That's My Issue: Abortion Rights

Thursday, August 16, 2012

That’s My Issue is WNYC’s election-year project to gather stories of how your life experience has shaped your politics. Share your story and create your custom badge, read all the stories in the archive, record an audio story directly from your computer, and see much more about the project at the That’s My Issue homepage.

I’ve always been pro-choice, but never thought I’d have to make the choice myself. Then, when I conceived a much-wanted pregnancy with my beloved husband, only to discover at the end of my first trimester that my developing child suffered from a condition that would lead to a shortened lifetime of physical and mental maladies and suffering, I made the agonizing, heart-rending decision to end my pregnancy, to have a second trimester abortion.

I believe it was a moral choice to prevent the suffering before it began, before my child’s consciousness or ability to feel pain developed. Imagine my horror at such a personal choice being the target of political controversy and ill-informed debate and increased legislation.

You can never know what you’ll do when faced with such a dire prognosis for your child, when faced with certain illness or early death or extreme cognitive disability. I certainly didn’t know what I would do until I sat in the doctor’s chair and felt the world fall out from beneath my feet. But I am grateful I live in a country where I have the right to make the decision that I feel is best for my family and myself. Unfortunately, anti-choice activists and right-wing politicians hack away at that right every day.

They believe it’s better to carry sick, severely cognitively impaired and fatally ill children into this world to suffer, that parents must accept it as “god’s will” to endure agonizing years of watching their children struggle through surgeries and therapies and slow death.

I reject that as the morally superior argument, and I reject the imposition of the State, at any time, to demand a woman to bring a pregnancy to term against her will. I was pro-choice before, but now I’m passionately so. Unfortunately, because of my family’s conservative Catholic views, I can never openly share these views or my experience in my writing or public speaking. My family would disown me if they knew.

That is another great loss for me. But I pump all my extra dollars towards Planned Parenthood and NARAL and am fighting mightily against the growing amount of state legislation that limits abortion access.

I grieve for the pregnancy I lost every day. I rage and I ache. Nothing will patch the hole in my heart. And yet I trust myself enough to know that I made the right decision. I wish the government and politicians could trust women too.

-Katherine B. is a writer living in Phoenix.  


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Comments [24]


If women don't want to have abortions then don't have abortions. If you feel it is right then have an abortion. If you want to have a cookie eat it if you don't leave it in the jar. What's wrong with pro choice again? I don't understand this debate at all. Politicians and conservatives call this legalized murder- isn't war legalized murder? What irks me the most is that men are deciding what pregnant women should be doing with their bodies are we in the 1960's again?

Oct. 16 2012 07:07 PM
Nolan from NYC

I respect the writer's courage to speak about her experience. Her situation is clearly extremely difficult. I imagine any reasonable person would have great sympathy for her, as I do. I am pro-life and although I did not read all the comments I really appreciated the message written by Nathalie. I would add that beyond the fact that the lives of severely impaired children are just as valuable as any, and that they experience life with joy and love, I would imagine there are deep emotional rewards for the parents and family of these children. These children surely enrich the lives of their parents and family and any who encounter them, as we see from Nathalie's post.
Further, as a conservative, I am not so concerned with the current law and trying to overturn it. I am ok with the idea of choice. But as you say it should not be the government that restricts the choice on this issue; it is important that they do not encourage one side or the other. It frustrates me that there is federal funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood. If we want to government out of the decision then it should not provide funding to any organizations either way. Planned Parenthood should have to stand on its own with donations from pro-choice people to sustain itself. I do not want my tax dollars going to them.
There are such organizations on the pro-life side, such as the Northwest Center, who operate without federal funding, and instead of looking at abortion as an option, they support women with unwanted and difficult pregnancies to have the babies and provide them support throughout the process.
Finally I would argue that the case above is likely a small percentage of the abortions performed and not representative of the vast majority.

Sep. 27 2012 12:05 PM
A_Mom from NYC

Accept my sympathy for your loss. This is such a personal matter and you are a BOLD woman to share this story with us. Thank you. You made the right choice - difficult as it may be, it was not made in haste and not without thoroughly and lovingly thinking it through. Thankfully we can make a difficult choice/decision in healthy ways. We must stand by our pro-choice advocates, keep terminations/mothers safe and prevent the dangers of illegal termination. Trust me, those with means will go to Canada or elsewhere and those who do not have the means will seek the "back alley options" that once existed in the darkest reaches of society. Next thing you know, we'll be wearing head scarves, will no longer be allowed to drive cars & will be left out of voting booths. Why are we supporting politicians that rally to start taking away the rights we have fought for during most of the 20th century? Our country will have taken a giant step back if the pro-life movement succeeds. btw: For those Quick to Judge Katherine B. here, I have a special needs child and so have many years of first-hand experience raising an "atypical" child. While I love my child more than words can describe, dealing with the 'issues' is no cakewalk. In fact years ago, I learned that a Dad in "similar" shoes lost his ability to cope & blew his brains out one day: thus leaving his entire family, wife, special needs child, and 'typical' child fatherless.

