How My Pregnancy Loss Shaped My Perspective of Anti-Choice Legislation

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Commentary Maternity and Birthing

How My Pregnancy Loss Shaped My Perspective of Anti-Choice Legislation

Madeleine Siegel

It is critical to confront willful ignorance and ensure that the discussion on abortion rights is based on truth and science.

Waking up to agony in my abdomen was not how I expected to spend my last night visiting my family in California two years ago. After rushing to the emergency room in the middle of the night and getting my test results, I learned I was pregnant. Because the pregnancy was ectopic, I was rushed into emergency surgery.

At the time, I didn’t know what an ectopic pregnancy meant—that a fertilized egg had implanted outside my uterus, where it develops in healthy pregnancies. Most ectopic pregnancies implant in a fallopian tube and, if untreated, can cause the tube to burst, leading to internal bleeding and possible death.

The surgery, and the OB-GYN who performed my procedure, saved my life.

So I was dismayed when the Ohio General Assembly introduced two bills in 2019 that invented a surgery for my life-threatening pregnancy. According to these bills, if a pregnancy is ectopic, doctors can transplant the embryo into the uterus. This proposed surgery, however, does not exist.

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Instead of consulting a doctor, the bills’ sponsor, Ohio Rep. John Becker (R), collaborated with an anti-choice lobbyist named Barry Sheets. After learning about two mentions of reimplantation in scientific journals from 1917 and 1990, Sheets, a policy consultant with a bachelor’s degree in political science, deemed the procedure medically sound and proposed it be written into law.

Any medical expert could have told him that the evidence was flimsy and unreliable: a two-and-half-page case report from a century ago, and a letter to the editor describing a surgery a doctor claimed to have witnessed ten years earlier. As Dr. Daniel Grossman told Rewire.News in 2019, reimplanting an ectopic pregnancy is “pure science fiction.”

Neither of the Ohio bills passed into law. But whether proselytizing or acting with sheer carelessness, the representatives went far beyond endangering women’s right to choose with their callousness—these two bills would hinder the only action that can save the life of someone with the kind of pregnancy I had.

I was lucky that I did not have to hesitate before going to the hospital. If I hadn’t had insurance, that night in the ER would have been very different. And I was lucky that my doctor didn’t have to hesitate before performing the surgery that saved my life. If the second bill in Ohio had been passed into law, a doctor there might have gone to prison for providing that same care. Geographic location, socioeconomic class, race, and access to health insurance are among the key factors that create barriers to receiving care.

My experience made an abstract discussion instantly tangible, and it changed how I think of abortion rights. I had never envisioned what it would be like to become pregnant. I trusted the advertised 99 percent effectiveness of my intrauterine device, marketed as among the most successful methods of birth control.

Whether by choice or necessity, ending a pregnancy can be excruciating for many people; it is not often a decision taken lightly. Having access to abortion does not force a certain option, but rather gives each person the independence to choose for themselves based on their own beliefs and circumstances. And access to abortion, as the U.S. Supreme Court decided nearly 50 years ago, is a constitutional right.

This spring, I watched with anger as state authorities once again ignored medical experts in order to deny countless people their rights, when anti-choice officials used a pandemic to create barriers to abortion care.

In a dozen states, authorities suspended abortion under the guise of preserving personal protective equipment to fight the coronavirus. Doctors and medical experts agreed this was not only dangerous but unnecessary. Medication abortions, which rely on pills alone and do not require any masks or gloves, accounted for nearly 40 percent of all abortions in the United States in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And even procedural abortions require “very little personal protective equipment,” according to Grossman, an OB-GYN and public health expert.

Pregnant people seeking abortions in states with COVID-19 bans were forced to travel and risk exposure, or continue unwanted pregnancies. Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld of Houston Women’s Clinic, one of only 22 abortion clinics in Texas, said his clinic had to turn away many patients while the state’s ban was in place. Rosenfeld, an OB-GYN on staff at Texas Women’s Hospital and St. Luke’s Medical Center, told Rewire.News that the Texas abortion ban was “a disaster.”

Although entire categories of surgeries were postponed during the pandemic, “no state has singled out any other procedure that is to be considered elective,” said a midwife who works in an Iowa hospital and wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns. “State lawmakers would never tell an eye doctor what is considered essential. Abortion is the one procedure that is legislated to this extent, even when many professional organizations affirm that this is an essential service of women’s health care.”

Abortion care was eventually allowed to resume in Texas and other states, either due to court orders or because states lifted the suspensions. But with a new surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, I can’t be confident some states won’t try to reimpose the abortion bans. I think now of all the people in the middle of an already heart-wrenching moment who face further obstacles to fight for the care they need.

It is critical to confront willful ignorance and ensure that the discussion on abortion rights is based on truth and science, guided by the wisdom of medical professionals and those who have lived experience.

In the days and weeks after my surgery, I was surprised by how many neighbors, friends, and even friends of friends shared similar experiences. Through the hurt and the healing, we could seek solace in sharing our stories. By striving for justice together, we ensure we are not alone.