Choose and Lose
The End of Roe in America
A little over twelve years ago, I was pregnant for the first time. To my shock, my OB/GYN wouldn’t even see me until I was eight weeks pregnant, three weeks after I found out due to a missed period that I had finally conceived.
I dutifully showed up at the doctor at the appointed time, my husband in tow. The sonogram picked up on the electrical impulses in my belly that would eventually, we hoped, make a four chambered heart, and measured the size of the fetus on the monitor. Everything looked good. I was thrilled.
We returned three weeks later for checkup. The size of the amniotic sac had continued to grow, hence the bump in my belly.
But the size of the fetus hadn’t changed. The electrical impulses we’d heard before were undetectable.
I was immediately sent across New York City to a high-end ultrasound clinic, and rushed into the procedure room. I don’t think it hit me until I was on my back, on that table, in a medical gown, and the tech said to me “you can get dressed, there’s nothing more to do, the doctor will be in to speak to you,” that the worst had come to pass.
I had lost the pregnancy, and had a dead fetus in my uterus that had been there for somewhere around three weeks, and my body wasn’t letting it go. I would later learn that the fetus had a genetic anomaly that would never have allowed it to survive outside the womb.
In the shock of that moment, I don’t think it hit me how profoundly dangerous the circumstances had suddenly become. Silent miscarriages, as mine was termed, put women at risk for sepsis– where your body is poisoned from the inside out, leading to organ failure, and death. For three weeks, dead tissue had been decaying inside me.
But I wasn’t unable to process that then. I went home, called my dad, collapsed in tears in my husband’s arms, and went to bed.
I had urgent instructions to return to my doctor the following morning at 8 a.m. When I arrived, I was handed two Vicodin, which I gladly took. Thirty minutes later, I was led into the procedure room at my doctor’s office, where I had an abortion.
Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the day that an abortion saved my life.
Under the Texas law against abortion that is currently in effect, which prohibits abortion after six weeks, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother– also known as a “heartbeat bill”-- the procedure I had is illegal. If Roe is overturned, it will be illegal immediately in 26 states.
So let us just be blunt about it, shall we?
The end of Roe means the possibility of death for anyone who has the potential to conceive. It would have meant death for me.
Four months later, I was pregnant again. The child that resulted from that pregnancy is sleeping one floor below me as I write this. The child that came fifteen months later is in the next room.
I have this life, with these two incredible beings, because I had access to abortion.
I have since walked numerous friends through the experience I had, including one who had a fetus die inside her at five months after an appearance on television announcing her pregnancy with her famous athlete husband. I sat with her while her cervix was dilated for a day so that the procedure could be completed. I sat with her as she wept and raged and saved her own life.
I sat with my neighbor in Brooklyn in the aftermath of her procedure at six months, after she’d already had a baby shower, with a fetus who had never developed a brain.
And more than three decades ago, I sat with my college roommate on the night before her abortion, after we left a movie theater together in Pittsburgh and she remarked on how she could smell everything in extreme ways, and she talked about how well she knew, at 19, that becoming a mother then would have also meant the end of her life.
I am a proponent of abortion for anyone who wants one, for any reason. I have a uterus inside my body, and as with everyone else who does, I have a right to decide what I do with it, no questions asked.
I could write about the likely debates about viability and timing and everything else that the far right extremists and their legal scholars would raise in response to the paragraph above, but I’m not going to do that.
Instead, I’m going to point out something very obvious: that when you don’t have control over what happens to your own body, you are not free.
The leaked opinion out of the Supreme Court will constitute the first rollback of a constitutional right in America’s history when it becomes official.
In America, freedom has always been a lie, and this is no exception.
When I was in law school, I was elected President of the Moot Court Board. I went to law school in Washington D.C., and our final Constitutional Law competition was adjudicated by three jurists.
One of them, Justice Scalia, was a sitting Supreme Court justice at the time.
Another was the man, then a Court of Appeals judge on the Third Circuit, who will be the author of the opinion that eliminates bodily dominion for more than half of the citizens of this nation.
A photo was taken that day the competition was over. I am standing right behind these two men, with my leadership board behind me, in my 3L law school suit and my too-professional haircut, smiling.
I think about that photo a lot.
I think a lot about proximity and indoctrination and how we learn to accept our own subjugation.
I think a lot about this tiny group of people on the Supreme Court, four of whom were appointed by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote, who, in furtherance of white supremacy and patriarchy and raw power, will strip us of what little freedom we have, and by mere words on paper about a case that was decided 50 years go, take our lives.
The end of Roe is going to hit hardest for poor women, for Black and brown and indigenous women, and particularly in states where the rollback of rights has already resulted in all but a handful of clinics being closed.
And while reproductive justice organizations have prepared for this outcome, and abortion pill by mail providers have ramped up to try to fill the gap for as long as they are allowed to do so, the reality we must face is that the end of Roe is but the start.
In a nation that doesn’t have paid family leave or paid childcare or free access to healthcare, that increasingly doesn’t believe in public education and shames those who need the limited social safety net that remains to survive, where housing is a luxury and food insecurity is a fact of life, what looms for those who can’t access what will remain of abortion services when they need it is a life that is not ever, under any circumstances, safe.
And because of the nature of Roe being grounded in an implied right to privacy, what comes next is the end of rights for everyone who is not white, cis, male, wealthy, able-bodied and born in America.
No matter what we will be able to choose from the scraps of what will remain, we will lose.
Even those wealthy white women, even the wives and daughters and mistresses of the men behind the decades-long efforts to throw state legislatures to the far right and seat a neo-fascist as president and pack the Supreme Court with ideologues that brought us to this horrific historical shift, will lose.
Back in 2018, activist and thought-leader Brittany Packnett Cunningham was interviewed on Pod Save America. She implored the 53% of white women who had voted for Trump in 2016 to consider where they sat in relation to the rest of American womanhood.
In words that have rung in my ears ever since, she said this. "Your whiteness will actually not save you from what patriarchy has in store for you... Stop selling us out."
Those women are about to find out how true it is that none of us are free until all of us are free.
The coming weeks and months are going to require us to fight for our lives.
Voting will not be enough.
Our bodies will be on the line.
Some of us will have to choose how far we are willing to go to save the lives of people we love and care about.
Abortion will not end simply because it is illegal, and this will not end with abortion. The next targets are gay marriage and interracial marriage and a return to sodomy laws and even an end to public education for all.
Will we break the law when the law is unjust?
And how exactly does democracy survive when thanks to voter suppression and gerrymandering and violent far right state legislatures and neo-fascists occupying an entire party nationwide, the 70% of Americans favoring abortion may not be enough to throw out the fractional minority denying rights to the rest of us?
When will we accept that we are all in this together, that a target on one of us is a target on all?
We are not the land of the free. We never were.
The only question that remains, and not for the first time, is how many bodies it will cost before we whose lives are on the line rise up and fight no matter the cost, and whether that moment will be the last breath of this American experiment.