(RNS) — “There’s no heartbeat.”
The words were incomprehensible; I was sure I had been feeling the baby kick.
It must have been wishful thinking or, more likely, magical thinking as my fetus had lived out its lifespan inside my womb, never to emerge into the air of the world.
My gynecologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, gave me two options. I could go to Rex Hospital, where I had given birth to my then 2 1/2-year-old, enter the maternity ward and take medications to induce delivery. I could not imagine going through labor not to have a baby at the end of such a painful exertion, nor did I think being around women who were giving birth to healthy live babies would be something that I could endure.
Even the suggestion, hearing it spoken, that I should go to a maternity ward not to become a mother felt cruel beyond measure.
My other option was to go to the university hospital in Chapel Hill, where I could go under anesthesia and have a procedure that would evacuate my womb. It needed to be scheduled as soon as possible because there were risks of infection and other problems that were created by having this fetus that was no longer alive inside me.
It was not a choice for me at all — of course I wanted to go under anesthesia and have the procedure done without having to be around happy women with healthy babies. As it was, for months after the miscarriage I would start to cry whenever I saw a pregnant woman on the street.
The only question that remained was what to do with the fetus. As Jews, we believe in burial of bodies, but my husband and I were not sure that this 16-week-old fetus needed burial or could be given to science or otherwise analyzed. We consulted a rabbi we trusted, Eliezer Diamond, who let us know that according to the Talmud, a baby is considered to be like water until 40 days and a fetus before 20 weeks of age does not need burial.
With relief that we would not have to plan a funeral or burial, I went to the hospital in Chapel Hill, and my husband and daughter and visiting mother-in-law dropped me off, went to have a picnic nearby and came back a few hours later, the procedure complete.
It took many years to heal mentally and emotionally from this miscarriage. No one could identify why it had happened or whether there was any reason it had occurred. I later learned that up to a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the National Institutes of Health, though the March of Dimes argues it may be higher, but I subsequently learned how common it was because so many others began to share their own experiences.
I felt that something I deserved, a child, had been taken from me. I felt that my life was no longer on the track I had planned and that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish the things I planned to, that my body had betrayed me and my life was not what I wanted it to be. I now have three healthy, wonderful children and do feel I am doing the things that I want to do in life, but felt so deeply grieved at the time.
This month, the North Carolina Legislature has pronounced a ban on abortions after 12 weeks. Hearing the news, I wondered what would have happened to me if such a ban had been in place then. Would a doctor or a hospital risk performing the procedure, even though it was medically indicated? In addition to absorbing the loss of my child, I would likely have had to make plans to go out of state for the procedure, and with haste.
My story demonstrates why necessary medical procedures need to be available to women. Abortion care is not only about abortion in the way its opponents want us to think of it. Abortion care affects the health of all women of childbearing age. A recent KFF poll shows that more than 60% of OB/GYN physicians in the U.S. believe women’s health has worsened in the past year.
It’s little wonder. Besides hindering women’s access to reproductive health care, the abortion debate has long discouraged health providers to receive training to do the procedure. We’ve already seen higher rates of sepsis in Texas from incomplete abortions. If a doctor never learns how to perform a dilation and extraction, necessary for procedures other than abortion, the ability to give care will suffer.
Heidi Fantasia, a nursing professor at the University of Massachusetts, writes in The Conversation that abortion training is considered essential health care and a core competency for physicians in OB/GYN residency programs, approximately 50% of which are found in states with restricted or highly restricted access to abortion.
“This will logically result in not only fewer health care providers being trained to perform gynecologic procedures for abortion,” said Fantasia, “but also other conditions such as miscarriage, fetal death and nonviable pregnancies.”
My story is but one of the many examples of this. Even if I were allowed the care I needed in 1998 today, the professional help I got may soon no longer be available. And why? Because of someone else’s religious beliefs.
It makes no sense to have one law on abortion that is not in consonance with our individual religious autonomy. My own religion has a nuanced view of abortion not easily summarized, but it comes down to a value, found in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Deuteronomy, that tells us that safeguarding one’s health is very important. It’s a value we can all get behind.
(Beth Kissileff, co-editor of “Bound in the Bond of Life: Pittsburgh Writers Reflect on the Tree of Life Tragedy,” is a writer in Pittsburgh. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)