In the last two years, nine states have attempted to pass laws banning abortion at 20 weeks. Arizona and Georgia have pending court cases on their constitutionality. Last year the National Right to Life Committee designated a 20 week abortion ban in the District of Columbia as their “top legislative priority.”
This has become incredibly personal to me, as I am now, as of tomorrow, a woman 20 weeks pregnant who lives in the District of Columbia. I’m thrilled to be pregnant. And I’m terrified of what these bans can do.
The overwhelming number of abortions — 98.5 percent — occur before the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Why would someone have a later abortion? Well, every story is going to be different and that’s why these uncompromising bans don’t work.
The joy I found today in looking at my ultrasound is simply not transferrable to every other pregnancy, nor should the law reflect an assumption that is so.
Why would a woman have an abortion after 20 weeks?
Sometimes a woman receiving that 20 week ultrasound is startled to hear: “Something appears to be wrong with the brain,” or “The heart isn’t working,” or another fetal abnormality that is incompatible with a quality of life she believes best to provide for a child of her own. Why should a bureaucrat be given power to second-guess her (or me or you)?
Other times a woman learns that she is struggling with a serious medical condition, such as cancer, and continuing the pregnancy means delaying chemotherapy or other potentially life-extending treatment. In this incredibly personal situation, why should the state provide more guidance to her (or me or you) than her (or my or your) family?
Still other times a woman has already lost or is losing a pregnancy, and abortion will complete the miscarriage. Sometimes this itself will allow that woman to live. This is what could have happened if Savita Hallapanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying in Ireland, had not been denied a life-saving abortion she requested because, as she was told shortly before she died in the hospital, “It’s a Catholic country.” Why should any religion or state express its values in forcing her (or me or you) to give birth or die?
Another reason for seeking a later abortion: How about being flat broke? A grueling patchwork of federal and state abortion restrictions including mandatory waiting periods, regulations designed to close local clinics, sex discrimination in the form of denying private and/or state insurance coverage for reproductive health care, parental notification laws and much more have made it harder for a woman without much power who wishes to terminate her pregnancy to have the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Why should any legislator punish her (or me or you) for finally being able to sell her (or my or your) car to pay for the abortion desired weeks before, only to say, we’re not following the law of the land as laid out by the United States Supreme Court, we’re just going to say its too late for you?
The bottom line is that we simply do not know.
We have no standing to demand an answer.
We have an obligation to ensure that antiquated sexism, with men making the laws and women paying the price, doesn’t force pregnant women to die.
The bottom line is the ethical bankruptcy — and physical danger — of forcing beliefs on women that violate their fundamental right to self determination.
As a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant as of tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I got this covered. I do not see the National Right to Life Committee or Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced the failed DC 20 Week Abortion Ban last session, or the greater “pro-life” [forced birth] community as a source of support during my pregnancy. In fact I look to them with fear of what they might force upon me, and other women like me, or you.
For what it’s worth, I found out in my ultrasound today that I will have a daughter. Let’s just say that I have never felt more fiercely determined to stop the misguided thinking that leads others to constrain her future (or mine or yours).