Let’s be honest about so-called ’serial abortions’
In the days following the murder of George Tiller, Andrew Sullivan has been posting mail from readers who had late-term abortions. For the most part, these accounts are profoundly moving. But my BS detector went into Code Red on this post about so-called serial abortions. A woman writes that her husband had a chromosomal defect and that she went to the ER after her fourth miscarriage to get a D and C (the procedure that scrapes fetal tissue from the uterus, either after a miscarriage or to perform an abortion). This patient claims to have been waiting in the ER when another woman barged in and demanded an abortion, announcing to the gathered masses that she needed the procedure immediately and that she knew they could serve her in a heartbeat because she had already had six abortions in the past. That’s akin to someone barging into an auto repair shop and demanding to be served out of turn, because she had already had six flat tires, and damn it, they were easy to fix and she ought to be served first. Read: Fictional woman using abortion as birth control. Bring out the morality police.
I hate to challenge a story that is so sensitive, that of a woman who is struggling to have a child and is suffering recurring miscarriages. But I have been that woman. I have had four miscarriages and have had the procedure she describes four times. One of these involved twins, so I’ve lost five babies. I had four D and Cs. Not one of them was performed in an emergency room. They were all arranged, in advance, by either a reproductive endrocrinologist or a perinatologist. I imagine anyone who has had the genetic counseling this writer claims to have had would have been under similar care. The only reason she would have been in the ER would have been if she were bleeding profusely and needed immediate attention. D and C procedures after a miscarriage are usually not emergencies. And as far as I know, there aren’t any ERs that offer abortion on demand. This story, while moving on a personal level, defies belief. I’m astonished that no one has challenged its veracity.
Maybe that’s because so many believe that abortion is routinely used as birth control. It is, by some, but not by many. But it is an insult to those of us who have suffered miscarriages and who, despite the psychic pain, still believe in a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body. Let me tell you, I have sat in doctors’ waiting rooms knowing that I had dead embryos in my uterus, and I have hated every single fertile woman sitting there with a beautiful swollen belly, the lovely Madonnas reading Parent Magazine or talking on their cellphones about what color to paint the nursery. I have woken up groggy after the surgery, sick to my flat stomach. I have laid on the table for an ultrasound and been told by a technician that there were two sacs, and in the course of a few seconds, I have envisioned two infants, seen their toddlerhood, walked hand in hand with them through the park, chosen my dress for their weddings, and booked my tickets to Oslo for their Nobel Prize ceremonies. And then seconds later, I lay there, legs splayed in the stirrups, while the tech ran to get the doctor because there was something “wrong” with the ultrasound.
So don’t tell me I don’t understand the agony of a D and C. But at the same time, I know the difference between a woman who has invested her hopes and dreams in a few cells and a woman, maybe 16 or 18 or 22 years old, who sees her entire life being derailed by those same few cells. Those are different experiences. Years ago, before I had my kids and my life was defined by attempts to conceive, I resented the folks who conceived as if by will. But I never once changed my opinion about the right to choose.
I have had friends who have suffered through agonizing choices and experiences. One friend had a baby die in utero at six months. Rather than carry the dead fetus until she went into labor, she had to walk through a police line and enter a secret hospital door, full belly exposed to the protesting masses, so that she could spend hours of induced labor to deliver the baby she already knew had died. Did she really have to endure the venom of the “pro-life” protesters? What a double whammy to her unfathomable grief.
Two other friends chose to terminate fetuses with anaencephaly, a condition that is incompatible with life. Mercifully, they were able to receive care without protestations from strangers, and one even had the kindness of a doctor who was researching the condition and had the compassion of a saint.
The posts on Sullivan’s blog all begin with the title “It’s so personal.” Indeed, it is. And now that I am a mother, I am working to respect and understand the multitude of beliefs about abortion. But it doesn’t help to sensationalize the issue with accounts that defy reality. Women don’t march into the ER demanding “serial abortions.” Women suffering miscarriage usually don’t find themselves in the ER, either. So let’s be honest in our discussion, and let’s not dishonor those of us who have endured the pain of recurring miscarriage. It is so personal. And that’s what choice is all about.