Commentary Human Rights

Did I Kill My Baby Boy? And If I Had Been in Mississippi, Would I Be Facing Prison?

Lorraine Berry

If I had lived in Mississippi in 1996, would I have dared go to the hospital when I suffered a miscarriage? And if I had, would I be facing prison?

See all our coverage on Mississippi Initiative 26 here.

In 1996, I suffered a second-trimester spontaneous abortion, (miscarriage). It ranks as one of the worst experiences of my life, losing a fetus that was hoped for, longed for, and for whom a future had been imagined.

Next week, Mississippi votes on a “personhood” amendment that would define personhood as occurring when the egg is fertilized (not implanted, prior to this, fertilization).

If I had been experiencing the pains and bleeding that I knew signaled the end of my pregnancy, would I have gone to that hospital emergency room? If I hadn’t gone, and had passed that fetus alone, would I have known that I had not entirely expelled the contents of my uterus and was now vulnerable to a deadly infection? Would I have died from fear of being prosecuted for losing my baby?

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Friday morning. June 7, 1996, I was attending a conference at a university. I ate some breakfast, and went downstairs. I was having pain in my back and in my groin. I felt the familiar tingle of fear go up my backbone. My hands began to shake. I went into the bathroom, and I felt something pass out of me. I looked at it in the toilet. An unrecognizable blob of something that looked like something an old man would hock out of his lungs floated in the water.  But there was no blood. Still, I knew something was wrong.

I approached the student union information booth. A bored, young woman stood behind the desk, and calmly, I told her I thought I might be having a miscarriage and I thought I needed some help. Her compassion shown through immediately: She called 911. And she escorted me over to a couch, made me lie down.

First, the firefighters arrived. They seemed weighed down in their heavy rubber boots, their fireproof pants with the suspenders that crossed over navy blue shirts. One of them asked me how I felt. When I told him what had happened, that something I thought “the size of a golf ball” had come out of me, he said, “A golf ball?” And then he said, “I don’t think that’s a miscarriage. I think, given how far along you are, it would have been bigger.” I suddenly felt embarrassed, like I had brought everyone out for nothing. I was relieved, yes, because maybe it meant that this thing wasn’t happening to me, but the casual dismissal of my experience left me as flustered as someone caught in a lie.

Two EMTs showed up. I explained to them that I thought I might be having a miscarriage. Explained what I was feeling. I was scared, and I’m sure my fear showed in everything about me. They loaded me onto a gurney, put me in the back of an ambulance, and drove me to the university hospital. I chatted with the EMT who rode in the back of the ambulance. He monitored my blood pressure, my heart rate. He and I talked about why I was in Chapel Hill. It could have been a conversation in a grocery store line, the kind of chat provoked by the need to kill time while you wait for the cashier to get a price check on frozen pizza.

I was examined by a nurse, and then the ER doctor. He checked me for bleeding, and there was none. But, in the time it took for the OB-GYN resident to come to the ER, there was bleeding. Crimson spots. Crimson, like death. I called the nurse back into the room, convinced that all was at an end. “It’s not too much blood, honey,” she said, and she tut-tutted over me as if I was one of her grandchildren who had come to her with a skinned knee.

The doctor came back into the room. He passed the ultrasound wand over my stomach. My baby was in there. “See?” He pointed him out. “Everything looks fine. It’s just a little spotting.”

But the baby’s heartbeat was almost 190. And some voice inside me told me that wasn’t right. But the doctor was reassuring. “I think you’re going to be just fine,” he said. “I think you have about a 90 percent chance of carrying this baby to term. I’m going to release you. Go back to the dorm room. Put your feet up. You’ll be fine.”

I left the hospital. The conference staff had sent a car over to get me, and I happily reassured the worried staffer that I was fine. False alarm. Sorry to have gotten everybody so concerned.

He dropped me at the entrance to the central conference area. I remember I was wearing a pale pink dress. It was loose, and I had purchased it just the week before to serve as a maternity dress that I could wear for the conference. At one pm, an acquaintance of mine was giving a paper in a panel. The room was crowded, and I managed to nab a chair right near the door.

