Content warning. It’s about “Late-Term Abortion”. This is not fun to read and I’m sorry.
In 1973, The Supreme Court made a decision. They decided that the Bill of Rights, taken together, created a very real aggregate right without which none of the rest could be possible: autonomy over your own body.
This decision impacted a great deal of American Law. It fed into the series of laws called HIPPA, that determined that we all have the right to medical privacy. And rules and regulations that made it so that even if an immediate family member needed one drop of blood from me for their survival, I would have final say over that, and could refuse if I wanted.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a country where this wasn’t true- where the government had the right to make me, as a law-abiding citizen, give to them control over my body.
Except . . .
Imagine being 30 weeks into a pregnancy. You told your kids about their new baby brother coming. You are showing, and the people around you always ask first when they touch your belly. You and your husband painted the nursery. You’ve already told your work that you are not coming back right away, giving you a chance to be a mom for a while. You don’t think of this as a fetus anymore. You think of it as a baby. Your son.
Then, at that 30-week checkup, the doctor tells you that your son’s brain isn’t developing. It’s inoperable and incurable. He will never have a brain. They have a word for it: Anencephaly. It happens when the head end of the neural tube fails to close early in the pregnancy but sometimes can’t really be detected until the effects are visible. With very few exceptions, children born like this do not survive longer than a few hours or, at most, days after their birth.
The child has a main brain stem. But because it has no cerebrum, your son will never be able to be aware, never notice his surroundings, never wake up. He’ll be in pain, though, and even though he’ll never be able to process it, he will feel it, likely. In all honesty, we don’t know. What is known, though, is that there is zero chance he will ever leave the hospital. When he does die, if he is born, it will be a slow strangulation, as his brain stem slowly fails to make his lungs work correctly. It will be like drowning for a few days.
The doctor advises you to abort the child. It’s a painless injection that will just quickly stop his heart. In the state you are in, you try to go to court to do that. The court docket shows you have a hearing in 3 weeks. This means that, after all the tests and the waiting, you will be in court at 34 weeks. You have almost a month of carrying a baby that will die almost instantly when disconnected from you. Of deciding whether or not to tell people when they compliment you on how good you look pregnant when they congratulate you. Of nodding at other pregnant women on the train, glowing and happy.
You sit in court, hoping it’s quick so you can get back to the hospital. It’s. not. It’s. Never quick. Your doctor is upset because women who are forced to carry babies who are dead or dying have a high rate of depression and suicide. He puts that in your chart. Now, when you return to the hospital, you find that you are under suicide watch. You are never left alone. They remove everything from your room that you could hurt yourself with. They ask you to sign a no-suicide agreement, stating that you will turn to someone if you want to hurt yourself and not do it.
You are in the Ob-Gyn ward, where hopeful families are everywhere, waiting for healthy children. The nurses do everything they can to shield you from all that because they’re nurses and that’s what they do. They care. Even when it seems like they are the only ones. The doctors wait to perform a procedure that can be done quickly if they have the right to.
No one is killing perfectly healthy 40-week-old fetuses. That’s not what these laws are about. This hurts to write, it hurts to read. I can’t even imagine what it feels like to live it.
I do know that the law is not meant to create great swirling masterpieces of cruelty for people already in pain. It’s meant to help them.
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