What’s the Message on Miscarriage and Abortion…Suffer in Silence or Be Shamed?

Robin Marty

In 140 characters, Penelope Trunk started a controversy around how women should react to a miscarriage. Is it best to suffer in silence? Are you ever allowed to be grateful? And above all, are you EVER allowed to discuss abortion?

This weekend I learned of the latest social media scandal.  Penelope Trunk, a very reflective and sometimes controversial social media personality, sent a tweet stating "I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin."

In 140 characters Trunk started a controversy of how a woman should react to a miscarriage. Is it best to suffer in silence?  Are you ever allowed to be grateful?  And above all, are you EVER allowed to discuss abortion?

Recently I experienced my own miscarriage, which I also openly discussed online. After discovering during a routine appointment that the fetus had died weeks earlier, I was left then to decide how I wanted to approach the failed pregnancy, what interventions I preferred to take, and most of all, how I would deal with that emotionally.  My twitter reaction also included anger at the health system.  But unlike Trunk, I didn’t receive a backlash of scorn for being public.  Instead, I received, both via twitter and facebook, an outpouring of sympathy.

There’s two real differences between her situation and mine, of course.  One, Trunk has tens of thousands of followers.  What these people have forgotten is that twitter is an opt-in messaging system.  If you do not like the information you receive from her, you have the ability to cancel anytime by unfollowing. 

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But instead, people chose to contact her and tell her what a horrible person she was.  Why?

Because, unlike me, she spoke directly about abortion.  For her, her miscarriage was a relief because she did not want to have another child.  She had explored her options and realized how long it would take for her to terminate her pregnancy under the rules of her state, and they were extensive and time consuming.  With a three week wait, even should she still be in her first trimester, the procedure would have become more invasive as well, as the means and recovery time change as you progress in your pregnancy.  She not only had the audacity to express her relief, but also point out how onerous the medical system for terminating a pregnancy had become, even though it was still a legal process.

Here is my confession:  during my wait, I would have been utterly grateful for a natural miscarriage as well.  A natural miscarriage would have saved me surgery and what I am realizing now is a much longer recovery process.  It would have allowed me to proceed without medical intervention, something that was stressful and extraordinarily expensive even with my medical insurance.  And it would have saved me the mental anguish of waiting to see what will happen next, and knowing that I was carrying a dead fetus inside of me, unable to do anything on my own to make that end.

A missed miscarriage has a lot of similarities to abortion.  Physically, as I have mentioned before, the process for ending the failed pregnancy is the same as for terminating a live birth.  But emotionally, they can also be quite similar.  From the moment I learned that we had lost the baby, all I could think about was the dead fetus inside of me, and how desperately I needed to have it out.  I was repulsed, literally sickened physically, by what I felt was this dead thing inside of me that my body couldn’t figure out how to reject.  I had this sense of panic, feeling utterly trapped until a doctor could arrange to remove it for me and let me move forward with my life.

I have never experienced an unwanted pregnancy, but I imagine that many of those emotions are the same.

Like Trunk, I began to receive emails from irate readers once I made that additional step to compare miscarriages and abortion in a previous column.  When I was simply experiencing a miscarriage, I was an innocent victim in people’s eyes, deserving their support.  Most continued to support me afterward as well.  But once I used my story to draw parallels to reproductive health issues, and try to talk more about the potential inadequacies in women’s health care, that’s when the critics began to voice their complaints. 

I received emails from people telling me I should be ashamed for trying to use my lost child as a political tool, or that with my background as a pro-choice activist they assume I always wanted to experience an abortion and finally got my chance.  Of course, they didn’t come from anyone I knew.  But they obviously felt that they knew me enough to judge my reaction to my loss and my subsequent actions.

Every woman experiences a miscarriage in her own way.  There will be anger, relief, sadness, frustration and an overwhelming batch of emotions with no real name.  But the idea that we can be open about our losses, but not about the real life medical and societal impact lessons we learn from the event is the true frustration for me.   We don’t just have to suffer in silence anymore, we can take action as well.

