About abortion: beyond Roe v. Wade I’ve been given permission to tell this story on the condition that no names are mentioned. Many may find this difficult to read. Although I hadn’t wanted to write about this, the controversy it stirs persists. Below is the piece that provoked mine:
N Y TIMES OpEd 6/21/13
By Judy Nicastro
KIRKLAND, Wash. — I BELIEVE that parenthood starts before conception, at the moment you decide you want a child, and are ready and able to create a safe and loving home for her or him. I support abortion rights, but I reject the false distinction between the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Here’s why.
A lawyer by training, I was 38 when I completed a term on the Seattle City Council. Two years later, I married my husband, who is five years younger. We wanted children, and started trying right away, but had trouble conceiving.
Using in vitro fertilization, we had our son, Matthew, now 4. When he was 2, after another round of I.V.F., we conceived again. I was six weeks pregnant when I learned I was carrying twins, a boy and a girl. We were elated.
But in my 20th week, during an ultrasound, the technician looked concerned, and we got the first hint that something might be wrong. The next day, a Friday, my obstetrician called to say that the technician had had a hard time seeing the heart of the male fetus. “It is probably just the position,” she reassured me. I wasn’t reassured.
On Monday, I had a second ultrasound and my husband and I spent two hours — it felt like an eternity — with a different doctor and technician. “It looks as if the boy has a herniated diaphragm,” they told us. “All the organs are in his chest and not developing.”
I began sobbing. What did that mean? Would the organs move? Was my baby “fixable”? The clinic staff members were reluctant to tell us how bad it was. They said I needed an M.R.I., which would provide more details.
My world stopped. I loved being pregnant with twins and trying to figure out which one was where in my uterus. Sometimes it felt like a party in there, with eight limbs moving. The thought of losing one child was unbearable.
The M.R.I., at Seattle Children’s Hospital, confirmed our fears: the organs were pushed up into our boy’s chest and not developing properly. We were in the 22nd week. In Washington State, abortion is legal until the 24th week.
After 10 more days of tests and meetings, we were in the 23rd week and had to make a decision. My husband is more conservative than I am. He also is a Catholic. I am an old-school liberal, and I am not religious. But from the start, and through this ordeal, we were in complete agreement. We desperately wanted this child and would do whatever we could to save him, if his hernia was fixable and he could have a good quality of life.
Once we had all the data, we met with a nurse, a surgeon and a pediatrician at the hospital. The surgeon said our boy had a hole in his diaphragm. Only one lung chamber had formed, and it was only 20 percent complete. If our boy survived birth, he would be on oxygen and other life supports for a long time. The thought of hearing him gasp for air and linger in pain was our nightmare.
The surgeon described interventions that would give our son the best chance of surviving birth. But the pediatrician could tell that we were looking for candid guidance. He cautioned that medical ethics constrained what he could say, then added, “Termination is a reasonable option, and a reasonable option that I can support.” The surgeon and nurse nodded in agreement. I burst out sobbing. My husband cried, too. But in a sense, the pediatrician’s words were a source of comfort and kindness. He said what we already knew. But we needed to hear it from professionals, who knew we were good parents who wanted what was best for our children.
The next day, at a clinic near my home, I felt my son’s budding life end as a doctor inserted a needle through my belly into his tiny heart. She had trouble finding it because of its abnormal position. As horrible as that moment was — it will live with me forever — I am grateful. We made sure our son was not born only to suffer. He died in a warm and loving place, inside me.
In having the abortion, we took a risk that my body would expel both fetuses, and that we would lose our daughter too. In fact, I asked if we could postpone the abortion until the third trimester, by which time my daughter would have been almost fully developed; my doctor pointed out that abortions after 24 weeks were illegal. Thankfully, Kaitlyn was born, healthy and beautiful, on March 2, 2011, and we love her to pieces. My little boy partially dissolved into me, and I like to think his soul is in his sister.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed theory that fetuses at that stage are capable of feeling pain. The measure has no chance of passage in the Senate. But it is part of a trend toward restricting second- and even first-trimester abortions. Ten states have banned most abortions after 20 or 22 weeks; Arkansas, after 12; and North Dakota, after 6. Some of these laws are being challenged in court.