The room filled. There were people sitting on the floor. It was crowded, and I looked around, was thrilled to recognize another rockstar professor whose books had changed my whole way of looking at things. I was thinking about some way that I might be able to talk to her after the session, but I brought my mind back to the panel, which was just about to be introduced. I settled onto the hard wooden chair and then something happened. Something let go inside of me, and I felt a flood into my underpants.

I just jumped up, said, “Oh my God,” and ran from the room. I heard someone sigh behind me, as if I had greatly inconvenienced them, and once again, I felt embarrassed. The women’s restroom was next door. I went in there. It was empty, the tile white, the mirrors everywhere. I went into a stall. I pulled down my underpants and sat down. I hurt. My back hurt. My pelvis hurt. And something passed through me. Something big, like a softball. I heard the plop as it hit the water in the bowl.

I didn’t want to look. I couldn’t look. If I looked, my life was going to end. I stopped thinking. I flushed the toilet without looking behind me. I pulled up my pants. Calm overtook me; Eirene, or perhaps it was Morpheus, laid their hands on me, and I became a sleepwalker. But I was a sleepwalker in the midst of a troubling dream; still, the blank was winning.

I washed my hands. I could feel fluid pouring down onto my legs. I didn’t want to look. I knew that my dress was going to be covered soon. I didn’t want to look. I grabbed my briefcase and walked down a long staircase, into the conference organizers’ room. I walked up to the first person I saw behind a table. “Excuse me,” I said. “I seem to be hemorrhaging. I think I need some help.”

I had to repeat myself. I don’t think she believed me the first time. Someone helped me over to a couch. I lay down. I began to cry. Now that I was not alone, I could allow myself a moment to fall apart. Even still, they were not the great wails of the banshee; my sobs were quiet, reserved, controlled. Tears dripped into my hair, as my uterus emptied out onto my legs. Someone stroked my hair, shushed me. I told them I thought I was bleeding all over the couch. “Do you want me to look?” she said. I nodded. She looked. “It doesn’t look like blood,” she said.

The EMTs arrived. It was the same EMTs from the morning. “Oh God,” I cried to the young one. “I think I lost my baby.”

“Where were you?” he asked.

“In the bathroom. Oh God, I think I flushed my baby down the toilet.” I began to sob. How could someone flush her baby down a toilet? My stomach scrambled; it reminded me of the clatter of a dog’s paws on a wooden floor when the dog is panicked. Panic fought with the need for distance, and the wave of anxiety passed.

He started an IV. I was out of it, alone in a world of pain where my pelvis ached and my brain was actively closing off anything that looked like knowledge of loss. His partner came over, whispered something in his ear.

Again, they loaded me on the gurney. This time, the lights were flashing. I was in shock. I needed attention. We arrived at the ER. The same nurse. She came to me, and I remember saying to her “The baby’s gone.” And she stroked my hair, gave me a hug. I looked up, and the same ER doctor from just a few hours ago was there, too.

Someone from the conference, I never knew her name, had ridden with me in the ambulance. She kept holding my hand. I needed someone to call my husband. He was at work in Syracuse. He needed to know what I had done. I had killed my baby. I knew that. Even as I was transferred from the gurney to an ER cot, that thought imprinted itself on my brain. I had killed my baby. And now I had to pay a price.  Someone in the ER called him. They told me that he had said he would be on the next flight he could get out on. I held onto the hand of a woman I didn’t know.

No one had confirmed that I had lost the baby at this point. I was being treated, but no one had yet told me that the baby was gone. I had somehow convinced myself in the ambulance that the baby was still there, inside of me. At the same time that I was beating myself up for killing my baby, I still thought that perhaps, as it had been earlier in the day, this was simply a false alarm. A second heartbeat still throbbed within me.

The ER doctor came in. “We have the fetus.” he said.

“I don’t understand,” I said. It turned out that the second EMT had retrieved the fetus from the toilet. I had not flushed it down. Even now, my mind cannot go where this image leads.

