How the GOP’s latest abortion ban hurts families like mine

How the GOP’s latest abortion ban hurts families like mine
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When our first pregnancy suddenly ended in miscarriage, the grief was swift and gut-wrenching. My wife Erika and I sat outside the doctor’s office in our car, just staring into the distance. I felt burned by hope.

Afterward, our friends and family gently shared their own stories of miscarriage, none of which I had heard. Others volunteered their struggles with fertility. It helped. I realized there was a deep undercurrent of sorrow running just below the fragile veneer of joy usually associated with pregnancy.

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When Erika told me she was pregnant again, the grief from the miscarriage was more familiar than optimism. I was apprehensive because each new appointment had the potential for that heartbreak.

 

During the first few months, complications with the pregnancy started to mount. None were dire, but some were cause for concern: The shape of my wife’s uterus, the implantation of the cord on the placenta, an elevated fetoprotein level, clubbed feet, clenched fists.

I had an ominous feeling, but we had nothing conclusive to act on. Despite the complications, there was no reason to believe this wasn’t a viable pregnancy as growth was progressing. As the weeks progressed, I let my guard down and hope crept in.

At 30 weeks we went in for a bi-weekly ultrasound. It was like any other appointment until the moment we met with our doctor to go over the results. He told us there was an excess of amniotic fluid and that growth had dropped off the chart.

He explained that the fetus could not swallow, and if it survived birth, the baby would not be able to breathe outside the womb. 

Some terrible, unnamed condition that had been winding through the pregnancy, showing itself in glimpses, came into focus at 30 weeks and snuffed out any hope.

I shuddered at the morbid thought of Erika carrying this pregnancy for another 10 weeks knowing that there would be such a tragic outcome; and it was a risk.

She couldn’t push during pregnancy due to a brain surgery the year before. If my wife suddenly went into labor and wasn’t in a hospital, she could die from a stroke.

Doing a sort of emotional triage, I assumed in that moment that our doctor would just take over, wheel her into a nearby hospital and deal with it. I didn’t think about the word “abortion” with all of its baggage, I just expected a medical resolution to our situation.

But the doctor couldn’t just take over and treat her like in any other critical medical situation. Due to New York’s outdated abortion law, which I eventually learned is actually unconstitutional, it would be a crime to give her an abortion.  

We were past the state’s 24 week cut-off even though it was a threat to her health and not a viable pregnancy. Nothing about our situation mattered except how far into the pregnancy we were. It didn’t matter that the doctor recommended an abortion. I was shocked at how indifferent and cruel the law was.

Suddenly we were forced outside of the medical system, outside of insurance coverage and away from the care of our doctors. We had to leave our supposedly liberal state to find care.

Everything after that was like a waking nightmare because I had to watch Erika go through it.

I watched her sleep on the floor of the airport as we made our way to Colorado to terminate the pregnancy. I watched her pay the $10,000 we had borrowed from her mom to a kind woman behind bulletproof glass at the clinic, one of the three in the country that will perform an abortion this late.

I watched her graciously accept congratulations from strangers on her huge, pregnant belly as we flew back to New York that night. I watched her suffer through 24 hours of painful, gruesome labor. I watched her bind her breasts when her milk came in, struck by the cruelty of her own body.

I cannot overstate how dark this period was. The world seemed so unsympathetic and I felt helpless. My overwhelming grief was buried under a hollow pragmatism, a need to just get us through it. Something broke in me.  

This is what an abortion later in pregnancy looks like. To us, it felt awful, but was absolutely necessary healthcare. And you better hope you have access to it if you are ever in our situation.

Behind each of these procedures there is a person, and often a family.

Patients who do this do it for a reason. Sometimes it is for a wanted pregnancy that goes terribly wrong, like ours. Sometimes it is for an unwanted pregnancy that the many barriers to access have unnecessarily delayed.

It is never a spontaneous, careless decision. Many patients have children that they live to care for or go on to have children thanks to their ability to access this procedure from a trusted provider.

Like most of the other callous and unscientific anti-choice laws enacted recently across the country, the GOP’s proposed ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which failed on the the floor of the Senate yesterday but that the GOP has promised to keep fighting for, would predominantly target low income women.

Unable to leave the country for care, these women would be forced to carry doomed pregnancies to term. Others would be forced to carry a pregnancy that threatens their health until it immediately threatens their life, or kills them.

Shame and abortion stigma form the basis for these draconian laws by silencing stories like mine. Patients, partners, family members, friends, providers — we all need to share these stories to eradicate that stigma. Maybe abortion needs a viral coming-out, a #metoo moment to drag it into the light.

This ban will not just affect women. It shouldn’t just be up to women to stop it. It is time for men, and everyone else, to get off the bench.

Garin Marschall is the co-founder of RHAvote.com with his wife, Erika Christensen. They live in Brooklyn, N.Y.