Saturday, September 11, 2004

Right To Life

It's easy to think that "partial-birth abortion" laws could never affect you, or a woman you care about. The right wing circulates lurid, sensationalized descriptions of the procedure that can give even pro-choice people the squeamish sense that "you have to draw the line somewhere," and that it might be okay to draw it there... or at least, that the real focus should be on preserving access to first trimester abortions.

If that sounds familiar, read this essay - and I guarantee that you will never feel that way again.

It's a first-person account by a journalist who discovered, at 19 weeks' gestation, that her much-wanted baby had died in utero. By far the safest option for removing the dead baby while preserving the mother's health and her fertility was the procedure called "dilation and extraction," known in political circles as "partial-birth abortion." The D&E had a 4% risk of serious complications, the alternative procedure 29%. The problem, in the wake of Bush's 2003 "partial-birth abortion" ban, was finding someone to do the procedure.
When I arrived at the university’s emergency room, the source of the tension was clear. After examining me and confirming I was bleeding but not hemorrhaging, the attending obstetrician, obviously pregnant herself, defensively explained that only one of their dozens of obstetricians and gynecologists still does D&Es, and he was simply not available.

Not today. Not tomorrow. Not the next day.

No, I couldn’t have his name. She walked away from me and called my doctor.

“You can’t just dump these patients on us,” she shouted into the phone, her high-pitched voice floating through the heavy curtains surrounding my bed. “You should be dealing with this yourself.”

Shivering on the narrow, white exam table, I wondered what I had done wrong. Then I pulled back on my loose maternity pants and stumbled into the sunny parking lot, blinking back tears in the dazzling spring day, trying to understand the directions they sent me out with: Find a hotel within a few blocks from a hospital. Rest, monitor the bleeding. Don’t go home — the 45-minute drive might be too far.
She walked around for a week, bleeding, with her dead baby inside of her, because the virulent political controversy around dilation and extraction meant that no one was willing to provide her with proper medical care. This could happen to me. This could happen to any woman.

(Via Ms. Musings.)