Today, I spoke before an Arkansas senate committee. Last night I was on the evening news.
Rep. Andy Mayberry is making national headlines by trying to ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation (that’s the halfway mark, FYI). He claims this is because this is the point at which a fetus begins to feel and respond to pain, and he cites some studies, but this is hardly an established fact, and is controversial in the medical community. In the committee today, he testified that 98% of abortions happen before 20 weeks. Why would the minority get such a late abortion? It’s not because they just didn’t get around to it or had a sudden change of heart. Something big happens at 20 weeks. It’s the point in a pregnancy when the “big ultrasound” happens. The one that tells you if you’re carrying a boy or a girl (or two girls, in my case), but also the one that tells you for the first time that there could be something seriously wrong, even life-threatening, with your fetus. I know what it’s like to sit in that ultrasound room and get bad news. Like Andy Mayberry, who also has a daughter with spina bifida, I am fortunate that our news wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My daughter and the Mayberry’s daughter have a condition that is treatable and manageable and won’t stand in the way of a full life. Many parents are not so fortunate. For many parents, that moment in the ultrasound room is what turns a wanted pregnancy into a nightmare of heartbreaking news and difficult choices. Placing an abortion ban at that point in a pregnancy leaves these parents without options right when they need them most. It places a legislature between families and their doctors, right when those families most need compassionate care.
I know some will say that the bill has been amended to include exceptions for the health of the mother, for fetal anomalies, and for rape and incest. But as one of my own doctors testified before another committee, when we’re talking criminality for doctors who provide abortions, how much of threat does there have to be before it’s “enough” to justify an abortion? I have a congenital heart defect and a previous severe cardiac pregnancy complication, but no one can say exactly how risky another pregnancy would be for me. My doctors agree that I should not have more children for the sake of my health, but my condition is very very rare, and there isn’t much data on it, let alone actual odds of my survival. Do you think my doctors are willing to risk jail time and the loss of their career and livelihood on my chances of survival? I don’t. And yet I am not willing to risk leaving my girls motherless, and should my IUD fail (as it could, I personally know people who became pregnant with an IUD), I would not think twice before terminating to protect my own life and stay here to care for the girls who need me.
The bill passed the committee despite my testimony. It will probably pass the Senate. The governor will probably sign it. I fear for the state my girls will grow up in, and I fear for their rights and mine.
For every mother who testified that she’s glad she carried her anencephalic baby to term (that’s a baby with no brain and a damaged skull, with no chance of survival outside the womb), there are mothers thankful they had the opportunity for a post-20-week abortion (essentially an induction of labor), to prevent needless suffering for her and her doomed child. For everyone like Andy Mayberry and me, whose kids will have challenges but lead full and happy lives, there are people who got literally fatal news. For everyone like me who survived pre-eclampsia and peri-partum cardiomyopathy, there are people whose fatal complications developed too early to save themselves and their babies, and were forced to deliver to save their own lives, meanwhile their babies could not be saved. For everyone on the other side who calls themselves a compassionate conservative fighting for life, there is someone like me, literally fighting for her own, asking for compassionate choices when we need them most.
If you’re in Arkansas, please start writing to your senators and the governor and urge them not to let this bill pass. Post 20-week abortions are rare because they only happen in the most dire of circumstances. These people deserve compassion.