Especially as there are many of us out here willing to give our financial resources and even welcome into our homes the biological mother for the pregnancy, and even residential schools like Mooseheart in Illinois that will let her go to high school for free while she carries her baby?

        How is it different than saying that baby inside the womb is less than 5/5’s of a person. Actually that baby has less rights than African slaves at the time of the signing of the Constitution. They were treated as 3/5’s of a person. The unborn baby’s rights are even less than 3/5ths, they are 0/5ths so long as an abortionist can end the life for any reason so long as the woman carrying the child wants it done.

        There is clear injustice that is legal and in conflict with the founding document of our nation. At least if we could make it illegal for all but the very few percentages of terminations that are for medical viability issues (mother or baby) then we would be a more ethically defensible nation, if not a more moral God-fearing nation.

  10. correction:
    change “10 women who have the baby will bear an emotional wound”
    to
    “10 women who end the life of their unborn baby will bear an emotional wound”

  11. Colleen, speaking from my personal experience, it would have been excruciatingly painful to prolong my daughter’s suffering – and to watch her suffer. To feel her kick inside me and wonder if it hurt her would have damaged me endlessly or “emotionally wounded” the hell out of me. Holding her in my arms and watching her lungs, heart and body fail her – if she even made it to term – would have been horrific, especially (for me) knowing that I could have spared her that suffering by choosing abortion. So I did. And while it was a terrible and incredibly difficult decision, it was absolutely the right one for my daughter and my family. I appreciate this was the right choice for your friend, but it was NOT the right choice for me or my family. And I don’t think legislation or religion or quite frankly anyone who’s child will not suffer (and these babies do suffer) the implications, should inflict their morality on a situation that, to me, supersedes these simplistic, and VERY black and white judgements of a very personally and profoundly difficult choice.

    • J, I have a very loved friend that made the exact same decision you did. She was told her baby’s diagnosis was “incompatible with life” that the child would be on mechanical supports and pain meds and that her communication would be delayed so she would not even be able to express if the meds were controlling her pain or not. She chose to end the pregnancy and was devastated afterwards. My heart hurts for you and her.

      This is not a place for hard logic. As far as faith is concerned faith and trust are the only way someone would not choose euthanasia in the womb over carrying the baby to term and trusting that the prognosis of doctors and specialists would wrong and short-sighted. It was a self-less thing you and my friend did. Neither of you wanted the baby to suffer. I am very sorry you had to make such a heart-rending decision.

      Seriously I am not judging you, I have great sympathy for your loss, and more than a little understanding of the anger at the injustice of it thanks to listening to my friend.

  12. Apologies for the many typos in my long reply above. While I did attempt to keep to logical non-faith based argument, it is impossible for me to detach emotionally on this issue. In future I’ll put it into a word processor and do a grammar/spell check.

  13. I know this post is very old, but I stumbled on it while looking for blogs of women who took femera for IF. It is refreshing to read support of abortion access with a specific, detailed mention of termination for medical reasons (TFMR). My first pregnancy ended in an elective abortion after my child was diagnosed with T18 at 18 weeks. Those of us who chose to TFMR are the hidden, inconvenient relative of the abortion debate. I desperately wanted my child, and I did what I knew was best for that child, and for myself.
    In case Colleen comes back and happens to see this comment- I’d love to see your source that 90% of women who have an abortion will have “post-traumatic abortion syndrome”. I can say with certainty, even after 15 month of IF, I do not and have not regretted my decision to spare my precious child a moment of pain (termination was long before the nervous system is able to process pain- and a single needle is far better what would have happened if born).
    In closing, so not to leave your blog with such a downer- i managed to conceive my rainbow baby 16 months after my TFMR. He is 12 months, healthy and beautiful. We are TTC his little sibling.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for your loss and the difficult decision you had to make. Congrats on your rainbow and I wish you much success with your second!

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