I ended my pregnancy when I was 20 weeks and three days pregnant. I was 32 years old, happily married and overjoyed when I felt my baby kick for the first time. I didn’t want to have an abortion. But my husband and I made the choice after finding out our baby boy was too sick to live outside my womb.
At every doctor appointment that my husband and I had gone to in my first trimester and early second, we were told our baby looked healthy. But at 19 weeks and one day, we had our scheduled anatomy scan. Halfway through the procedure, I asked our ultrasound technician if everything looked normal. Before I knew what was happening, a doctor told us that our boy had a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH).
CDH is a rare condition, occurring in only about 1 in 2,500 babies. The condition causes the baby’s diaphragm to not fully form across the abdomen. As a result, the organs that are supposed to remain in the lower abdomen — like the liver, intestines, stomach and spleen — float into the chest cavity and prevent the lungs from developing normally. In many severe cases of the condition, the baby won’t be able to survive outside the womb. While CDH can be a genetic condition, it wasn’t in our case. It couldn’t have been prevented. We could not have discovered the condition any earlier in our pregnancy.
We had an appointment for further diagnosis a few days later. At the end of our appointment, we got the worst news possible. Essentially, our baby’s right lung had failed to develop, and the left lung was significantly underdeveloped. In addition to being intubated immediately after birth, our baby would also go on ECMO, a treatment to provide blood through an artificial lung. We would not be able to hold him. I would not be able to breastfeed. He would be immediately taken away from us to go into the NICU. We’d then have to wait for the answer of whether our boy could ever be strong enough to undergo surgery. Even if he was, he still might not survive or recover.
If I had been forced to carry my baby to term, my husband and I would have to endure watching my belly grow, feeling our baby kick, receiving congratulations from friends and strangers and spending four months getting ready to watch our infant son die.
So, we ended the pregnancy when I was 20 weeks and three days pregnant.
As a woman who ended her wanted pregnancy, I know firsthand that the sacrifice and decision I made to protect my unborn child from real pain is excruciating. Parents do not want their children to ever have to suffer.
But the House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on bill H.R. 36 — or the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” — that would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization under the guise that the purpose of the bill is to protect the baby from pain. While several states have passed their own 20-week bans, this legislation could become the first federal ban should it pass the House and Senate and be signed into law. (Similar legislation passed the House but was rejected by the Senate in 2015).
Despite what the bill’s supporters argue, there is no scientific proof that babies at 20 week gestation feel pain. As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has noted, research shows that fetuses don’t develop the capacity to distinguish between touch and painful touch until the third trimester.
Further, the bill does not take into account women like me, who don’t find out about a baby’s medical diagnosis until 20 weeks. Nor does it take into account women who are unable to get an abortion as soon as they have made their decision: a myriad of obstacles can stand in their way, including not being able to afford the procedure, a dearth of doctors who can provide abortion near her or additional barriers put in place by politicians, including waiting periods and counseling.
Politicians are not medical professionals, and this law flies in the face of sound medical practices. This legislation would deprive women of the agency to make their own decisions with the advice of a health care professional they trust. That will endanger women’s lives and force medical providers to violate their professional principles by withholding vital care.
Lawmakers should strike down this bill and respect women’s right to make the best decisions for themselves at every stage of their pregnancy. Please call your representative and ask them to vote no on the 20-week abortion ban.
Alexis Miller is an attorney and from Bethesda, Maryland.
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