A mother's ordeal shows NC abortion law already is cruel
Lauren Christensen didn’t have a crib yet, but she had a stocking with the name “Simone” embroidered on it. It was a Christmas gift from her mother.
Christensen’s mother lost a baby before her daughter was born. When Christensen found out she was pregnant, she was terrified of what could happen. Her mother told her what a doctor said to her when she lost her son: “If a baby wants to be born, a baby is going to be born.” There will always be things out of your control.
When Christensen went to her doctor for her 20-week anatomy scan in January 2023, she ended up in a “nightmare scenario” that was fueled in part by North Carolina’s current abortion law, which makes abortions illegal after 20 weeks.
Christensen’s friends told her the anatomy scan was going to be an amazing experience. She was supposed to be able to see what her daughter looked like. During the scan, she watched the screen and couldn’t see much. She wondered if this was a different type of scan and the anatomy scan hadn’t happened yet.
Christensen’s stenographer left the room and came back with the doctor. There were concerns about fluid, she was told, and she was transferred to Duke Hospital to see a specialist, who explained that the child’s organs were failing. That meant Christensen’s organs could start failing, too.
The only way an abortion can occur legally past 20 weeks is to save the life of the mother. The doctors presented Christensen with two options: wait for the fetus to die on its own, putting Christensen’s life at risk in the process, or terminate the pregnancy. To terminate, Christensen would need to leave the state.
Christensen considered the options. At first, she saw it as a choice between two lives.
“For me, that would have been a no-brainer,” Christensen says. “I could have died, and she could have lived. There wouldn’t have even been a second of doubt, but that wasn’t the case. There was just no way that she was going to live.”
North Carolina’s current abortion regulations include a 72-hour waiting period between when a patient first says they want to terminate a pregnancy and when a doctor can actually perform the procedure. Christensen’s doctors offered to transfer her care to Washington, D.C., or Virginia. She’s from New York, so she went there. She slept in her childhood bedroom. The next day, she had the procedure to terminate the pregnancy. The entire experience was over in nine days.
“One of the things I struggle with a lot is feeling like, ‘Did I just make that all up?’” Christensen tells me. “‘Did I dream that?’ Because I didn’t hold her until she was already gone. I just keep having to anchor myself. She was real. She was realer to me than any person who I can see and touch.”
Christensen’s story would not be possible in North Carolina because of the current 20-week ban on abortion, and her ability to navigate the situation is uncommon. The moment she received the diagnosis, she had the resources and the people she needed to leave the state. Lots of people don’t. Some pregnant patients don’t have the money to get an abortion at an earlier time. Some are delayed further by the state’s 72-hour waiting period. Some don’t have family out-of-state to stay with.
Pregnancy complications are cruel and unyielding, and they will always happen. All North Carolina’s current law does is add to the devastation. Christensen’s choice to terminate the pregnancy actually kept her daughter from feeling pain — the same could not be said if she had decided to stay in North Carolina and wait. Everyone’s abortion story is different, but harsher restrictions turn them all into nightmares.
Simone had more than a stocking. She had some onesies with rabbits on them to commemorate 2023, the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese Zodiac. She had a stuffed rabbit and a pacifier with a rabbit on it, too. She had a set of books. Her father had just traded in his car for something that could fit a car seat.
“It felt like this gift that kind of came out of nowhere,” Christensen says. “She came of her own will, and toward the end she went. She came as quickly as she went.”
Sara Pequeño is a Raleigh-based opinion writer for McClatchy’s North Carolina Opinion Team and member of the Editorial Board.