Recently, a Supreme Court opinion was leaked that has sent some shockwaves across the world. The opinion would reverse decades of opinions based on Roe v. Wade and change the legal landscape when it comes to abortion. Many states that don’t have laws about abortion on the books or have laws that haven’t been enforced since Roe v. Wade would return to a time when there was no abortion option at all, not just the limited options many states have now.
As so many of you, I have lots of thoughts and opinions about this decision and its implications and I’ve been pondering this issue for a long time. The context where I am coming from may be very different from you or someone else; so, let me list a few items that I think would be important for you to know before I weigh in.
- I am biologically a woman, born with eggs and ovaries and a hormonal imbalance that made it hard to get pregnant and likely is the basis for the diagnosis of terminal breast cancer I received in 2017.
- I was raised in a evangelical fundamentalist Christian home where we were taught to believe that life begins at conception.
- I was raised in a paternalistic Judeo-Christian tradition where the concept of just trying harder or pulling yourself up by your boot straps was prized. Personal responsibility was and is key in the tradition in which I was raised.
- I went to law school at Regent University, which is affiliated with the Christian Broadcasting network and whose tag line is “Christian Leadership to Change the World.” My grandfather didn’t think it was possible to be a Christian and an attorney based on his own experiences; based on family lore, my response was “watch me.”
- I began volunteering in the foster care system when in law school and continued that work as a parent attorney, a Guardian ad Litem, a mentor, an Attorney ad Litem, etc. once I was licensed.
- Outside of volunteering in the foster care system, my primary area of practice before I had to retire due to MBC was family law. This meant that I was exposed to divorces and child custody and all other forms of family disputes as a lawyer, an advocate, a mediator, etc. on a daily basis for years. Children and what was best for children was front and center in my professional life before I had children myself.
- To get pregnant, my husband and I went through years of testing and fertility treatments — I say we because we went through it together, but the issues were all in my body. We didn’t have to use IVF to have our boys, but that would have been the next step if the medication and other interventions hadn’t worked. We spent years patiently and impatiently undergoing invasive tests, taking medication and generally turning intimacy into a task to get pregnant.
- As a terminal cancer patient, I am under the care of many doctors and interface with the US medical system nearly daily. I am acutely aware of the limitations and issues that patients face every single day.
With all of that in mind, I don’t think it is too surprising to learn that I have pretty much always categorized myself as pro-life. And I still am. I personally believe babies are babies when the egg and sperm combine and the soul attaches to that person. There’s no objective proof of this and I know that science falls short in helping us understand when life begins, but that’s my belief, however fanciful. I don’t fully understand or embrace the division between fetus and baby personally, but I understand the need to find a bright line with viability or whatever else science helps us use to explain life.
I spent so many hours and days and weeks and months communing with the two babies that grew inside my body after we worked so hard to make them. Both of my boys were wanted and cherished and intended from before they ever existed. There is a special connection that just can’t be explained when you grow a human inside your body that is forever and I don’t know if I can explain the attachment to a child that you have literally worked to make. Moms and Dads who have to go through fertility treatments and ride that awful rollercoaster have a really different view than those who are able to get pregnant without medical intervention. And don’t get me started on the people who have to use surrogates and donor eggs because their ability to become parents has been destroyed by cancer; becoming a parent can be complicated and fraught with so much emotion.
My views are affected by these personal experiences and also how I saw children in foster care whose parents couldn’t care for them. There is a huge “pro-birth” effort to ensure that women do not abort the babies growing inside them and then that effort nearly always entirely disappears when that woman or family or the government then has the responsibility of an actual person.
I believe the “pro-life” movement is actually solely “pro-birth.”
I never saw any of the people picketing or promoting abortion restrictions show up as foster parents or raise money or volunteer or adopt the people that were the result of their efforts. I’ve seen and heard about the sneering and awful behavior towards foster parents or biological parents utilizing government benefits like food stamps to feed their families. The people who support restrictions or blocks on abortions then typically are first in line to limit the benefits that many of those same families need to survive.
If we are to ensure life, then we must support that life once it is here.
I still believe in personal responsibility and I also now really understand that I am privileged. I am privileged to be white in the US. I am privileged to grow up in an educated family. I am privileged to have the abilities to work hard and plan ahead and have the kind of career I did. I was privileged (prior to cancer and cancer treatment) not to be stymied by mental, emotional or physical struggles that sapped my abilities so much that it affected my career. I now understand in fundamental ways that not everyone starts at the same place. I saw this first hand in the foster care system where there were family systems and mental health and addictions struggles that couldn’t be addressed with willpower.
We never know what someone else is carrying or dealing with and to impose our will or viewpoint on another human being is fundamentally wrong on a variety of levels, in my opinion.
And so, with this entire background, here’s what I think about the effort to limit/eliminate abortion — it won’t work and it’s a start/step towards discrimination against women’s autonomy that will end very very badly for all women.
I’ve had a lot of options in my life, a lot of choices. I’ve had to take responsibility for those choices, but they were mine. I’ve never been raped or the victim of incest or literally had to choose between my life and the life of my child. I’ve never had to carry a child who had died inside of me or would die as soon as they were born or would kill me if I didn’t have that child removed surgically. I’ve never had to consider reducing the number of babies inside my body because they wouldn’t all survive, babies I desperately wanted.
There are a lot of choices I’ve never had to face and that means I have no idea what it means to face those choices.
I have had to advocate for myself medically. I’ve been at the mercy of doctors and insurance companies and medical systems who think they know better than I about what to do with my body. I’ve been at the place where I knew in my bones something was wrong and yet had to fight like hell to get the right attention. I’ve dealt with and written about the stress and harm that the medical system causes because it is not centered on the patient, because money is more important than truly caring for people in their time of need. I am more equipped than most to deal with this, as a white lawyer with a stubborn streak a mile wide and a healthy understanding of medical malpractice.
As soon as we as a country, as humans, as men and women, as people are ok with someone making personal medical decisions for someone else without consent, without regard for their fundamental freedom, we have lost human compassion and empathy. No person should have that power unless it is given to them with knowledge and understanding and INFORMED CONSENT.
I am afraid.
I am terrified.
No, I can’t have more children because cancer took that from me, so I won’t personally face the need for an abortion, but I will face other medical decisions as a woman and as a person.
I don’t give my consent for anyone to be involved in those medical decisions outside of the people I choose, especially not people who will never ever meet me or know me.
This effort to take away women’s autonomy and choice over their medical decisions won’t stop with abortion.
Some of you may think I’m being alarmist, that this move isn’t as big as it seems and you are entitled to your own opinion and to utter it in whatever form you choose. I hope to be proven wrong, I really do. I won’t likely be around to help support my daughter in laws or my grandchildren as they face the changing world, as much as I’d like to and perhaps that’s part of why this scares me so much. Don’t be complacent, don’t think that you won’t be affected.
Go vote like your life depends on it, because it does.