Editor's note: Last week, Ohio lawmakers passed legislation that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill's fate is now in the hands of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Ahead, Alexis S.* shares her very personal appeal urging the governor to veto the proposal.
Dear Governor Kasich,
I am a 34-year-old, happily married woman living in California. My husband and I want nothing more than to start our family. After our first pregnancy ended quickly in a miscarriage at eight weeks, we felt optimistic about trying again.
This September, somewhere around six weeks, a new little heartbeat began and, according to the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” on your desk, life had officially begun.
At 10 weeks, we heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. My father — an excited first-time grandparent — was in town and proudly took photos in my OB-GYN’s waiting room.
At 13 weeks, we learned that, even with a strong heartbeat, our baby had severe heart defects.
At 15 weeks, our doctors confirmed that because of a chromosomal abnormality, our pregnancy has a 99% chance of miscarrying or resulting in stillbirth.
Today, I am 16 weeks pregnant with my baby girl. In the next couple weeks, I will feel her move for the first time. At 20 weeks, she will be able to hear my voice.
I will most likely never hear hers.
Most fetuses with this syndrome miscarry by 26 weeks. Some miscarry well into the second or even third trimester. Only the least-affected are born alive. Our doctors say the significance of the baby’s current defects indicate that will not be the case for our pregnancy. Doctors and genetic counselors have warned us that termination may be a safer option for my own physical health than continuing to carry a fetus in heart failure. My state's laws don't restrict my right to make that difficult choice at this time. But if you sign the "Heartbeat Bill," women in Ohio facing the same devastating personal experience might not have another option to consider.
It’s easy to object to abortion when you assume the women who pursue them are cold, unfeeling hardly-human humans who don’t respect the beauty and miracle of life. But what about the woman who wakes up every morning knowing today might be the day she faces her greatest loss?
Abortions aren’t just for unplanned pregnancies and unwed mothers. Banning abortions after six weeks doesn’t make women feel capable of caring for children when they feel they cannot. It doesn’t prevent chromosomes from dividing in a way that makes 25% of pregnancies unviable. It surely doesn’t prevent the grief any woman feels when losing or choosing to terminate a pregnancy.
Despite my being a lifetime advocate for abortion rights, being presented with the option to terminate is neither convenient nor casual. In cases like mine, letting nature take its course does not spare the mother any emotional or potential physical trauma. A miscarriage at this stage of pregnancy (and up to 20 weeks) necessitates the exact same procedure as an abortion: dilation and extraction (D&E). Later than 20 weeks, doctors medically induce labor to deliver an already-lost child.
My husband and I have yet to make a decision on the pregnancy. We have elected to first get more scans of the baby’s anatomy, which will help our doctors assess the immediacy of a miscarriage. The mere consideration over whether to terminate is gut-wrenching in a way that will leave me forever changed. I wouldn't wish the circumstances of such a decision on any woman.
In the meantime, I carry my grief in a visible bump, with all of the usual symptoms of pregnancy as a constant reminder that my little girl isn’t to be. I could very well carry her for one, two, three, four more months, my body continuing to stretch, strangers continuing to excitedly comment, my loved ones unable to find the right words, my husband silently suffering as he watches both his girls struggle, my face continuing to belie my grief, my heart continuing to break.
It should be within my rights to decide whether or not I want to carry a child who will not make it to term. It should be my decision to choose to suffer my grief for the little girl I desperately want and will not have in the way that best allows me to continue my life as the woman, wife, and, God willing, future mother I am.
With all my strength and resolve and so many empathetic tears for the women who make the difficult considerations and decisions — including those in Ohio — I firmly assert:
IT’S MY BODY.
IT’S MY CHOICE.
Governor John Kasich, if you hear my story, understand my grief, I say to you this: Please don’t take this very personal and heartbreaking decision from women like me. Veto the "Heartbeat Bill" provision before you today.
*Name partially withheld to protect the privacy of the author.