How do I begin to unpack how deeply disturbed I was by yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments?
Justice Sotomayor spoke for so many of us with this question. She spoke for me.
In September, I had a miscarriage requiring an emergency abortion procedure.
I was making lunch at my kitchen counter when I began to feel severe cramping, accompanied by heavy bleeding. I knew something wasn’t right. I took Advil and hoped it would resolve itself but it didn’t. I called my doctor, who presented to me a number of possible causes why this could be happening to a 44-year-old woman.
I had just finished weaning my youngest daughter from breastfeeding and my body could be experiencing hormonal changes. She also said it could just be a hormonal imbalance or fibroids, endometriosis, or perimenopause.
My doctor said the most important thing was to put a stop to the heavy bleeding, because if it didn’t stop, I would have to go to the emergency room. She prescribed 800 mg of Advil and three birth control pills to take all at once. And that did, initially, stem the bleeding, but it didn’t last.
By the next morning, my condition had worsened. And when I found myself doubled over and barely able to walk as I struggled to get my daughter ready for school, I knew it was serious.
My health care provider was able to get me in to see the doctor that morning. After an examination, ultrasound, and a pregnancy test, she told me, “You’re pregnant. You’re miscarrying. And you need a D&C (an emergency abortion procedure) now.”
It was hard to process what I was being told — it happened with dizzying speed. Learning I was pregnant. Learning that the pregnancy was no longer viable. And learning that I needed an emergency abortion.
The way the doctor explained it, there wasn’t any decision to be made. The choice was clear: I needed to undergo this procedure as a matter of health care. It wasn’t a difficult call, because there was no call to be made. Did that make it easier? It did.
But it didn’t keep me from experiencing such an intense range of emotions, all at once, not to mention the physical pain I was experiencing.
And this all happened the week we learned about Texas’s extreme abortion ban, so it was very front of mind. During this medically necessary abortion, for a pregnancy I had literally just learned about, I asked if my procedure would have been off the table under Texas’s abortion ban. The doctor said, given access issues, it could be very difficult.
Under Texas’s abortion ban, my specific abortion would have technically been permitted since my pregnancy was no longer viable. But in practical terms, access to this health care would have been a barrier. Texas’s law makes accessing any procedure so incredibly difficult because of its impact on abortion providers’ ability to even operate in the state. These bills banning abortions and restricting access to care are creating a culture of fear and confusion, and that’s by design. The intent is to make people uncertain about what kind of care is available to them and how they can access it, and to make women scared to even ask about their options.
Think about the cruelty involved in making it your aim to make life more difficult for someone in that situation: in great pain, bleeding profusely, barely able to walk, confused about what’s happening to them, unsure about where to go. Then add in forcing them to endure multistate drives or frantic rushes to the airport for the next flight to a state where getting the medically necessary health care they need is still legal and available. And that’s assuming they have the privilege and means to get those options.
Thankfully, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, all it took for me to access the care I needed was a short drive to my health care provider. I was able to get timely access and attention for what was a painful medical emergency. But if I were in a state where providers are closing down, even though my situation would have technically been allowed, finding timely access could have jeopardized my health.
For women in states where our freedoms may be pulled back, getting that medically necessary care wouldn’t just be a question of timing and withstanding pain, it could be impossible. It would mean enduring a medical emergency without the care they need. It could be life-threatening.
When we read stories about these new attempts to ban abortions — when the Supreme Court was arguing the very existence of Roe v. Wade yesterday — the conversations are often abstract. The questions posed, and situations considered, are usually theoretical. But real lives are at stake. And that’s why listening to yesterday’s Supreme Court proceedings was so deeply disturbing to so many of us.
So, when Justice Sotomayor asked, “When does the life of a woman and putting her at risk enter the calculus?” she was asking for me. She was asking for my daughters. She was asking for millions of people in America. It’s our freedoms that are being openly discussed. It’s our ability to access the health care that we need that’s in jeopardy. It’s our lives that are, literally, at stake.
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