Aug. 20 2012 03:50 PM

I also am pro-choice and had difficulty having my 2 children. I had 6 miscarriages (in the 1960s referred to as 'spontaneous abortions') before my daughter and 1 after her. My son was the only pregnancy that did not require hormone support and/or bed-rest. I had my tubes tied before I left the delivery room. I felt I had a responsibility to the 2 children I had tried so hard to have and another high-risk pregnancy was irresponsible. I know first hand that 'life begins at conception' does not translate into a live baby cradled in your arms 9 months later. One of my friends (in the 1950s)had a baby die in utero but she did not miscarry. She was living in Connecticut and her doctor was afraid he would be prosecuted for abortion although the fetus was dead. She had to return to Philadelphia where the doctor who had delivered her first 2 children removed the dead fetus before it became sepsis. Do we want to return to that level of fear and ignorance? As to who pays for the cost of sustaining anyone on life support: isn't it ironic that those politicians for cutting funds to Medicaid are the same people who pass laws agaist abortion??? I will be 73 on Labor Day and do believe the country is headed in the wrong direction: BACKWARD.

Aug. 20 2012 01:03 PM
Mike from Jersey City from New Jersey

I'm a little hard-pressed to understand the concept of that not living at all represents a better "quality-of-life" than being alive. How can we -- the living -- know that never having lived is better?

Aug. 20 2012 09:40 AM

life is still life. While I would never judge anyone for making this heart breaking decision, I am a teacher of severely disabled high school students many of whom have a multitude of physical and cognitive issues and I can tell you, they are grateful for their life.Unless a child is to be born with afflictions that would have left them completely in pain and suffering for their whole life without the ability to leave a hospital bed and interact with others- There is an entire spectrum of needs that are outweighed by the unborn personality and manifestation of you and your partner's DNA that is worth experiencing. Even the most challenged students at my school, have many things they find joy in, have relationships with others, love and experience the world. They may have a shorter life span, but sometimes, I look at my students and I think, what if their parents had chosen to terminate? The world would be a worse place with out them. It is a tough tough decision, but even knowing how difficult it is to have a child with severe special needs, I believe none of the parents of my students regret the decision they made. Please do not take this the wrong way, I understand that every one's decision is completely personal and that every situation is unique, I am sharing the view point for someone who is faced with a child to be born with special needs and is unsure if that is a life worth living-

Aug. 20 2012 08:30 AM

Thank you, thank you, for sharing your story in a public venue, for speaking out with eloquence and courage. You honor yourself and all women who have grieved a heartbreaking termination for medical reasons.

A devastating prenatal diagnosis can happen to ANYONE, of any age, background, or health history; even to mothers who never, ever thought they would consider ending a pregnancy for any reason, at any time.

Until the shocking news hits--the phone call that brings you to your knees, screaming; the second trimester ultrasound that confirms your beloved baby cannot live outside the womb or will a shortened life of pain, suffering, confusion, terrifying vulnerability--you do not, cannot, know how your ferocious mother bear instinct will guide you.

Parents alone are singularly invested, mind-body-soul, in the pregnancy and the future of their children. What is most compassionate, wise and protective can be determined only by the individual parents whose love is unfathomable, immediate, concrete and forever.

The state, talk radio, bloggers, the church, my neighbors, siblings, parents--none has a place in the private medical decision I make. That I made for my tiny fetal baby last year. Whatever concerns that are bandied about and debated by pontificates and politicians are abstract,theoretical, and academic.

I am the ***mother*** and the pregnant woman. I alone am qualified to define what is right for my body and my baby. I alone love my fetal child with a fierceness that is unrelenting, limitless.

Disability rights...I am a disabled woman myself with a progessive, unpredictable condition.

Quality of life and the meaning of suffering; acceptable limits of pain and vulnerabilty for my child...? Only individual parents calling upon their unique experiences and beliefs are qualified to grapple with these tormenting questions and decide, define, what is best. Not right or wrong, ultimately--those words are empty, weightless here--but best.

What I would want for myself: Peace. This is what I chose for my tiny fetus. I released her, my daughter, my little cloud. She is free, and in that I stand, heart-rent, grateful and strong.


Aug. 17 2012 05:46 PM
Meghan from MA

"I sympathize with both sides BUT do ask yourself, who will be paying for the care of these severely disabled individuals? That's right, the state will. That is, us the tax payers. And as such we do have the right to have a certain input upon the decision of whether of not severely disabled babies should be brought into existence. Such medical care could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly, and shifting such costs unto the taxpayer is, to say the least, irresponsible."