I remember when I was a child, our dog had puppies. When the first puppy came, the dog was so startled that she ran away from what had dropped out of her body. I had had the same reaction. Pure instinct. To move away from it. To not see it.

The ER doctor told me I was going to be okay. “My wife lost our baby six weeks ago,” he said. “I know this is hard, but you’ll get through this. I promise.”

A second OB-GYN resident came in. The first one, the one who had promised me my baby would live, obviously didn’t want to face me. It was okay. I forgave him. He had tried to make me feel better. It was a lesson in being a doctor. Don’t promise the things you have no control over. I even said that to the new doctor who was examining me. “Tell him this wasn’t his fault,” I said, or something similar. I absolved him of blame. I knew who had really killed her baby.

“I need to do an ultrasound,” he said. “I’m going to turn the machine away from you, so you don’t see the screen. I know you saw a baby there this morning. I don’t want you to see the empty uterus.”

I was so grateful. Such a kindness. I don’t think I could have borne looking where just a few hours ago, a fetus had lived. As it turned out, there was a mess in there. I needed an emergency D&C. I was given an anesthetic, and something to calm me. But as the doctor placed the speculum inside of me, I began to shake, grow cold. “I’m scared,” I said. The nurse squeezed my hand, and more medicine was added to the drip. I zoned out. I was there but not there. I felt the instruments. I knew what was happening. But I was somewhere else. Something inside of me shut off. Completely.

Without the follow-up care I received at the hospital, I would have died of a massive infection. If I thought that what I had done might be perceived as a crime, would I have gone to the hospital when the pain began? When the fever started? Or would I die, as so many millions of women have died, for lack of concern about women in this world.

Jesus. I want to weep.

Investigations Media

Exclusive: Law Enforcement Calls Daleiden ‘Uncooperative’; Documents Reveal More CMP Lies

Sharona Coutts

“David Daleiden contacted our agency May 21st of 2015 and filed a criminal report against StemExpress here in Placerville,” a spokesperson at the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office told Rewire. “All he was, was a reporting party. He didn’t consult with us and he didn’t cooperate with us. In fact, I’d characterize him as uncooperative.”

See more of our coverage on the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress here.

In late May of last year, David Daleiden was reaching the culmination of a project he had been working on for three years. Over that time, the anti-choice activist had been living a lie of his own creation. He had set up a bogus company, complete with a fake website, and corporate officers whose names were in fact aliases.

He had enlisted half a dozen other anti-choice activists to help him, most notably Sandra Susan Merritt, a 63-year-old resident of San Jose, California, who—using the alias Susan Tennenbaum—posed as the CEO of the bogus company, Biomax Procurement Services.

Together, Daleiden—going by Robert Daoud Sarkis—and Merritt hopscotched the country, traveling from California to Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Texas, and Washington, D.C. They attended conferences for abortion providers and parlayed those attendances—and the trust and credibility they engendered—into visits to abortion clinics, where the pair secretly recorded meetings and site visits and tried to goad their targets into making statements that could be twisted to look like evidence of illegal activities.

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By May 21, Daleiden was nearly ready to bring his elaborate scheme to a head. The next night, he and “Tennenbaum” were scheduled to have dinner with executives from StemExpress, a tissue procurement company based in Northern California. As he had done for virtually every encounter as a Biomax official, Daleiden planned to secretly video record the meeting and then to release doctored versions of that footage to the public.

But this time, Daleiden did something different. On the eve of this particular meeting, he delivered a bundle of so-called evidence of alleged wrongdoing by StemExpress to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, claiming that the company had engaged in a range of crimes including trafficking in human organs and human tissues, and “homicide of babies born alive during the abortion procedure,” according to legal documents obtained by Rewire.

In a deposition taken late last year, Daleiden would claim—in sworn testimony, under penalty of perjury—that the purpose of his meeting with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was “to coordinate [his] investigations going forward on how to bring StemExpress criminal conduct to light.”

