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When a planned, intended pregnancy ends in abortion: One woman's story

A nurse checks the vitals of a 33-year-old mother of three from central Texas as she rests after getting an abortion. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)
A nurse checks the vitals of a 33-year-old mother of three from central Texas as she rests after getting an abortion. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Sara and her husband were thrilled to find out she was pregnant.

But unfortunately for Sara, whose last name has been omitted as she fears retribution from those who disagree with her choice, the pregnancy didn’t turn out as she hoped. During her first trimester, Sara made a difficult decision to abort the child she wanted due to a genetic disorder — something now illegal in several states after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“I cannot tell you how anxious we were to be pregnant,” she says. “I probably took about 20 pregnancy tests in just a few months, checking every couple of days around my period.”

The couple already had one child, a boy born in 2020, when they got the news of Sara’s pregnancy. At age 38, Sara knew her risks would be heightened: Two years ago, before the birth of her son, Sara’s obstetrician recommended genetic testing since, at age 36, her pregnancy was considered higher risk. The tests turned out to be normal and her pregnancy proceeded as planned.

This time, however, the genetic testing revealed anomalies that required further exploration. Eleven weeks into the pregnancy, Sara and her husband were called by the doctor and asked to come into the office the same day.

“I could hardly walk into that office,” Sara says. “I collapsed outside the door before we could even go in and hear what that doctor had to say.”

Genetic testing showed the baby had Trisomy-13. Scans showed malformations in the heart, spine and brain. Chances were, the baby — deemed to be a girl through that same ultrasound — would not survive outside the womb for more than a few days, if at all. Sara’s doctor said she was likely to suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth if she continued carrying the child.

“We wanted this baby. We wanted our baby to be okay. But she wasn’t,” Sara says. “Most of all, we wanted our little girl not to suffer, no matter how much that meant that we would suffer having the burden of making the choice for how she lived.”

Sara and her husband live roughly 24 hours from a hospital where she could receive care, so Sara knew a miscarriage could threaten her life. After an extensive search, Sara traveled to California to undergo a surgical abortion known as a dilation and curettage (or D&C).

While her husband waited in the clinic’s parking lot in adherence to COVID-19 guidelines, Sara held tight to a staffer assigned to comfort her as she underwent the 15-minute vacuum aspiration procedure.

“Even at the clinic where they support abortion, there was still a single-story idea that my abortion might liberate me or give me back part of my life. In reality, I was losing part of it by losing this child,” she says. “And even when it is legal, like in California, the procedure was still horrible.”

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed access to safe abortions across the U.S. With abortion legislation now effectively left up to the states, uncertainty clouds the issue and procedures like D&C. Though D&C is used after miscarriages, endometriosis, uterine cancers and other procedures where uterine tissue samples are required, they’ve been lumped in with general “abortion” procedures and effectively banned in states like Texas.

About six weeks after the procedure, Sara posted about her expeprience on Facebook when Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortion became a hotly-discussed issue on and off social media.

“There’s not one story of what abortion is,” the post reads. “I am angry and heartbroken and sobbing as I write this. I am mad at the liberals in the clinic who thought this procedure would be liberating. I am mad at the conservatives who might assume I wasn’t responsible. We wanted this baby.”

For political pundits and social media users alike, abortion rights exist as merely a forum for debate, a way to inject politics into the personal. For patients like Sara, abortion procedures can be at the same time devastating yet potentially lifesaving, underscoring the nuance and singularity that’s often obscured in mainstream discussion.

“The hardest part is having an abortion at the same time that this giant political debate is happening,” she says. “I will suffer the trauma of an abortion the rest of my life. But I would do it again if it meant that my baby will not suffer a single day.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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