“So: four pregnancies, one miscarriage, one abortion. Correct?”
A moment of frozen silence as the nurse briskly checks her notes before my routine appointment.
“Um, not exactly. One was an ectopic pregnancy, so ….”
“It didn’t terminate on its own, did it?”
Well, no, it didn’t. That 12-week-old fetus that had implanted itself in my Fallopian tube was removed via a neat slice below my “bikini line,” as the surgeon brightly described it. “A little while longer, your tube would have ruptured and you’d likely be dead,” he added, equally cheerfully. Recovering in my hospital bed, while gazing at the large “Mortuary” sign outside my window (really!), I had plenty of time to ponder that probability.
I honestly didn’t give much thought to the potential being (“about the size of a small plum”) whose removal saved my life. My pregnancy had been confirmed just days before. A few weeks previously, my doctor had dismissed my insistence that I “felt” pregnant, following a negative urine test. I timidly mentioned the possibility of a tubal pregnancy; was there another test that could be done? Nonsense! It was all in my head — rooted in my yearning to have a second child. She sent me to an infertility specialist, giving the embryo time to enter the second trimester. Too far along for a laparoscope, I was immediately admitted for emergency surgery. I was sad but mostly grateful not to be lying in that conveniently sited morgue.
Many years later, in another state, I learned that my history placed me among the millions of women who have had an abortion at some point in their lives.
Three months after that surgery, I had become pregnant again. Firmly in the uterus this time. One day, also at that ill-fated 12-week mark, something did not feel right. An ultrasound showed my pregnancy was over. It could not be removed; the city’s Catholic hospital frowned on abortion – even of a non-viable fetus. I would have to expel it naturally, which I duly did, precipitating a fearful dash to the ER. Only then was a D and C finally permitted. Abortion averted this time.
And my fourth pregnancy? My second son, born a year later, perfect in every way, just like his brother.
I am among the fortunate few who usually aren’t the target of anti-abortion crusaders, most of whom have tolerated abortion to save a mother’s life. Women who miscarry are usually left alone too. But these days, the crusaders grow increasingly emboldened. More and more states have banned or are preparing to ban all abortions – no exceptions. Political candidates line up to voice their support; Georgia Senate candidate and former football star Herschel Walker proclaims, “there is no exception in my mind.” Not for rape, not for incest, not for the mother’s health. And certainly not because a woman simply wants to control her body. “I believe in life,” he declares.
The embryo in ectopic pregnancies is undoubtedly alive, with a detectable heartbeat. In 2019, that prompted an Ohio legislator to introduce a bill that would treat such pregnancies by “reimplanting the fertilized ovum into the woman’s uterus,” rather than aborting it. Never mind that this is a medical impossibility; given the sacredness of life, what else to do? Let nature take its course, presumably. That heartbeat lodged in my body would undoubtedly have stopped naturally when the rupture occurred – along with mine. God’s will, I suppose?
My history speaks to the nightmare that may soon await us if the hardliners get their way. If embryos are babies from the moment of fertilization, their rights to personhood necessarily obliterate the rights of women to choose their destiny. The absolutists like to claim their position is clear and simple: a life begins at conception. But in truth it creates a tangled web of questions, all of which imperil women. Are mothers of doomed fetuses condemned to suffer and die? Where is the line between abortion and miscarriage? How do we know if my “miscarriage” was really a botched abortion, and I am a murderer? No matter that more than one in 10 pregnancies miscarry – someone must be held accountable! How many women will fear seeking help lest they be branded sinners?
For years, until reminded by that rather tactless Florida nurse, I never really considered my experience as abortion. But I should have. It is just one thread in that tapestry of tales that reflect women’s encounters with pregnancy loss. I have never had an elective abortion, but I know there are circumstances in which it would have been the right choice, as it has been for so many others. I was just lucky. But now, after 50 years of despising our freedom, the zealots suddenly glimpse their moment. They will be coming for us all.
No one, including those who have gone through one, is “pro-abortion.” No abortion is taken lightly. Before Roe, no woman alive wanted to surrender herself to the horrors of self-administered or clandestine treatment, risking hemorrhage, sepsis and worse. But in the absence of options, desperation fills the void. As it all starts happening again, will the zealots finally be satisfied?
About the Author
Born and raised in the UK, Elizabeth Bird is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. She is the author of seven books (most recently, “Surviving Biafra: A Nigerwife’s Story”), she now focuses on creative non-fiction. Her non-academic work has been accepted or appeared in Under the Sun (Readers’ Choice Award 2022), Streetlight, The Guardian, the Des Moines Register, Tampa Tribune, Skeptic Magazine, and elsewhere.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood for the work they are doing to ensure access.