Following his lawyer’s advice during that deposition, Daleiden refused to say more about that meeting, or the other authorities he had supposedly “coordinated” with in his spying campaign, but he did heavily imply that the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was just one of the “governmental authorities” that he met with “contemporaneously with the actual undercover operation.”

The notion that law enforcement authorities were actively colluding with Daleiden and his associates in conduct that has resulted in criminal indictments is curious, to say the least.

It’s just one of the loose ends that surrounds Daleiden’s project, a year after he released the first smear video against Planned Parenthood (the organization and some of its individual employees), abortion providers in general, and companies that assist in the procurement of tissue for medical and scientific research. 

Despite the dozen-odd state and federal investigations his project sparked, the multiple civil and criminal cases it sent ricocheting through state and federal courts, and the untold damage it caused to companies, organizations, and individuals targeted by his group, many questions remain about who funded Daleiden, which politicians supported him, and who else was involved in his operation—including the identities of the other operatives that posed as Biomax employees. 

Using freshly obtained legal documents, Rewire has taken a look back at some of the most mysterious aspects of the Daleiden affair, comparing what we have learned since the videos were first released with what remains unknown or unclear.

What emerge are some disturbing claims that have yet to be fully resolved, not least of which is the extent to which members of Congress were aware of—or involved in—planning or executing Daleiden’s campaign.

El Dorado Sheriff’s Office: Daleiden Was “Uncooperative”

When Daleiden met with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, he handed over a report he had prepared containing his “best kind of summary or list of the different California and federal laws that are implicated in the actions between StemExpress and Planned Parenthood,” along with “a few representative examples of the evidence that CMP gathered that indicates probable cause for violations of those laws,” according to a transcript of the deposition he gave on December 30, 2015.

When Rewire contacted the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office about this anecdote, its spokesperson, Jim Byers, said he clearly remembered Daleiden’s visit, but disputed Daleiden’s characterization that his office was “coordinating” with the spying project.

“David Daleiden contacted our agency May 21st of 2015 and filed a criminal report against StemExpress here in Placerville,” Byers said. “All he was, was a reporting party. He didn’t consult with us and he didn’t cooperate with us. In fact, I’d characterize him as uncooperative.”

Byers said that it was unclear to his colleagues what exactly Daleiden wanted them to do with the information he had provided. Flipping through the report while speaking with Rewire, Byers explained: “It just says that he had been conducting a multiyear investigation and was going to go public with it and wanted to make this report to us, but when we asked him to hold off so we could investigate his claims, he went ahead and went public anyway.”

The reason the sheriff’s office asked Daleiden not to go public was because doing so would hamper any investigation they might do into the allegations Daleiden had made. “That’s very common, for us to ask something like that, because then the people we need to talk to aren’t going to talk to us,” Byers said. “He declined to follow our request.”

Regardless, the sheriff’s office spent months investigating Daleiden’s claims; they found no evidence of illegal conduct by StemExpress. As is routine, the sheriff’s office then referred the matter to the El Dorado District Attorney for further review. Dave Stevenson, the spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, told Rewire he was unable to comment on the matter as the investigation is ongoing.

If it seems odd that Daleiden would make a report to law enforcementbut not give them any time to actually investigate the allegations he’d made and actually jeopardize those investigations—that might be because the act of making the report itself was part of Daleiden’s legal strategy.

Daleiden was consulting with the Life Legal Defense Foundation for at least two years prior to releasing his videos, according to published reports. It’s therefore likely that he knew that California creates criminal and civil penalties for people who intentionally make a secret recording of a person in a private meeting without their consent. And indeed, that’s one of the key charges within the lawsuits that have been filed against Daleiden and his co-defendants.

It’s also likely that Daleiden and his advisers knew that there is an exception to that law for people who make a secret recording “for the purpose of obtaining evidence reasonably believed to relate to the commission by another party to the communication of the crime of extortion, kidnapping, bribery, any felony involving violence against the person.”

Throughout the deposition he made on December 30, Daleiden maintained that he believed he was exposing criminal conduct as a justification for his spying activities. Merritt made similar claims in the deposition she gave in the same case, on December 29. In particular, both insist they believed they were recording evidence of murder.

