2017-06-02 11:14:14 UTC
then shared my story, anonymously, on Jezebel. I suppose this
article at Rewire is kind of my coming out, and its so
personal of an issue Im getting hives thinking about the
strangersand more importantly non-strangerswho will read these
words and thus know something so deeply private about me and my
While I am active on social media, I keep the world at arms
length and guard my privacy. But it turns out privacy is a
privilege. I no longer feel our current political climate allows
me privacy, not when my silence creates a void. The absence of
stories like mine leaves fertile ground for politicians to
hijack my tragedy for their own ideological purposes. So now I
am reluctantly putting my name to my story, to lend context to
the fever-pitched rhetoric around the abortions that happen
later in pregnancy. More importantly, though, the senate in my
home state of New Yorka state I fiercely lovehas an
opportunity to protect women like me in similar circumstances,
and theyre about to botch it. Again.
My husband and I were thrilled last year to find out I was
pregnant again after a miscarriage at ten weeks. After almost
eight long months of learning one extremely rare and totally
random complication after the next, we were told at 30 weeks
that the babys growth had fallen off a cliff and that I had
developed polyhydramnios, or high amniotic fluid levels. High
fluid coupled with a lack of growth indicated that the baby was
not swallowing. As our doctor was explaining this to us, putting
the puzzle pieces of the past eight months together, he finally
got to his point: Swallowing is how the baby practices
breathing on the outside. If he cannot swallow, he will not be
able to breathe.
He didnt have to say the words incompatible with life at this
moment because he could see in our horrified faces that we
understood. When we asked what this would mean for our baby, he
explained that if we decided to carry to term, and this is
presuming I didnt have a third-trimester miscarriage, the baby
would live for only a short time before choking to death.
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When we heard this outcome for our baby, which sounded to us
like suffering, we immediately wanted to know if there was any
other option. This is when our doctor first mentioned the
possibility of termination. Emotionally exhausted from months of
hanging on to hope, we were heartbroken. My husband and I looked
at each other with tears in our eyes, knowing immediately it was
the most humane possible conclusion to this pregnancy.
But then we learned that our doctor would not be able to provide
this care to us because abortions are illegal in New York after
24 weeks unless the life of the pregnant person is in immediate
danger. We were shocked because, as we understood it, Roe v.
Wade was supposed to protect people in instances such as ours,
when my life or health was at risk or if the pregnancy wasnt
viable. Our doctor just said, not in New York.
At the time, the politics of the issue eluded us. All we knew
was that we needed care, we were unable to receive that care in
our state, and that we were racing a clock.
We were referred to Dr. Warren Hern in Colorado, one of four
doctors in the entire country who will treat patients from out
of state for later abortion care. Our doctor in New York assured
us that patients who have received care at this clinic have
gone on to have healthy pregnancies, which we want for you. I
couldnt remotely fathom ever putting myself through this again,
but I nodded anyway. Due to a pre-existing health condition, my
doctors decided the best course of action would be for me to fly
to Boulder so Dr. Hern could administer a shot that would stop
the babys heart. Then that same night I would fly back to New
York, where I would be induced the next evening to deliver a
The shot alone cost $10,000, and we had to pay cash upfront
because these procedures arent fully reimbursed by insurance
companies. My mom gave us the money, taking it out of her
retirement fund. We wondered why it was so expensive, but
couldnt figure out how to place a monetary value on Dr. Hern
and his staff having to go to work behind bulletproof glass. It
took two weeks to get all of my doctors on the same page and to
coordinate our travel to the clinic in Boulderlast-minute
flights, hotels, and a rental car from the airport in Denver,
all paid for on credit cards.
At 32 weeks, a couple of days after Mothers Day, my husband and
I got on the plane to Colorado. Walking through airport
security, a TSA agent congratulated me, gesturing to my stomach
with a huge smile on his face. I offered a curt thank you as
my husband squeezed my hand.
Once in Boulder, the care we received from Dr. Herns clinic was
exceptional. He treated me with sympathy and respect, offering
his condolences for my loss. When he had to give me an
ultrasound, he turned the screen away, but not before first
making sure it was OK to do so. Still in shock over this tragic
turn of events, I lay on the table, looking up at the ceiling.
My internal questions played like a tape over and over in my
mind: Why am I here? Did New York expect me to carry this baby
to term, only to watch him suffer and die?
Since then, Ive tried to answer that second question. The only
answer Ive come up with is: yes.
Abortion was a criminal act in the United States in 1970 when
New York state, as the local American Civil Liberties Union put
it, amended the state penal code to include a new clause
allowing for a justifiable abortional act, permitting
abortions performed within 24 weeks from the commencement of
pregnancy, and at any point during pregnancy when a womans life
is in danger.
When the law was written in 1970, this was considered
progressive. Unfortunately, it was never updated after the Roe
v. Wade decision in 1973. So today, abortion is still a crime in
New York, but with exceptions.
