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Commentary Abortion

I Needed a Second-Trimester Abortion. A Proposed Texas Bill Would Have Put Me in Greater Danger.

Jeni Putalavage-Ross

I don’t second-guess the decision to have an abortion, but I do wonder what my life would have been like nine years ago if I had been treated by doctors forced to comply with a dangerous bill like SB 1033.

I found out I was pregnant soon after getting married. My husband and I were ecstatic because we were in our mid-30s, and we wanted to start a family right away.

We didn’t expect to be told that our fetus had issues “incompatible with life” at our second anatomy scan at nearly 22 weeks of pregnancy. Our fetus had triploidy, which means all of her chromosomes were tripled; many of these pregnancies end in miscarriage, and few infants born with the condition survive a week.

We looked at the ultrasound, which clearly showed the fetus’ brain was not growing the way it should be, the heart was not developing correctly, and several other organs were not in the appropriate places. Nothing had been exactly right from the beginning. My pregnancy hormone levels had been slow to double and my ultrasounds were always measuring behind my conception date, which I knew was my wedding weekend. When I look at the memory box the nurses put together for me, I see the picture of a fetus that was severely malformed. The foot- and handprints they included in the box show several digits missing from both.

The choice seemed obvious to me then, and that hasn’t changed. But looking back on it almost a decade later—and understanding how abortion policy has changed for the worse in my home state of Texas—I can’t imagine what I would do if this happened to me now.

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Last month, the Texas Senate passed SB 1033, which would get rid of the fetal abnormality exception that allows people with pregnancies past 20 or more weeks post-fertilization to have an abortion. This isn’t the first time Texas legislators have tried such a thing. In 2015, Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) explained his bid to end the fetal abnormality provision with this statement: “In my opinion, this practice just doesn’t value what God values, and God values that life inside the womb.”

If SB 1033 passes into law, families like mine won’t be able to undergo medically necessary abortions. The bill implies that grieving families facing situations similar to ours are taking advantage of a loophole. In supporting such a restriction, legislators suggest that there is never any medical reason to get an abortion and we’re just using the law frivolously for our selfish whims. They also show a craven disregard for women’s lives and Texas families by piling on more laws in a state that already requires multiple trips to an abortion provider, a waiting period, exposure to medical misinformation via state-mandated paperwork, patients to buy separate coverage for abortion care, and a rule that the same physician must do both sonogram and abortion.

Republicans’ entire argument for SB 1033 ignored expertise from the medical community—specifically the Texas chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which opposes the legislation. Instead, conservative legislators based SB 1033 on a single study that found “women who received abortion after a life-threatening fetal diagnosis dealt with a higher degree of depression than those who continued with the pregnancy,” according to the Austin Chronicle. This study had only 267 participants, and some of that small number felt guilt after having an abortion because of a lethal fetal diagnosis. Legislators used this as the basis for SB 1033, against the recommendations of respected medical groups, but more than 90 percent of women who have had abortions do not regret the decision to terminate their pregnancies, according to a study published in the multidisciplinary academic journal PLOS ONE.

With this legislation, Texas Republicans are trying to punish us for abortions, any way they can.

In my case, hospital policy only compounded the challenges. Facility rules wouldn’t allow my doctor, whom I’d chosen so carefully, to offer me a D and E—which the Texas legislature attempted to outlaw in 2017 under SB 8 (now enjoined). She was only able to offer me a labor and delivery. I would have to deliver a fetus that would almost immediately die, or I could go to a local abortion clinic for a multi-day procedure where I would have to walk through the crowds of protesters several times.

My body had held onto this unlikely pregnancy and was not willing to end it easily. My doctor had to induce labor. The process was gruesome in my emotional state. I had wanted to avoid an epidural, if possible, but the induction process was causing painful cramps and I wanted to be numb. We started with a strong intravenous pain reliever. I started hallucinating and felt terrible, so we abandoned that approach and I acquiesced to an epidural.

I was now stuck in bed, unable to go to the bathroom, eat, or change positions easily. All of the medications and cramping gave me diarrhea, which had to be cleaned up by the nurses. I was mortified, but after a few hours, I gave up my embarrassment and realized there was nothing I could do to control my body until I got through this.

After being in labor for nearly 48 hours, I finally delivered into the bed sheets in the middle of the night, before my body nearly shut down.

Despite the best efforts of my caregivers, I acquired an E. coli infection during the birthing process and was going into sepsis by the time it was discovered.

I spent 10 days in the hospital, with one week in the ICU. I walked out of the hospital with cabbage leaves in my sports bra to try to dry out the milk my body had started to produce and without the baby I so badly wanted. I had to continue to monitor my hormone levels to be sure my partial molar pregnancy—those in which the fetus doesn’t develop properly and cells may cluster and cause serious problems—didn’t become cancerous and spread. I finished all of my physical therapy for breathing before I left the hospital, but I was very weak when I headed home.

I don’t second-guess the decision to have an abortion, but I do wonder what my life would have been like nine years ago if I had been treated by doctors forced to comply with a dangerous bill like SB 1033 by denying me the abortion I needed. Continuing the pregnancy would have been a struggle, knowing I was going to give birth to a baby with no chance of survival, whose imminent demise while in my womb put my health at risk. I loved my life and my husband. I wanted to live.

I’m fearful that anti-choice lawmakers will continue to advance harmful legislation at the expense of Texans’ lives and health. I fear for Texans who won’t have the resources to travel out of state and for those who would be forced to continue a life-threatening or nonviable pregnancy, especially in a state that has unacceptably high maternal mortality rates and has the highest uninsured rate.

I’ve wondered if a D and E would have helped me focus on my future instead of having to spend a few months rebuilding my physical strength after nearly dying. I’ve wondered if my career path would have been smoother if I hadn’t missed so much work during this crisis that my startup‘s CEO questioned why I needed so much time off, threatened to fire me, and then refused to work with me when I returned, so that I quickly took a new job.

I’ve wondered if I would had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder in my subsequent pregnancies if this abortion had been less traumatic.

I am so happy that despite the unnecessary legal obstacles put in my way by Republican politicians, I managed to choose my own life when I ended my pregnancy. That choice allowed me to later have the family that I craved. Two pregnancies and three girls later, our family feels complete. And I feel lucky to have been able to make the best decision for me, my health, and my family. I worry about Texans who may soon be unable to do the same.

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