A federal judge last week struck down a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Even supporters of abortion rights may wonder why a woman would need an abortion so late.
I was 24 when I accidentally got pregnant. I come from a family of well-educated New York feminists who had babies in their 30s, and many of my friends were scandalized by the idea that I would carry the child to term. Some even suggested I have an abortion. But by the time I went to the obstetrician, I was prepared to be a mother. I was delighted to see the fetal heartbeat and that little round smudge of a nose. The doctor did some routine blood work. Later I got a call from a nurse: I needed to come in.
My doctor, serious but chipper, had a very worried look on her face as my husband and I sat in her Fifth Avenue office. She told us: “You both carry a Jewish genetic disease called Canavan’s.”
“OK,” my husband said, as I tried to digest the news. The doctor went on: “Canavan’s is fatal. Canavan’s babies don’t live past 5 years old. Since you and your husband are carriers of Canavan’s, you have a 1 in 4 chance of having an affected fetus. You cannot carry an affected fetus to term. The fatality rate for Canavan’s disease is 100%.”
By this point, I was crying. “You’ll go and have a chorionic villus sampling,” she explained. The technology has since improved, but back then you could only have that test between 10 and 12 weeks. “And when the results come back you’ll be in your second trimester.” She paused, then said something that felt like a rebuke: “Unfortunately, I’m not trained to do second-trimester abortions, so you’d have to find someone else.”
Growing up with an outspoken feminist mother, we had talked a lot about the importance of choice. Yet most of my thinking on abortion had been theoretical. I never imagined I’d be a married woman who needed an abortion I didn’t want, and couldn’t find a doctor to give it to me.
We arrived at the genetic counselor’s office to learn our results. It turned out we won the lottery. My baby was not affected, not even a carrier. He was born the following January, a strapping 9 pounds, 5 ounces. He is now 14, a freshman in high school. Having him was the greatest decision I ever made, but being forced to carry a terminally ill baby would have been the greatest tragedy of my life. That is why I am committed to keeping second-trimester abortions safe and legal.