The trip to the ER that changed my mind about outlawing abortion

Abortion-AdI don’t like writing about abortion. I don’t have much original content to share in that debate, but I figure you can never hear enough personal stories, which are far more effective in changing minds than ranting in the rabbit hole of Facebook comment threads.

To be clear, I’ve never had an abortion. Thanks to the pill, I’ve never had to even consider one. But I had an experience a few years ago that heavily swayed my thinking. I haven’t stopped calling myself pro-life, but I’m a different sort of pro-lifer now than I used to be.

What I mean is, I’ve stopped elevating the life of the fetus over that of the mother.

(Some squicky details about periods ahead, which probably isn’t necessary since women’s bodies aren’t squicky, but here’s a warning anyway).

In the winter of 2013, I started what seemed like a heavier period than usual. I wasn’t on the pill yet, and heavy periods were pretty normal for me. An irregular cycle was also not unusual, so it didn’t strike me as odd that this bleeding was happening six weeks after my previous period. What was unusual was the number of tampons used up in just under an hour: six, to be exact. Six of the Super Plus kind, which typically last anywhere from three to six hours depending on where I am in my cycle. And the cramps. My God, the cramps. I’m no stranger to those, either, but not the punched-in-the-gut kind.

I called my then-boyfriend (now husband), a physician assistant, who advised that I go to the ER. It was around ten o’clock at night, and I was able to be seen pretty quickly. I was given thick cotton pads to sit on while being examined. I’d never seen that much blood before.

The bleeding stopped shortly after I arrived at the hospital, and the pregnancy test came back negative – but given what I’d experienced until that point, the nurse told me it was likely that I wasn’t producing enough of the pregnancy hormone to show a positive test. I’d have been six weeks along, at most. It’s not uncommon for irregular women to suspect they are pregnant after missing at least two periods, whereas I had only missed one.

I share this story because it was the first thing I thought of when I read an article about how Texas will soon require the burial of aborted fetuses. Because most abortions occur within the first eight weeks of pregnancy, this means that the burial contents may well have included those cotton pads I bled on.

It also means that the contents of a miscarriage in a toilet bowl ‘count,’ as not all abortions occur in the operation room of a hospital or clinic. Which means there is no way to rule out the possibility that women who suffer legitimate miscarriages could be suspected of or charged with murder.

For years, I was the kind of pro-lifer who believed that the abortion issue could best be solved if it were treated like other kinds of murder: outlawed in all fifty states, the assailant(s) arrested and thrown in jail. Not until I became a ‘suspect’ (or so I might have been, had this happened in Texas in the not-so-distant future) did I realize the holes in my rhetoric; the vehemently anti-life effect it would have had on countless women, their children, and families. After all, it’s hard for a single mom to pick up her kids from school and feed them if she’s held in custody and can’t afford bail.

This experience may not ever happen to you, which is why it is so important to listen to those who have lived through it. I shut down every opportunity to hear such stories, though – most likely because I marketed myself as an unsafe person with whom to share such a personal thing. But with social media, these stories are all too easy to find, and they deserve to be heard. Women deserve better than this, and for the sake of all future pregnancies, the pro-life movement desperately needs a makeover.

The pro-life movement needs to re-establish itself as a body of people who care about preventing abortion from becoming an option in the first place, by supporting measures that have been proven to work, and ensuring adequate care of all moms and babies, once they leave the womb. A proposed law like this is not interested in the health and well-being of women. Instead, it focuses its energy into shaming women after the procedure has been carried out. The fetus is gone by then – so what is the point?

Shame is the point. Not ‘protecting life.’ Just shaming women.


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11 thoughts on “The trip to the ER that changed my mind about outlawing abortion

  1. Pingback: Am I that intolerant liberal that conservatives warned you about? – Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. Maybe it’s time to address the language we use around this debate. My thoughts are very, very similar to yours. I grew up in a strongly pro-life family, and the day I realized that it was the pro-choice people who seemed to actually support ideas that would reduce abortions was hard on me. It’s hard to say “I’m not pro-life” because, you know what? I think my position does support life. It prevents abortions in the form of pregnancy prevention, it saves women’s lives by not forcing them into dangerous situations, and it improves quality of life by supporting people who are pregnant, parents, and children.

    It really grates on me that the people who support policies that back women into tight corners and then put their lives in danger to the point of refusing do deal with medical emergencies get to use the term “pro-life.” In that case, it’s nothing but propaganda.

    Maybe if more people like you keep calling themselves “pro-life” it will start to actually mean “pro-life.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Before I proceed, I would like to make it clear that I do not want to come across as insensitive, or dismissive of other people’s experiences so if I am coming across either way, please let me know.

    Now, I will hesitantly state that I am prolife, and I believe in laws making abortion illegal, so we disagree there. At the same time, I believe the laws must be just laws, meaning laws that take the lives of women into account, not just unborn persons. I appreciate reading about people’s experiences so I can become a more compassionate and informed prolifer. I do not support the current incremental legislations because I don’t feel they are working well enough, meaning I take issue with laws that would not protect women from being punished for miscarriages, for instance. Also, while I understand the purpose behind the burial/cremation law, I think it’s a silly law and the PL movement could do better than this. I have many other reasons, but feel this will suffice.

    Last but not least, I’m sorry you went through something so horrible, Beth, and I hope you never experience anything like it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for posting something so personal and difficult. People on both sides of the abortion debate need to read more stories like this. We have an unfortunate tendency to polarize, to assume that everyone on the other side of an issue is an extremist. I hate the idea of abortion; like you, I’ve been fortunate never to be in the position of considering it. I am pro-choice, myself, but I want birth control to be so available – and parenting so well-supported – that abortions are a rare, rare event. However, folks like you and me are not what people think of when they think “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

    So I salute your openness, and I hope that lots of people hear you about this cruel law in Texas. The people who most need to hear you are not going to listen to me – I carry the wrong label – but they are much more likely to listen to you. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have often said, and will continue to say, that I will gladly work with any pro-life/anti-abortion person to reduce abortions: by improving the social safety net, improving childcare and education, informative and factual sex education, access to birth control of all kinds (and that includes NFP, if the couple so chooses)…but I will not work with someone who just wants to shame women for having sex or having an abortion, or put their religious beliefs about sex/abortion into law.

      Liked by 2 people

    • @rabbiadar,

      Thanks for acknowledging that people on both sides of the fence have a tendency to stereotype the other side.

      While we disagree on the issue of abortion remaining legal, we do agree on contraceptives, informative sex education and social safety nets being widely available. I also believe adoption needs to be reformed because many prolifers like to point out that people should adopt out, rather than abort.

      I appreciate people like Beth sharing their stories, because it makes me a better prolifer who is more dedicated to the bigger picture – that of looking after every life as much as possible. Prolifers can forget that the woman is a real person with needs, as much as the baby, and I have made it my personal goal not to forget this.

      Liked by 1 person

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