It appears plausible that Daleiden made his report not because he thought the county sheriff’s office would really investigate, but because he anticipated that once he published the illegally taped videos, he would be charged with a crime, and he was simply laying the groundwork to be able to show a court later on that he had filed the criminal report as evidence of his belief that he had uncovered a crime.

Daleiden did not reply to Rewire‘s questions about whether this was in fact his legal strategy. Catherine Short, his lawyer at Life Legal Defense Foundation, did not immediately respond to our emails seeking comment. 

However, for that defense to work, a person must show they had an honest and reasonable belief that they were uncovering a crime. And when it came to the specifics of the supposed crimes they were uncovering, both depositions are striking for the extent to which Daleiden and Merritt refused or were unable to give clear definitions of those offenses.

For instance, both Daleiden and Merritt were reluctant to answer questions about who, if anyone, they believed had actually committed the murder they were supposedly reporting, despite that being one of their key allegations. Both Daleiden and Merritt made vague statements about “doctors” being responsible, or about the “abortion industry” writ large, but when it came to the specifics of how anyone at StemExpress could have been guilty of murder, their answers were evasive. 

In one chilling passage, Daleiden gave stammering and elusive answers to questioning over whether he believed that one of the people who assisted him in his smear campaign—a former StemExpress employee named Holly O’Donnell—had provided him with evidence that she had herself committed murder. Discussing O’Donnell’s account of one incident she related where she claimed to have procured fetal brain tissue, Daleiden initially said he did not believe O’Donnell had murdered that fetus. But under questioning about the overall processes involved in preparing tissue samples, Daleiden’s answers became confused.

After Daleiden noted that O’Donnell went with him to his first meeting with El Dorado law enforcement, the StemExpress lawyer asked: “Did you ever tell Holly that you thought she should be investigated by El Dorado County for her conduct?”

Daleiden never definitely said “no,” but rather, “I think that, you know, the testimony of people who worked at StemExpress is—you know, is relevant to that investigation but I think the ultimate culpability is with the—with the business entity.” He also said he would “put culpability on the doc,” but then he said:

I’m not sure what Holly’s obligations were there. But, you know, but this is—this is highly speculative and, like I said, this is why I think this is really serious information that I—and really serious allegations and actions that—that needed to be brought to law enforcement, which is what I did.

Ultimately, Daleiden’s lawyer summarized his client’s position on O’Donnell’s potential guilt thus: “He explained as best he could that it would be the doctor or it would be [a different StemExpress employee] and it’s ambiguous as to Holly’s role at that point.”

Merritt appears to go further. Towards the end of her deposition, she was asked to clarify whether she believed that any StemExpress employees had committed murder. She described what she believed O’Donnell had done, and then said, “Yes, I believe that to be murder.”

One can only wonder whether O’Donnell was aware that Daleiden considered the possibility—or perhaps, had not considered the possibility—that he was giving law enforcement authorities evidence that she had committed murder, when she accompanied Daleiden to their offices and helped him with his “investigation.”

Rewire’s attempts to contact O’Donnell for her comment on that question were unsuccessful.

Further Evidence That Daleiden and His Associates Are Not Reporters

The very fact that Daleiden claimed—albeit incorrectly—to have been “coordinating” with law enforcement further undermines his dubious assertion that he is an investigative reporter. Reporters would seldom coordinate their efforts with law enforcement, except for rare instances where, by way of example, they might inform law enforcement if they had learned of an imminent risk to a person’s life or to national security.

The deposition also revealed Daleiden’s investigative methods to be far from objective, and in some respects, amateurish.

Under questioning from StemExpress’ attorney, Daleiden explained that much of his knowledge of how tissue or organ transplantation worked was based on “research,” which comprised Googling for journal articles, which he admitted to cherry-picking. He also based most of his understanding of the equipment used in heart transplants on watching videos that the equipment manufacturer had posted on its website and YouTube channel.

