Commentary Abortion

Anti-Choicers Shamelessly Abuse Dead Woman Because She Chose Medically-Indicated Surgery

Amanda Marcotte

A patient at Dr. Carhart’s office in Germantown, MD passed away recently while undergoing a very late term (reported at 33 weeks) abortion. Her loss is devastating no doubt for her doctors as well as her family, but sadly, surgery is a risky undertaking. People die from all sorts of surgery, including minor surgeries like knee surgery.

Just in case you didn’t think anti-choice activists could get any lower—a fair supposition, considering the murders of abortion providers and “activism” mostly aimed at trying to shame women for abortion—welcome to the next phase, which involves attempts to humiliate a dead woman for getting a medically indicated abortion. Obviously, anti-choicers are sensitive to P.R. and so know better than to admit openly they’re trying to shame a dead woman and harass her family, so they pretend that they’re sharing her private information and putting her face and name on placards out of “concern.” But like any concern trolls, the actual concern is a put-on, meant to make the hateful sentiments behind it harder to call out.

The story is simple: A patient at Dr. Carhart’s office in Germantown, MD passed away recently while undergoing a very late term (reported at 33 weeks) abortion. Her loss is devastating no doubt for her doctors as well as her family, but sadly, surgery is a risky undertaking. People die from all sorts of surgery, including minor surgeries like knee surgery. When it comes to pregnancy, death is rare, but not unheard of—indeed, giving birth is 14 times more dangerous than abortion. Despite the higher risks of childbirth, however, no one would ever insist on not allowing women to choose childbirth, because we understand that few things in life are risk-free.  Indeed, the standard with surgery—including later abortions—is to weigh the risks of surgery against the risks of continuing the pregnancy, and, having discovered the latter are higher, choosing the surgery instead. Is that an absolute guarantee that surgery will never be risky? No, but it’s also not an absolute guarantee that you won’t die in a car wreck on the way to your surgery, either.

Two major things make the anti-choice explanation of this woman’s death (and no, I won’t name her, because I respect her family’s right to privacy, unlike the anti-choicers who have forced this issue by not respecting her privacy) so upsetting. First is the utter inability of anti-choicers to understand concepts like “informed consent,” especially when it comes to women. Second is the utter lack of logic of their position, which only makes sense if you believe that there should be no medical interventions to help a woman.

Taking these one at a time, let’s tackle the first. As noted, childbirth is 14 times more dangerous than abortion. It’s true that later abortions are more dangerous than the vast majority of abortions, shrinking these numbers, but nonetheless, we know this: The patient was having a medically indicated abortion. Anti-choicers would have you believe that women abort at 33 weeks because they’re bopping along, being too dumb for basic rational thought—this is assumed to be a standard trait in women—when an evil abortion provider lures them through tightly-honed seduction techniques into getting an abortion. Anti-choicers claim the motive for this supposed scheme is profit, though it’s well-established that a profit-motivated obstetrician would make way more money delivering babies than aborting pregnancies. 

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Here’s the reality: Maryland prohibits post-viability abortions unless the mother’s health is in danger or the fetus has a serious defect. We may not know the particulars of this woman’s case, but we know that she had a medically necessary reason for her abortion, and was likely referred by her obstetrician. We know she was excited to have this baby, because she had a Pinterest board full of links like this and this. Taken together, it’s easy enough to understand the utterly obvious: This woman had a pregnancy gone horribly wrong and needed an abortion for medical reasons, an abortion that was no doubt difficult to choose because it represented the loss of a much-wanted baby. To paint her as some sort of moron who was hoodwinked into an abortion because she was too dumb to know better is beyond vile. That’s a level of misogyny that assumes women have no brains at all, that assumes women are too stupid to make even the most basic decisions about their lives with the assistance of expert advice. This is a worldview that assumes that a woman’s consent to surgery doesn’t matter, because it’s a worldview that assumes women are too low to be able to make decisions, much less consent to anything.

The only way out of that conclusion is to argue that doctors shouldn’t perform a medically necessary surgery because it has risks. Which leads up to anti-choice logic fail number two: Their argument, by necessity, can only be an argument against the very existence of medicine. Yes, surgery has risks, and that means some people die. But if a single person’s death means that the surgery should never happen, that means we should stop performing surgeries. That means no more heart surgery, knee surgery, kidney transplants, or even mole removals. Each of these carries risks, and by anti-choice logic, since the only acceptable risk rate is 0%, that means none of these can be performed. Sure, in many cases, the risk of not doing it is exponentially more fatal than the risk of doing it. But we’re talking about people who saint women for dying rather than accepting medical interventions. They’re clearly willing to accept higher death rates if it meant fewer interventions in reproductive health care; I just demand that they be logically consistent and object to all surgical interventions on the grounds that it’s better to run the much higher risk of dying of natural causes than take the smaller risk of dying from interventions. Oh yeah, and hold only themselves to this standard, instead of infringing on the right of the rest of us to trade small risks for the opportunities to be healthier in the long run.

The eager dash to invade this woman’s privacy and belittle her in her death by insinuating she was too stupid to know what she was doing and was somehow being exploited by her doctors demonstrates everything you need to know about the anti-choice movement: They’re heartless, not caring how much they hurt this woman’s family in the eagerness to shame her for an abortion, even after she’s died. They’re idiots, pretending not to know that surgery carries risk and that doesn’t mean that people have to weigh benefits against the risk. And they’re deeply, deeply sadistic, not only in wanting to force women to undergo dangerous pregnancies gone horribly wrong, but also not even letting the few who pass away have any peace from their vicious shaming of women for making complex reproductive decisions, even women who, for medical reasons, had no good choice at all. Any attempts to pretend that the anti-choice movement isn’t a bunch of organized misogynists who mindlessly want to sacrifice women’s futures and even lives for the hell of it should be put to rest by this disgraceful abuse of a woman’s memory, simply because they disagree with her choice to end a pregnancy gone wrong. 

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Dr. Leroy Carhart, Germantown

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