Why Women Have 20-Week Abortions
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
You are pregnant.
(Just go with me.)
You met your husband in your 30s. It took a while for you to find the right one, but you did. You waited a few years before thinking about having kids. Then, you started trying. Everyone else was getting pregnant so easily, so you thought it would happen without much effort.
Six months go by.
Then a year.
You start visiting the experts. You take medications and injections. You and your husband are put through the wringer. You spend $20,000 of your own money.
But it works.
The two lines on the test confirm it.
You are pregnant.
But now, the anxiety sets in. You want to know that everything is okay. You wonder why doctors haven’t invented some special at-home ultrasound for you to check out your uterus everyday. Your bloodwork is normal. The genetic tests have come back normal, but you ask them not to tell you the baby’s gender. Not just yet. You want to have that moment at your 20-week ultrasound.
When you’re 18 weeks pregnant, you finally feel it.
The baby moves. It kicks you. You rush to your husband so he can feel it too, but it’s still too early for him to feel anything.
You relax a little.
When the day of the 20-week ultrasound comes, you are more excited than nervous. You both stare at the ultrasound screen, not quite sure what you’re seeing. You’re smiling. You’re ecstatic even. Waiting for the technician to tell you if it’s a boy or a girl.
But she is quiet as she moves the wand on your belly. You see feet and legs, kicking and squirming. You see hands and a chest.
“So, you’ve got a little girl,” she tells you.
You cry. Because you were hoping for a girl.
But the technician is still quiet.
“I need to run some measurements by the doctor,” she says as she places the wand in its cradle. “Just one second.”
Your heart bottoms out.
The doctor says a word that you’ve never heard before.
…baby has no brain… incompatible with life… cannot survive…
But you’re not listening anymore.
Your thoughts are running wild.
You know it’s your fault. You should have gotten pregnant earlier. Why did you selfishly wait to try?
You should have taken more folic acid. That’s what causes brain defects like this.
And then there was that time that you went through those full-body scanners at the airport when you flew home to see your parents for Christmas. All that radiation couldn’t have been good.
And didn’t you have a spicy tuna roll in those first few days of pregnancy, before the test came back positive? That was careless.
You don’t deserve to be a mom.
Get a clue. Spend your energy elsewhere because you’re not cut out for this.
When can we try again? Maybe it will be better next time. Next time, I’ll be more careful. Next time, I won’t take any risks, no matter how small they seem. I swear.
Somehow, you manage to ask the question. You’re not crying. You’re completely numb. As the words come out of your mouth, it doesn’t even sound like you saying them.
“Do you know when we can try again? Because… I’m going to be 36 soon. It took us a few years to get pregnant… and I just…” You can’t finish your sentence.
He tells you that you can start trying again when you’re ready. After you deliver this baby.
Right, you think. I still have a baby in me.
You spend the evening sobbing, your thoughts still running wild. You google anencephaly and you almost throw up. You google pictures of babies that have it. Actual babies who are born with it. You read miracle stories of babies surviving anencephaly.
Your husband holds you, but he has nothing to offer except his own tears.
Your head is throbbing, but you don’t want to take any medication because… Then you realize that you no longer have a reason to be careful anymore.
You toss back some Excedrin. You think about having some wine, but you can’t bring yourself to do it.
When you wake up the next day, you lie there in the morning light, your hand on your still-so-small belly. You talk to your baby.
You tell your husband, “I cannot do this. I want this to be over.”
You call the doctor. You talk about abortion. You want to know whether they use anesthetics so the baby won’t feel any pain.
And that is when you find out.
You don’t have a choice.
You will have to give birth to this child–because in the state of Ohio, it is now illegal to end the pregnancy.
You cannot believe it. Your child won’t live. You are suffering. You cannot do another day of this. And now you might be carrying this pregnancy for another 20 weeks.
But that’s not what happens.
That would have been much more merciful.
At 23 weeks, your water breaks.
You give birth.
Your baby tries to breathe, but she turns blue. Her lungs are underdeveloped. She makes a horrible noise that no mother should have to hear.
But she keeps trying.
It takes your little girl three hours to die.
In your arms.
On its face, this is a fictional story. But it is made up of a collection of stories that I have heard and read from other women who have walked this terrible path. A story like this can, and probably will, happen in the state of Ohio next year.
Because on December 13, 2016, Governor Kasich officially signed a 20-week abortion ban. No exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies, and “only very limited exceptions for women’s health.”
Twenty-week abortion bans have become more and more common. Seventeen states now have similar 20-week abortion bans.
I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, Please. This emotional, fictional story that you just told doesn’t represent all 20-week abortions. I know a lot of those babies didn’t have any problems at all.
So, let’s look at some facts.
How many women would the state of Ohio stop from having abortions after 20 weeks?
In 2014, it was 510 women (Ohio Department of Health’s 2014 report on induced abortions, p. 9).
That was 2% of all abortions performed in that year.
Out of those 510 abortions, how many do you think were performed on viable fetuses?
The other 509 abortions were performed on non-viable fetuses.
One of the main reasons that women have abortions after 20 weeks is because they have just learned that their child has a terminal diagnosis. And carrying these pregnancies can put the mother’s life at risk.
This is Mindy Swank. Here, she talks about how she was forced to carry a non-viable pregnancy because her Catholic hospital wouldn’t perform an abortion.
“…he tried to breathe, he was turning blue… he wasn’t conscious. It wasn’t a magical time, like people think.”
Or how about this interview with a woman who had an abortion at 32 weeks?
Or this woman who had an abortion at 21 weeks because her baby had half a heart?
Or the women mentioned in NARAL’s 2016 report entitled “Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women”?
These are just a few women who have had to face the reality of how 20-week abortion bans affect women’s physical and emotional health.
But let me be pro-life for a moment.
Let me acknowledge that some of you are reading this and thinking, Okay, fine, but I’ve read articles that have talked about women who get third-trimester abortions on perfectly healthy babies! And I won’t stand for that! It’s not right! If those women weren’t so selfish, someone could adopt that baby, someone who could give it a wonderful life!
Let’s assume you are right. Let’s assume there are women who are ending viable pregnancies after 20 weeks.
You know what?
That woman’s right to end her viable pregnancy is intertwined with another woman’ right to end her non-viable pregnancy.
The truth is, not many of these 20-week abortion bans that have been passed in individual states make a distinction between mothers seeking abortions for a non-viable versus a viable fetus.
They’re all lumped together.
Just as they are in the state of Ohio now.
Banning 20-week abortions isn’t simply a matter of “protecting life.”
At least in Ohio, a ban on 20-week abortions doesn’t save babies from certain death because many of these babies will not survive.
Instead, a ban like this amplifies the already unimaginable grief that some pregnant women bear.
The truth is, women in Ohio will soon be forced to carry non-viable pregnancies, regardless of how they feel about it.
There’s nothing pro-life about that.