He relied disproportionately on the expertise of a scientist whose otherwise impressive credentials are marred by her support for widely debunked theories that vaccines are linked to autism. He used this patchwork knowledge to cobble together flawed theories about how fetal tissue is acquired, and the circumstances in which it could be used for research.

He even made assumptions about what medical professionals meant by the words “case” or “specimen”—he said he believed the people he filmed were referring to a fetus, when in fact those words can also refer to a particular organ or piece of tissue. He said that he didn’t give the subjects of his secret video recordings the opportunity to clarify what they meant by these terms because he didn’t want to blow his cover—or as he put it, he didn’t want to get greedy for information and “get lost in the Cave of Wonders like Aladdin and go like looking for all the other treasures.” He just ran with his own assumptions, something no professional reporter would do. 

And he acknowledged that the reason he embarked on his project was because he had formed an unshakable belief that abortion providers engaged in unlawful trafficking of human organs and tissues, instead of remaining open-minded about the facts and attempting to report against his own biases, as a real reporter would do. None of the multiple investigations into Planned Parenthood have found any evidence that substantiate Daleiden’s allegations. Indeed, Daleiden manipulated his videos to omit passages where the targets of his campaign explicitly told him that profiting from human tissues was unethical and illegal.

Merritt’s deposition is even more astonishing in terms of just how flimsy her claims to be a reporter turn out to be.

Like Daleiden, Merritt is trying to assert that she is a reporter and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

A lawyer for StemExpress asked Merritt, “Do you consider yourself a journalist?”

Merritt answered, “Yes.”

The lawyer then asked, “Have you ever published any articles?”

Merritt answered, “I have not.”

She said she didn’t do any original research. She didn’t do any writing. She didn’t edit. Merritt specifically told the lawyer for StemExpress that her sole role in the ruse orchestrated by Daleiden was to wear a video recorder while playing the part of Susan Tennenbaum, which may explain why Daleiden has frequently referred to his associates as “actors.”

Wearing a camera does not a reporter make.

Which Members of Congress Knew About the Planned Smear Campaign, What Did They Know, and When? 

An especially curious aspect of this saga is how some members of Congress had seen at least one of the smear videos before Daleiden released them to the public. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) both told Roll Call that they had seen the first video about a month before it was published. How and why they came to see the video, and what their role was in helping plan the political response to the tapes, if any, remains unclear.

But the following exchange during Daleiden’s deposition provided a tantalizing tidbit about that mystery.

In his December 30 deposition, Daleiden declined to answer the following questions from StemExpress’ lawyer:

When is the first time you spoke with anybody from, or had any contact with anybody from Congress?

And:

When is the first time you provided any materials to anybody that is a member of Congress?

Daleiden responded: “I don’t think the answer to that question is a matter of public record so I’m going to follow the advice of my counsel.” He declined to respond.

Ostensibly, the reason Daleiden declined is that he believed it was outside the scope of that particular deposition, which was confined to some narrow legal arguments. However, there is an implication in the December 30 deposition that those questions were within the scope of a related case, along with questions about who funded Daleiden’s efforts, and information about the specific role of his board member, the anti-choice extremist and head of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman.

A year has passed since the videos were first released, and a lot of time and taxpayer dollars have been spent as a result of Daleiden’s endeavors. But a year is a short time in the life of a lawsuit, and many cases are still wending their way through state and federal courts. As they do, it is possible that we will learn more about these unresolved questions.

Time will tell whether the pattern Daleiden has established will continue: Instead of exposing wrongdoing by others, the only wrongdoing he has thus far managed to record and expose was his own.

Commentary Abortion

It’s Time for an Abortion Renaissance

Charlotte Taft

We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long, it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

My life’s work has been to transform the conversation about abortion, so I am overcome with joy at the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Abortion providers have been living under a very dark cloud since the 2010 elections, and this ruling represents a new day.

Abortion providers can finally begin to turn our attention from the idiocy and frustration of dealing with legislation whose only intention is to prevent all legal abortion. We can apply our energy and creativity fully to the work we love and the people we serve.