No, you do NOT have the right to ANY kind of input as far as that as concerned. From a truly pro-choice standpoint, carrying to term is as much of a valid decision as terminating. If my baby were diagnosed with Down Syndrome or any other anomaly, I'd have as much right to "burden the tax-payer" as you do not to. (And, of course, such people pay taxes, too, so to suggest that the state should be able to coerce a woman into terminating because of a cost-benefit analysis is ludicrous in addition to being flat out eugenics.)

Aug. 17 2012 01:26 PM
ann cahill from high falls, ny

I was raised as a fervent Catholic and was a staunch opponent of abortion until a classmate in the Catholic women's college I attended in 1961 was murdered by the pharmacist who botched her abortion. The details of this murder are too gruesome to share. Since, I have been a strong supporter of women's reproductive rights and have been able to question many of my beliefs, take in new experiences and information, and alter my thinking. I am the mother of three much desired children but had it not been for Planned Parenthood, it is likely I would be the mother of more, maybe more than I could have yearned for and cared for. If a candidate equivocates on this issue, I will not vote for him.

Aug. 17 2012 11:13 AM
Elizabeth from Texas

Thank you so much for writing this! No one can truly understand this unless they have walked in your shoes. I took this sad walk and terminated my pregnancy at 13 weeks after a well-thought out decision with my husband that started years before we were even married about this very subject. I cannot consciously bring a child into this life that I knowingly will face an unknown amount of surgeries and medical care, always need to be attended to for their entire life--never knowing any true sense of independence always relying on the kindness and trust worthiness of strangers, being taken advantage of for being cognitively challenged, and being cared for in an unknown way by strangers after my death. My conscience will NOT allow be to do this merely to having a potentially beating heart child.

We can never predict what happens in life to our little one, but I know I want to at the very least give my child a fighting chance at this thing called life ... life that can be cruel to people who don't have severe mental challenges with physical limitations.

My values are what formed my decision to interrupt my pregnancy ... I value quality of life ... and as my offspring come from my husband and me, I can't imagine a little one's values would fall far from the tree.

I thank politicians and legislators that fight for women's rights and those medical professionals that stand up for this very issue of freedom ... of personal choice. I thank God that I live in a country where the safety of a woman is considered ... and maybe one day I'll have the safety to be able to talk about this subject openly, and not merely in a comment section.

Aug. 17 2012 10:39 AM

Thank you for being so brave to share your story. It's an important reminder that getting a devastating prenatal diagnosis is a reality and that there are women who seek this critical medical care out of love and compassion for their babies (as is evident that you did from your article). I have always been pro-choice too, and like you never in a million years thought I would exercise that choice. But I did when I received the diagnosis of the severe brain malformations with my baby for the same reasons you did. I will always carry that sadness with me. However, I do feel grateful that I had access to safe, quality, non-judgmental medical care that helped me through that difficult time,

Aug. 16 2012 11:39 PM

Thank you for your bravery in writing this. I would do the same thing in your situation, but I know it must have been one of the hardest decisions you've ever made. However, every woman has a right to decide what to do with her body, for health and family planning reasons. Thousands of women terminate healthy pregnancies every day. And they have the right to do that too. Thank you again for sharing your story.

Aug. 16 2012 10:22 PM
Ralph from Brooklyn

This is a great post. Thank you for having the courage to speak out. There need to be more voices out there from women that have actually had to go through an experience like this. No one can know what they would do in a situation like this until they have to face such a heartbreaking decision.

Aug. 16 2012 10:05 PM

I have also been in the same terrible situation. I just want to thank you for giving those of us who have been there a strong voice. I never thought I would find myself in a position where I would need those rights, but I have always strongly believed that we should have the option available. I shudder to think of a time when anyone could be forced to bring an extremely ill child into this world against their will.

Aug. 16 2012 09:28 PM

Well written. Thank your for sharing your story. Making the decision to end or continue with a wanted pregnancy with a terrible diagnosis is a personal decision. The fact that the people trying to make these decisions for us have never been in our shoes is upsetting.

Aug. 16 2012 09:09 PM
Christie from Virginia

Many thanks for having the courage to speak up about your choice. So many women suffer in silence, and that only compounds their grief and delays their healing. It's so true that one never truly knows what one would do unless faced with a situation themselves. I certainly never thought that I--at the age of 32, married, a stay-at-home mom, and financially comfortable--would ever need to have an abortion. But when the doctor told me that my baby was very sick and likely wouldn't live long after birth, I instinctually felt in my heart and soul that abortion was to be MY choice for MY situation. It was right for MY family. And each family should have the freedom to decide what is best for THEIR family, without interference from politicians or anti-choice interest groups. Trust women.

