My Second-Trimester Abortion Wasn’t a ‘Choice’ I Wanted to Make, and Politics Made It Harder

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My Second-Trimester Abortion Wasn’t a ‘Choice’ I Wanted to Make, and Politics Made It Harder

Shelby Roberts

I knew what I was doing was best for my health and my family. But thanks for abortion restrictions and stigma, I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong.

Knox. That was his name.

Not many people know the name of the baby we “lost” due to a life-threatening fetal condition. I’m a private person. I didn’t want to share his name because it was my way of protecting myself and my family from judgment. After having the abortion when what we wanted was our first child, my husband and I felt we needed to do or say something, but we didn’t know how.

This election season, in which our president-elect spread misinformation about late abortion, has given Knox a voice. Now is the time to tell our story. Abortion is not a just medical term. It is a politicized word. Naïve as it sounds, I did not realize this until I faced it head on.

The day we found out “It’s a boy!” was the same day we found out he wouldn’t live. I’d had an abnormal test result at the 16-week blood screen. I’ve taken statistics and I’m a smart woman, so I reassured myself with science, numbers, and odds. My doctors were encouraging and spoke of “false positives.”  Not to say we weren’t worried, but we went confidently to the specialist.

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We met with the genetic counselor. Then we went to have the ultrasound. We asked the tech, “It’s a boy, isn’t it?!” We were too excited to notice the concern on her face. She suddenly switched to the 3-D ultrasound. “Wow!” we marveled. “This is so neat!” A tiny voice in the back of my head was saying: “They charge extra for this. Maybe things are not good. Why would she be giving us this ultrasound for free?” The tech remained silent as she moved the ultrasound, taking lots of pictures and saying that the doctor was on his way.

He didn’t say much, just for us to go meet with him in his office. When we got there, he told us our baby had anencephaly, a condition that prevents normal development of the brain and bones of the skull. We had choices, he said. We could carry the baby to term, and it would not live after birth. Or we could end the pregnancy now, either by dilation and evacuation or inducing delivery. I don’t remember the details except for exactly what I was wearing: a fashionable navy skirt and green top that I could still squeeze into and show my baby bump.

The doctor gave me a number to call if we decided to end the pregnancy. I didn’t realize that the phone number was for an abortion clinic, until I heard the hold message: that one in three women will have an abortion by age 45. And it hit me. I was going to have an abortion.

When the day finally came, my husband and I had our plan, directions, and instructions on what to bring and wear. Still, I wasn’t really prepared. I’d heard about bombings and shootings at Planned Parenthood facilities on the news. But I wasn’t ready for the police and security at the door during what was, for me, an already horrible, scary, and extreme life event. I felt like a criminal going into a secret place in the early hours of the morning. No men were allowed in the back of the clinic—not even partners or companions. I get this from a policy and safety standpoint, but I was going to have to be alone?

And I hadn’t seen up close how our laws try to shame women. I’d read policy papers about lawmakers forcing women to listen to their fetuses’ heartbeat before an abortion, but there I was faced with signing the paper asking me if I “chose to not see my baby before it was aborted.” I broke down. I was not “choosing” to do this. What was going on? Was this real life?

Seeing my distress, the nurses moved me to the counseling room, where a woman asked me if someone was forcing me to go through with something I didn’t want to do. I don’t want someone reading this to think that the staff at the facility were mean. They were not. I was so thankful for all of them. I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to do what they do every day, under pressure from abortion opponents yet still helping people.

The system is the problem. Abortion is as criminalized as it can be without being a crime.

I knew what I was doing was best for my health and the mental and physical health of my family and my baby. But I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong. In some states, where legislators have pushed 20-week bans, politicians are trying to make it even harder for women and families to end pregnancies after finding out about fetal abnormalities. Earlier this year, in my home state of Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence (who is now the vice president-elect) and Republicans expanded the state’s abortion law, prohibiting abortions based on fetal sex, gender, or disability. Had I been in Indiana and that law had not been found unconstitutional, I may not have been able to have the abortion.

I say all of this not for sympathy or to incite more division into our already divided country.  I want to tell my story, my family’s story, to make things more real. Women who have abortions are our sisters, aunts, wives, mothers, friends. For some women, abortion is an extremely difficult decision to make. For me, it was physically and mentally exhausting before and after the procedure.

What will it be like if abortion is no longer legal? Every woman making this choice deserves a real choice, and she deserves not to be reduced to a one-liner or the anti-choice clichés such as “baby killer” or “bad mother.” How any lawmaker or layperson feels they have the right to take someone’s choice to legal, safe, and necessary medical care away is beyond my understanding.

But, to any family facing similar struggles to ours, I offer this: Now almost four years later, our family of two is a family of four. For whatever reason, all of our babies were born in February, the month in which we said goodbye to Knox. I thought February would always bring me sadness, but it brings constant celebration.  This February we will celebrate a first birthday, a third birthday, and Knox. He was never with us on “the outside,” but he brought our family much joy in the 18 weeks that we knew him.