While some of these new restrictions allow exceptions for fetal genetic defects, second-trimester abortions must remain legal because, until a child is viable outside the womb, these decisions belong with the mother. I don’t know if Roe v. Wade will be overturned in my lifetime, but the chipping away of abortion rights is occurring at an astounding pace. I share my story in the hope that our leaders will be more responsible and compassionate when they weigh what it means to truly value the lives of women and children.
Judy Nicastro was a member of the Seattle City Council from 2000 through 2003.
As for the story I’ve been allowed to write, it relates to a pregnancy that both the man and the woman had agreed to end that was in its ninth or tenth week. Although both parties had come to that conclusion, each had different reasons. She knew both; he did not.
From what I was told, the procedure, performed by a competent physician, resulted in very little physical pain. In fact, the woman was relieved; she hadn’t wanted to become pregnant. However, without his consent, she knew that the doctor would not carry out the abortion.
He knew that, didn’t want to father an unwanted child. “I’d seen too many of those children,” he told me. Caring for the child by himself, he admitted, was not an option. Reconciling himself to that, he went with her to the doctor’s office, was allowed to sit with her during the operation.
“Although I believed I was doing the right thing,” he told me later, “I was profoundly alarmed as it took place. By the time the doctor left for the nurse to take over, I was shocked. I began to sob. I had just lost a child.”
As I was told that story, I could tell that he still felt its emotional impact. “For years, visions of my unborn child haunted me in a most gentle way. Each time I saw that visage I’d imagined to be my unborn son, I grieved. Often I cried.”
He stopped, the way a person stops when an element of a story is too overwhelming to uncouple the words from the emotion that accompanied them.
“I was angry with her,” he said quietly, as if he were confessing. “For a long time, I blamed her for the loss of our child. That doesn’t make sense now,” he told me. “Our relationship had all but dissolved. I guess I was processing the pain of my loss…” His voice trailed off. I stayed close by, expecting to hear more.
But he sighed instead, a deep and mournful, almost cleansing sigh. I studied his eyes; it seemed he was reading a difficult book, that he had needed a moment to turn the page to a new chapter.
“About a year later,” he began, breaking a lengthy silence, “I saw her. We talked about how she had been. She didn’t mention our abortion; I hadn’t been able to forget it. I owned up to my feelings, told her how difficult it had been for me. She didn’t want to hear about that; for her, it was history.”
He paused, shook his head, as if what he was about to say was still too hard for him to believe. “She was very matter-of-fact about my predicament, as if I’d spent too long getting over it. She told me I’d made too big a thing out of it. Then she looked at me like a judge who’s known the truth all along but had to wait until the perfect time to share it.”
Then he dropped his face into his opened hands. As he breathed in and out deeply, I pondered all that I’d heard and read about abortions. Every single story was stitched with elements of sadness and dashed hope so distant from Congressional debate, laws that attempt to dispense clarity, and opinions of judges perplexed as Solomon. I told myself that only the people involved should decide. No one knows more than they do; no one will feel the impact of their decision more directly.
I kept those thoughts to myself as I watched him shake his shoulders as if clearing them of a weight he wanted to slough. Finally he spoke.
“She looked at me as if she was so sure about what she was saying that I was an idiot for not knowing. Then she told me that the child we had aborted was not mine.”
It was my turn to be shocked, to feel that any certainties I’d had about the abortion debate were topsy-turvy. Instantly, I tried to rethink everything he’d told me.
He watched me as if he might have to steady me. I didn’t know what to say. But he did.
“Thanks for listening,” he said. Then he walked away.