The Roe decision hinged on the notion of viability, only
allowing states to limit abortion access after a fetus was
viable, which is generally considered around 24 weeks. In our
case, our baby would never be viable. Roe also protected the
right to an abortion in cases where the health of the pregnant
person was threatened.
This left New Yorks law inadequate and technically
unconstitutional. Because while federal law is supposed to
supersede state law, when New York hospital lawyers open the
penal code and discover this discrepancy, they conservatively
advise health-care providers to steer clear of later abortions,
for fear of having their doctors thrown into jail. Sure, theyre
just doing their job, but this results in critical denials of
federally protected care.
If, like me, you think abortion provisions belong in the health
code, as opposed to the criminal code, and you understand there
are extenuating circumstances that might necessitate an abortion
after 24 weeks, then you will be equally angry to learn that the
New York Senate has failed to move on legislation that would fix
this for at least the past seven years.
The most recent version, a bill called the Reproductive Health
Act (RHA), S2796, does three things to fix this: (1) It takes
abortion out of the penal code and puts into public health law;
(2) it allows for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of non-
viability, and in cases where either the life or health of the
woman is at risk; and (3) it allows for advanced practice
clinicians (APCs) to administer abortion care within their scope
of practice. In 1970 when the law in New York was written, nurse
practitioners, physicians assistants, or licensed midwives
werent common, so in a way this just modernizes the law to
reflect the rest of the health-care system. For instance, it is
perfectly reasonable for these licensed medical professionals to
administer an early abortion pill, in accordance with FDA
guidelines. This is important because in more rural parts of the
state and underserved areas, doctors are stretched thin and
these APCs expand care, especially for the uninsured.
The RHA passed the New York State Assembly in January and is now
at risk of dying in the senate before it is even given a vote.
When a bill comes to the senate, there are two paths to a vote:
The senate majority leader can either bring it to the floor
directly, where its debated and ultimately voted on, or they
can put it through a committee, in this case the health
committee, where it is debated behind closed doors. Then, the
head of that committee decides if its brought to the floor.
This means there are ultimately two gatekeepers who decide
whether or not this bill is heard, debated, and voted on in the
Currently, there are two male conservative Republicans who hold
those keys for the Reproductive Health Act: Majority Leader Sen.
John J. Flanagan (R) of the 2nd district, and the head of the
Health Committee, Sen. Kemp Hannon (R) of the 6th district. And
lets be clearI would never expect either of these men to vote
for this bill themselves, and I imagine neither would their
constituents. What I would expect is that they would bring this
bill to the floor, as it has already passed one branch of
government and deserves to move through to the next.
The constituents of other elected senators in New York should be
able to make their voices heard on the bill. Not only do we need
the RHA debated on the record, people here deserve to know where
their representatives actually stand on reproductive rights.
Pro-choice and pro-life labels are politically expedient,
but hollow when untested. There are moderate Republicans
currently in the senate who ran as pro-choice candidates, and it
is time they prove it to their electorate.
If the bill is brought to a vote and then passed in the senate,
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) would then have to sign the bill into law.
The governor has expressed support for this legislation, and
indeed has positioned himself as a champion of women and our
reproductive rights, so there is no reason to think he would not
sign it if passed.
Now is when I ask my fellow New Yorkers for your help. We have
roughly five weeks before the end of the legislative session on
June 21. It is crucial that we put pressure not only on Sens.
Flanagan and Hannon, but all of our senators. With that, I offer
Identify your district and senator here.
Write/call your senator and express your support for the bill,
and more importantly, for a vote on the bill.
Get vocal on social media (RHAVote.com).
Sign a reproductive health coalitions petition. This petition
will be printed and brought to the senate next month. Sign it by
Focus on the whole state. Got a friend in the Hudson Valley?
Their senator is on the fence. Know someone out on Long Island?
Thats where Flanagan and Hannons districts are.
Thats my plea.
I ask you to consider me, and women like me who are the faces of
abortion statistics. We are slowly inching out from the shadows,
as angry as we are devastated. Only 1.3 percent of abortions
happen after 22 weeks, but each of us has a unique story.
Then I ask you to consider the women in our state who cannot
afford to become part of that numberwho cannot afford to travel
for this care and are forced to carry doomed pregnancies to
term. Forced to put their health at risk and into very real
scenarios where they are left to watch their babies suffer and
die. And lest you think this hypothetical, Ive talked to
doctors who have absolutely had to watch patients go through
this, which is why the RHA is supported by the American Congress
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
And maybe most importantly, I implore you to question any
narrative that requires you to consider women to be monsters for
protecting their own health, or for offering a merciful end to
an unviable pregnancy. These anti-abortion talking points are
ideological rhetoric meant to divide us when we are at a
critical juncture with reproductive rights at a state and
federal level. New Yorkers, we need to act quickly.
Tell your senator in Albany that you trust women and their
doctors to make health decisions for themselves. Demand that
they finally bring the Reproductive Health Act to the floor for
a vote. And be sure to let them know that if they cannot protect
us, we will find representatives who will. The people of New
York cannot wait.