In Louisiana, where Barrett was born and where I live now, these kinds of restrictions could have killed me.
Like Barrett, I’m a mom, and like Barrett, I’ve been pregnant five times, although I have only two living children. A few months ago, I was thrilled to see the heartbeat of what I hoped would be my third living child — what we in the miscarriage and infertility world call a “take-home baby.” But it wasn’t. My obstetrician broke the news that the baby wasn’t growing as expected. Its heartbeat was well below viability. There was no way it could survive. I returned the next week, and again the next. The baby never grew arms or legs. My placenta didn’t develop correctly. A healthy heartbeat would have been about 150 beats per minute; my baby’s was 54. “Hold your breath,” the ultrasound tech said gently. “Try not to move.” I choked back my tears. With each week that passed, the chances of complications rose. The further along you are when you miscarry, the more difficult, painful and invasive the process becomes. I know this well; my second miscarriage, at 10 weeks, had involved surgery, scar tissue and complications with the subsequent birth of my daughter. My third would be worse.
In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland after being denied an abortion. Like mine, her baby had no chance of survival. But Irish law forbade Halappanavar from receiving an abortion, and the complications of her miscarriage led to her death from sepsis. Halappanavar — whose story galvanized Ireland’s legalization of abortion — haunted me as I watched my baby slowly die. Louisiana legislation restricting abortion access has led to the closing of all but three abortion clinics in the state. These statutes are called TRAP laws: targeted restrictions on abortion providers.
TRAP laws can regulate abortion providers by things such as width of the building’s corridors or the number of parking spaces it has outside.
In Louisiana, no major obstetrics and gynecology group performs abortion services. Because my baby’s heartbeat still flickered weakly, my obstetrician could do nothing to help hasten my miscarriage. She squeezed my hand as she gave me a yellow Post-it with the information of the closest clinic. On it she wrote, “You’ll get through this.” What I learned when I called the clinic was the demand for abortions in Louisiana far exceeds the number of providers who can help. It would be nearly three weeks before they could see me; there would be no way for me to avoid a surgical procedure at that gestational age. A week later, I crossed three states to end my pregnancy in Florida on the very last day they could provide a medical abortion. I walked through a small crowd of protesters to enter the clinic. One sign read: “Welcome to hell.” Inside the clinic were dozens of women, packed into the waiting room. An employee told me that most of the clinic’s patients come from Louisiana and Mississippi. Barrett has claimed Roe v. Wade is unlikely to be overturned. Yet she has also stated that the Supreme Court may allow states to further limit abortion access within their boundaries. These limitations inevitably lead to abortions that are performed later in pregnancy, that have increased risks and that extend the agony of a miscarriage like mine.
When I had an ultrasound at the clinic in Florida, it showed my baby’s heartbeat had finally stopped. Because I was so far along, the doctor cautioned me that the medication to pass the fetal tissue might not work. It didn’t. More than two weeks later, I began to hemorrhage. My husband stayed home with our young children while I drove myself to the ER, blood pooling on the thick towel I sat on and pouring down my legs as I walked through the hospital’s glass doors. My obstetrician, on call in labor and delivery, came down to provide my emergency care herself.
Just this year, the Supreme Court narrowly struck down Louisiana’s most recent TRAP law. With a court dominated by justices like Barrett, however, there is little chance these laws will be defeated in the future. In a state with one of the highest family poverty rates in the country, many women won’t be able to travel great distances to receive safe abortion care.
Like me, the majority of women seeking abortions — about 75 percent — are already moms. When I wanted to end my nonviable fifth pregnancy, I wanted to do so safely and quickly. I wanted to close a heartbreaking chapter in my life. I wanted to stay alive for my two daughters. Is this truly the decision that Barrett has called “always immoral?”