My work has been with independent providers who have always proudly delivered most of the abortion care in our country. It is thrilling that the Court recognized their unique contribution. In his opinion, after taking note of the $26 million facility that Planned Parenthood built in Houston, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:

More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.

This is a critical time to build on the burgeoning recognition that independent clinics are essential and, at their best, create a sanctuary for women. And it’s also a critical time for independent providers as a field to share, learn from, and adopt each other’s best practices while inventing bold new strategies to meet these new times. New generations expect and demand a more open and just society. Access to all kinds of health care for all people, including excellent, affordable, and state-of-the-art abortion care is an essential part of this.

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We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long—with our financial, emotional, and psychic energies drained by relentless, unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation—it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that abortion regulations must be supported by medical proof that they improve health, and that even with proof, the burdens can’t outweigh the benefits, it is time to say goodbye to the many politically motivated regulations that have been passed. These include waiting periods, medically inaccurate state-mandated counseling, bans on telemedicine, and mandated ultrasounds, along with the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements declared unconstitutional by the Court.

Clearly 20-week bans don’t pass the undue burden test, imposed by the Court under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, because they take place before viability and abortion at 20 weeks is safer than childbirth. The federal Hyde Amendment, a restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, obviously represents an undue burden because it places additional risk on poor women who can’t access care as early as women with resources. Whatever the benefit was to late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) it can’t possibly outweigh that burden.

Some of these have already been rejected by the Court and, in Alabama’s case, an attorney general, in the wake of the Whole Woman’s Health ruling. Others will require the kind of bold action already planned by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations. The Renaissance involves raising an even more powerful voice against these regulations, and being firm in our unwillingness to spend taxpayer dollars harming women.

I’d like to entertain the idea that we simply ignore regulations like these that impose burdens and do not improve health and safety. Of course I know that this wouldn’t be possible in many places because abortion providers don’t have much political leverage. This may just be the part of me that wants reproductive rights to warrant the many risks of civil disobedience. In my mind is the man who stood in front of moving tanks in Tiananmen Square. I am yearning for all the ways to stand in front of those tanks, both legal and extralegal.

Early abortion is a community public health service, and a Renaissance goal could be to have early abortion care accessible within one hour of every woman in the country. There are more than 3,000 fake clinics in this country, many of them supported by tax dollars. Surely we can find a way to make actual services as widely available to people who need them. Of course many areas couldn’t support a clinic, but we can find ways to create satellite or even mobile clinics using telemedicine to serve women in rural areas. We can use technology to check in with patients during medication abortions, and we can provide ways to simplify after-care and empower women to be partners with us in their care. Later abortion would be available in larger cities, just as more complex medical procedures are.

In this brave new world, we can invent new ways to involve the families and partners of our patients in abortion care when it is appropriate. This is likely to improve health outcomes and also general satisfaction. And it can increase the number of people who are grateful for and support independent abortion care providers and who are able to talk openly about abortion.

We can tailor our services to learn which women may benefit from additional time or counseling and give them what they need. And we can provide abortion services for women who own their choices. When a woman tells us that she doesn’t believe in abortion, or that it is “murder” but she has to have one, we can see that as a need for deeper counseling. If the conflict is not resolved, we may decide that it doesn’t benefit the patient, the clinic, or our society to perform an abortion on a woman who is asking the clinic to do something she doesn’t believe in.

I am aware that this last idea may be controversial. But I have spent 40 years counseling with representatives of the very small, but real, percentage of women who are in emotional turmoil after their abortions. My experience with these women and reading online “testimonies” from women who say they regret their abortions and see themselves as victimized, including the ones cited by Justice Kennedy in the Casey decision, have reinforced my belief that when a woman doesn’t own her abortion decision she will suffer and find someone to blame for it.

We can transform the conversation about abortion. As an abortion counselor I know that love is at the base of women’s choices—love for the children they already have; love for their partners; love for the potential child; and even sometimes love for themselves. It is this that the anti-abortion movement will never understand because they believe women are essentially irresponsible whores. These are the accusations protesters scream at women day after day outside abortion clinics.

