Abortion rights activists rally in front of the U.S. Supreme...

Abortion rights activists rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. on May 21, 2019. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

Being a woman frequently means not having much of a voice. Using it to protest or advance policy can mean bearing one's soul, detailing one's most intimate moments or divulging the most terrifying, violent or shameful events of life.

Often for nothing.

Just ask Christine Blasey Ford. She stood up to protest the nomination of a man who allegedly acted without honor to be one of the arbiters of justice in the nation's highest court. Where did it get her?

For that matter, before Blasey Ford was threatened, doxed and subsequently driven from her home and into hiding, there were countless women who bared their souls as part of the #MeToo movement. Their hope was to bring about lasting change by describing how powerful men who abuse their influence, access and authority impact women's lives.

No dice. Sure, there are some foundations doing the work of attempting systemic change against sexual harassment (and a few grass-roots organizations helping working-class women who face daily abuses). But not that much has changed since Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men in positions of power were held to account for their own alleged sexual misconduct.

But what will become of the less-famous women who have taken to social media, op-ed pages call-in radio shows and neighborhood coffee shops to share their saddest traumas?

In recent weeks, a raft of state legislatures have passed bills that effectively ban abortion after a pregnancy reaches six weeks. And, cheering from the sidelines, some on the right are attempting to paint women who undergo the procedure as careless, joyful or sadistic. Pushing back against this tide, many women have been compelled to stand up and admit publicly to the horrible assault, tragic birth defect, failure of a birth control method or simple accident that led them to need an abortion.

Heartbreakingly, it seems like the flood of painful stories about abortions that ended what could have been life-ruining pregnancies will have no end.

Here's mine: I've never had an abortion.

In fact, the one time I was offered an abortion, I turned it down.

And that decision nearly killed me.

In early 2000, during my second high-risk pregnancy, a second-trimester ultrasound showed severe abnormalities that immediately led to an amniocentesis. I then underwent several other highly specialized tests designed to tell whether our daughter was going to have a debilitating disability or even live long enough to be born.

The diagnosis determined that the baby would either die in the womb or be born with multiple abnormalities that would pain her for what would be a very short life hooked up to loud machines. The chances that medical therapy or surgery could deliver a healthy infant were astronomically remote. At the time, the extreme long-shot try for a severely cognitively or physically disabled living child seemed like an infinitely better alternative to the recommended abortion.

(Now that I work with students with profound disabilities and see how parents struggle, it no longer seems like my child's life could possibly have been as joyous as I imagined it.)

Our daughter's birth revealed how profoundly ill she had been in the womb for the months we dragged her life out and I've never fully recuperated from the pain and guilt of knowing I could have ended her suffering much sooner.

My vitals crashed during the cesarean section I required in order to give her the chance to live long enough for her father and I to meet her. Had I not been at a wealthy community's top-tier hospital with elite high-risk obstetricians, I'd most likely be dead. I'd have left my other not-yet-2-year-old son motherless.

But I had a choice.

Most women of color don't have those kinds of resources available to them even though they are disproportionately likely to have high-risk pregnancies, unforeseen pregnancy complications and higher postpartum complications and deaths.

In a New York Times op-ed last week titled "Pregnancy Kills. Abortion Saves Lives," Dr. Warren M. Hern wrote: "Pregnancy itself poses a 'serious health risk' -- including the risk of dying and losing all bodily functions. A woman's life and health are at risk from the moment that a pregnancy exists in her body, whether she wants to be pregnant or not."

The "pro-life" stance too often disregards the mothers of fetuses. Call the draconian early-term abortion bans what they are: anti-choice and potentially pro-death for women.

And those who've had their lives saved because of an abortion should be the next wave of stories highlighted in the media.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. She was previously a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.


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