My mom wanted children so badly that she underwent three abortions and three miscarriages to have us. As she says, “I am pro-life, I just happen to be pro-choice, as well.” Since childhood, she had dreamed of having a dozen children; a huge family that would play sports together on the weekends.
I cannot emphasize enough how badly my mother wanted children. For a gay couple, starting a family demands strong intention, persistent determination, and money. My parents went through the pregnancy process relatively alone; they were very early participants in the gay and lesbian couples having children movement.
My mother followed all the proper medical advice. She went to a medically approved facility to be inseminated and ordered the appropriate tests. My parents selected a long-time family friend as their sperm donor and had him go through the same battery of tests as all the donors of a licensed facility were required to undergo. She ate healthily and stayed active throughout her pregnancy.
My parents were proud of the healthy baby growing inside my mom. It represented not just a commitment to family, but also proof that the LGBT community could have a future in family.
As she approached her 24th week of her pregnancy, my mother learned about the possibility of infantile Tay Sachs, a rare and incurable degenerative disorder with increased prevalence in families of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Once born, the baby grows seemingly healthily for six months, then begins to lose senses, going blind, deaf, being unable to swallow, and finally becoming paralytic.
Infants with Tay Sachs disorder typically die within four years after birth.
Because of the rarity of the disorder, doctors don’t usually test for Tay Sachs. It requires a special test, apart from the standard fetal screenings. My mother had just learned that she was a Tay Sachs carrier and was worried. Still, in order for the fetus to even have the possibility of having Tay Sachs, it would require that the donor was also a carrier. Since he wasn’t Jewish and there was no history of it in his family (nor in my mom’s), the likelihood was very slim. Regardless, my mom asked the donor to be tested for Tay Sachs. Beating all odds, they discovered he, too, was a carrier of the disease. The chances of both biological parents being carrieres was close to one in a million.
The fetus still only had a 1 in 4 chance of having the disease, but at six months, her worst fears were confirmed. The fetus tested positive for Tay Sachs.
To my parents, the decision to have an abortion was straightforward despite the immeasurable emotional toll. There was no decision – the baby was going to die anyway, a physically painful process for it, and an emotionally destructive process for my parents.
“The huge toll caring for that child would have taken is immeasurable, and no one can make that decision for somebody else,” my mother says.
All of my parents’ family, friends, and co-workers already knew of the pregnancy. My parents had waited until after the results of the amniocentesis to share the news. Baby showers had been thrown.
“We were in that place of pre-celebration,” she explains. Their friends were excited to welcome a baby to the family.
My parents’ health insurance would have paid for the huge medical costs of supporting a child dying from an incurable, degenerative disease, estimated to cost about $100,000 a year at the time, although no mention of the financial, emotional, and psychological consequences of raising such a child with the knowledge that that child wouldn’t live past four years old.
Getting an abortion in the third trimester that does not compromise the mother’s life was almost impossible in 1991, and is currently, in 2013, also almost impossible. It was very difficult to find any place to do it. One of the only doctors who would perform the procedure was Dr. George Tiller, in Wichita, Kansas—who was shot in 2009 for offering such procedures.
But my mother had no time to fly to Kansas – the longer she waited, the less likely it was that she could find someone willing to perform the abortion. She finally found a supportive doctor in San Francisco, the only one in the area who was willing to give such a late term abortion.
Ironically enough, health insurance would not pay the $5,000 that my mother’s abortion was going to cost. My mother was lucky enough to be able to afford her abortion, but many women in similar positions are not.
Women do not plan to have third trimester abortions, because they are often excruciatingly painful, both physically and emotionally. My mother’s first abortion was a 72 hour process, with a doctor’s visit and a hospital stay.
For my mother, the abortion was the most physically and emotionally painful experience she has ever gone through, more difficult than being in labor for three days to give birth to me. As she puts it: “I can’t imagine wishing that on my worst enemy, it was an awful experience.”
Still, she has no regrets. “I can only imagine what it would have been like to have to carry that fetus to term, knowing the kind of life it would have had, and then having to deal with watching our baby gradually die over the next four years.”
Women like my mother do not decide to have an abortion on a whim. Easy access to birth control would not have eliminated her need for an abortion. It is naïve to believe that making abortion illegal will dissuade parents from finding a person to perform the procedure.
Nobody is pro-abortion: no one wants an abortion, but people like my mother need the choice to have one. There are countless situations that our elected officials and legislators cannot begin to imagine and delicate, unique emotions to deal with. The choice to abort is not a public choice, but the woman’s choice.
Women’s choices are enabled or inhibited by government structures: the availability of child support, day care centers, and medical care. Every woman needs to have both the adequate resources and support systems to raise a child as well as the opportunity to abort, regardless of her socio-economic background.
Politicians suggest that by providing these services (health care, day care, financial support), so that abortions will become rarer, as women would need not abort for fear of not being able to support the child. I, too, demand these resources. But my mom did not have any of these fears. She needed to be able to abort her pregnancy very late in her term because of a rare, unknown, and completely unpredictable genetic disorder. As my mom says, “It is fundamentally impossible for the government to predict every issue that gets raised in a pregnancy.” Abortion is an indispensable option that, while I hope is rarely needed, must remain a safe and legal possibility, necessary for the health of our society.