Of course there are obstacles to our brave new world.

The most obvious obstacles are political. As long as more than 20 states are run by Republican supermajorities, legislatures will continue to find new ways to undermine access to abortion. The Republican Party has become an arm of the militant anti-choice movement. As with any fundamentalist sect, they constantly attack women’s rights and dignity starting with the most intimate aspects of their lives. A society’s view of abortion is closely linked to and mirrors its regard for women, so it is time to boldly assert the full humanity of women.

Anti-choice LifeNews.com contends that there have been approximately 58,586,256 abortions in this country since 1973. That means that 58,586,256 men have been personally involved in abortion, and the friends and family members of at least 58,586,256 people having abortions have been too. So more than 180 million Americans have had a personal experience with abortion. There is no way a small cadre of bitter men with gory signs could stand up to all of them. So they have, very successfully so far, imposed and reinforced shame and stigma to keep many of that 180 million silent. Yet in the time leading up to the Whole Woman’s Health case we have seen a new opening of conversation—with thousands of women telling their personal stories—and the recognition that safe abortion is an essential and normal part of health care. If we can build on that and continue to talk openly and honestly about the most uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy and abortion, we can heal the shame and stigma that have been the most successful weapons of anti-abortion zealots.

A second obstacle is money. There are many extraordinary organizations dedicated to raising funds to assist poor women who have been betrayed by the Hyde Amendment. They can never raise enough to make up for the abandonment of the government, and that has to be fixed. However most people don’t realize that many clinics are themselves in financial distress. Most abortion providers have kept their fees ridiculously and perilously low in order to be within reach of their patients.

Consider this: In 1975 when I had my first job as an abortion counselor, an abortion within the first 12 weeks cost $150. Today an average price for the same abortion is around $550. That is an increase of less than $10 a year! Even in the 15 states that provide funding for abortion, the reimbursement to clinics is so low that providers could go out of business serving those in most need of care.

Over the years a higher percent of the women seeking abortion care are poor women, women of color, and immigrant and undocumented women largely due to the gap in sexual health education and resources. That means that a clinic can’t subsidize care through larger fees for those with more resources. While Hyde must be repealed, perhaps it is also time to invent some new approaches to funding abortion so that the fees can be sustainable.

Women are often very much on their own to find the funds needed for an abortion, and as the time goes by both the costs and the risk to them increases. Since patients bear 100 percent of the medical risk and physical experience of pregnancy, and the lioness’ share of the emotional experience, it makes sense to me that the partner involved be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of an abortion. And why not codify this into law, just as paternal responsibilities have been? Perhaps such laws, coupled with new technology to make DNA testing as quick and inexpensive as pregnancy testing, would shift the balance of responsibility so that men would be responsible for paying abortion fees, and exercise care as to when and where they release their sperm!

In spite of the millions of women who have chosen abortion through the ages, many women still feel alone. I wonder if it could make a difference if women having abortions, including those who received assistance from abortion funds, were asked to “pay it forward”—to give something in the future if they can, to help another woman? What if they also wrote a letter—not a bread-and-butter “thank you” note—but a letter of love and support to a woman connected to them by the web of this individual, intimate, yet universal experience? This certainly wouldn’t solve the economic crisis, but it could help transform some women’s experience of isolation and shame.

One in three women will have an abortion, yet many are still afraid to talk about it. Now that there is safe medication for abortion, more and more women will be accessing abortion through the internet in some DIY fashion. What if we could teach everyone how to be excellent abortion counselors—give them accurate information; teach them to listen with nonjudgmental compassion, and to help women look deeper into their own feelings and beliefs so that they can come to a sense of confidence and resolution about their decision before they have an abortion?

There are so many brilliant, caring, and amazing people who provide abortion care—and room for many more to establish new clinics where they are needed. When we turn our sights to what can be, there is no limit to what we can create.

Being frustrated and helpless is exhausting and can burn us out. So here’s a glass of champagne to being able to dream again, and to dreaming big. From my own past clinic work:

At this clinic we do sacred work
That honors women
And the circle of life and death.