News Abortion

West Virginia Governor Vetoes GOP’s Ban on Common Abortion Procedure (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

Republican supporters of the anti-choice bill are preparing to hold a vote to override the governor’s veto, which could come as early as Thursday.

UPDATE, March 11, 10:25 a.m.: West Virginia’s GOP-majority legislature voted Thursday to override the governor’s veto. The new law banning the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure will take effect in 90 days.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would criminalize a medical procedure often used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.

SB 10, sponsored by state Sen. Dave Sypolt (R-Preston), would prohibit someone from performing or attempting to perform a dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risk to the pregnant person.

The D and E procedure is commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. During the procedure, a physician dilates the patient’s cervix and removes the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.

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“I am advised this bill is overbroad and unduly burdens a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to privacy,” Tomblin said in a statement. “Among the bill’s prohibitions is a leading pre-viability medical procedure [D and E] that, for reasons of patient safety, is preferred by physicians.”

Under the GOP-backed bill, a physician who violates the anti-choice law would be guilty of a felony and may be fined $10,000 and imprisoned for up to two years. The physician may also face injunction and civil damages.

Republican legislators in several states have pushed legislation to ban the D and E procedure over the past year. The bills have been copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

Federal courts have blocked similar measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE, a reproductive health advocacy organization, praised Tomblin for vetoing the bill. She said in a statement that the legislation would take away a pregnant person’s ability to make personal medical decisions in consultation with their health-care provider and prohibit physicians from providing the safest possible care.

“These decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her provider, not by legislators. Politicians shouldn’t play doctor,” Pomponio said. “We are heartened by Gov. Tomblin’s decision to place his trust in the women of West Virginia and the health-care community.”

Republican supporters of the bill are preparing to hold a vote to override the governor’s veto. West Virginia State Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) told the Gazette-Mail that an override vote could come as early as Thursday.

“I believe Senate Bill 10 strikes the right balance between the rights of physicians to practice medicine, a woman’s right to privacy and the lives of unborn children,” Cole said. “The Senate will vote to override this veto without delay.”

Lawmakers can override the governor’s veto with a simple majority vote of the members of both legislative chambers. They have until Saturday at midnight before the legislature adjourns. Republicans hold a two-seat edge in the state senate, along with a 64-36 advantage in the house. 

West Virginia’s GOP-majority legislature voted last year to override Tomblin’s veto of an unconstitutional ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which was the the first time a governor’s veto has been overridden in West Virginia since 1987.

Commentary Race

Moving Forward: A Joint Statement From Cecile Richards and Monica Simpson

Monica Simpson & Cecile Richards

"The people we serve need us to change our approach in order to secure reproductive health, rights, and most importantly justice," say Simpson and Richards. "We jointly commit to being in better service to those goals and standing in community together."

Editor’s note: The following statement was submitted to Rewire by Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in response to the ongoing conversations about Planned Parenthood’s recognition of the work of reproductive justice leaders and organizations.

This summer, we found ourselves in a much needed, public conversation about the limitations of the pro-choice label, the important work of reproductive justice organizations, and the ways Planned Parenthood has fallen short in recognizing the contributions and framework of the reproductive justice movement. All of this led us to step back and think about how we could better work together.
A few weeks ago, we joined leaders from several reproductive justice organizations in Washington, D.C., and had a positive meeting about our desire to work more closely together to improve the lives of the communities we serve and advocate for daily.​ It was an honest conversation about some of the challenges in our working relationship, but more importantly, we agreed to an ongoing conversation and next steps to move our collective work forward.
We left our meeting hopeful and committed to building a stronger partnership, working together as we explore how an intentional and mutually beneficial relationship translates into action. The people we serve need us to change our approach in order to secure reproductive health, rights, and most importantly justice. We jointly commit to being in better service to those goals and standing in community together.

Monica Raye Simpson is the executive director of SisterSong, the National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.