Aug. 16 2012 08:53 PM
Julia from New York

I am so so sorry for this horrible experience you had to go thru. I do not wish that upon anybody.
Wanted to bring one more issue to the table here: the cost of medical care. I understand that women, regardless of which side of the issue they stand, want either to avoid being bullied by the state into a "selective" abortion, or have the state prohibit any sort of such abortion completely or partially. I sympathize with both sides BUT do ask yourself, who will be paying for the care of these severely disabled individuals? That's right, the state will. That is, us the tax payers. And as such we do have the right to have a certain input upon the decision of whether of not severely disabled babies should be brought into existence. Such medical care could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly, and shifting such costs unto the taxpayer is, to say the least, irresponsible.

Aug. 16 2012 07:49 PM
Julie B from Maryland

I've had to live my Pro-Choice views as well. You are right: it's not a decision you can really make until you are in the position to do so--and it's really not a situation that anyone WANTS to have.

In terms of looking at disability like race, gender, class--which is societally informed, that is a valid viewpoint. For most people who terminate due to medical reasons, the prognosis tends to be poor, if the baby can even survive to term. So we are not talking about vanity--but truly of quality of life. Personally, the diagnosis we received gave us the prognosis of two-month old's development--and this was our best case scenario. My other thought is that you cannot take away this choice without adding cultural supports for those that are then forced/choose to carry to term. Right now, our country lacks many of these.

Aug. 16 2012 05:49 PM
Greta from IL

Thank you so much for sharing your story and my heart aches for your loss and those so many suffer through in silence.

Aug. 16 2012 04:42 PM
Jane H. from California

Thank you so much for your raising your voice on this issue.
I also made the heart breaking choice to have a late term abortion for a much-wanted pregnancy because my baby had several fatal defects. It was the worst day of my life. But I believe whole-heartedly that carrying my baby to term and allowing her to suffer or experience the pain and struggle for breath with severely underdeveloped lungs and heart defects, only to die, would have been much, much worse.

I am also grateful to live in a country where I was able to make this choice for my family. I miss my baby every single day, but I do not doubt that the one parenting decision - of the thousands I would have loved to make - though the single hardest decision was also the most loving and best decision I could make.
And to take that away... It's quite simply terrifying. Terrifying that that our mostly male and mostly-done-with family-building congress has this level of control over these kinds of decisions.

And I think it's terrifically unfair that women in my situation are forced to walk through picket lines and endure the judgement and hatred of anti-choice protestors, to receive medical care.

Aug. 16 2012 04:38 PM
Meghan from MA

"Unfortunately, anti-choice activists and right-wing politicians hack away at that right every day.They believe it’s better to carry sick, severely cognitively impaired and fatally ill children into this world to suffer, that parents must accept it as “god’s will” to endure agonizing years of watching their children struggle through surgeries and therapies and slow death."

While I sympathize with the writer's pain, I feel it's worth noting that the above-referenced quote gives a myopic portrayal of perspectives on abortion for fetal anomaly. The perspectives of people with disabilities who support abortion rights but oppose the use of abortion to prevent the births of people like us also can and do influence the debate over such abortions. While many of us feel that any abortion decision should be the purview of the woman undergoing the procedure, we also feel that disability, like race, gender and class, is subject to social influences. We do not necessarily want to be cured or believe that our lives are defined by suffering, and believe that parents who terminate fetuses with these conditions are often influenced by widespread social antipathy toward disabilities and those who live with them. To define opposition to disability-selective abortion as something that exists only on the political right is to deny our existence and that of our perspective. I encourage people interested in this issue to read Marsha Saxton's excellent essay, "Disability Rights and Selective Abortion," which can be read here:

Aug. 16 2012 04:14 PM
LS from NC

I am so sorry that you cannot share your experience with your family. That must be so hard, I cannot imagine.
Thank you for writing this article. It is so true-- we cannot know what we would do unless faced with the decision. So all those folks out there who are campaigning to end abortion rights-- you don't even know. It is so easy to say it's a bad thing, but you probably haven't gotten the worst news from a doctor like that. I have, and it's life changing.

Aug. 16 2012 03:41 PM
lilygirl from MN, USA

Thank you for speaking up! I've been in your shoes and made the same heart wrenching decision. I myself have always been pro-choice also, but going through this terrible reality made me realize even more so that women's reproductive rights must be protected. The conservative agenda is trying to strip these rights, and it makes my stomach turn to think a woman could be forced to carry to term against her will, or until the baby passes which could pose a threat to the woman. When they think abortion, it's a young, uneducated, irresponible woman that doesn't want her baby. That is so far from the truth. It's my right to decide what I do with my body, and only I am capable of deciding what is right for me, my baby, and my family....not a politician.

Aug. 16 2012 02:59 PM

Thank you for writing this. It's incredibly courageous of you to share this personal experience with the public, and it has inspired me to be more pro-active in defending my reproductive rights.

Aug. 16 2012 12:26 PM

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