I wrote last week on the anniversary of learning that Grace had a life-ending disease, discussing how the day unfolded and felt along the way. It was an enormous blow and shock to the system. Little did I know the amount of insult was going to be added to our devastating injury in the form of the process the state of Missouri imposes on women and families that want or need to terminate pregnancies.
I had been given hints about what was to come during our anatomy scan and subsequent discussion with our doctor, and then the follow up high-tech ultrasound to confirm Grace's diagnosis. There was talk about how we, at 20 weeks, 6 days pregnant, did not have a lot of time to make a decision about how to proceed. When we were called about scheduling time to come sign the consent forms, I was told we would have to try to sign them the next day because of the 72 hour waiting period, and that if we couldn't get that performed by by 21 weeks, 6 days (including the 72 hours), we'd have to go out of state to have the abortion. I was told we were lucky to be in St. Louis, home of the state's only abortion clinic (at Planned Parenthood). All of this stunned me and left me feeling misunderstood, unsupported and worst of all, judged. We had just learned our very wanted daughter would never get to live the life we'd dreamed of for her. Now we just wanted to get the necessary next steps over with as quickly as possible. The limitations and requirements felt hurtful and inappropriate to me, at a time when I was already deeply steeped in grief. I kept asking if there were exceptions for people like us: people that wanted their pregnancy but learned it would never result in a happy, healthy child, and that instead our child would die a painful, suffering death. To be informed over and over that there weren't exceptions told me that our lawmakers clearly hadn't thought the laws through well. As I considered that unavoidable reality, I also considered how I would feel if I needed or wanted an abortion for other reasons, like an abusive partner, failed birth control and so on. I felt more and more like if the laws missed the mark on us, they'd missed the mark on so many other scenarios as well, and that therefore the requirements weren't appropriate for anyone.
As a privileged woman of reasonable means, learning about the ridiculous process required of us to do what was humane for our daughter was kind of like when you first learn that adults aren't always mature, kind or right after growing up depending on that as a fact. How much my privilege was still helping me in our terrible situation washed over me, leaving me heartbroken, indignant and shocked over and over. What about women in rural areas (100+ miles away) who needed the time and money to get to St. Louis or another state for the abortion? What about women who already had children and couldn't find childcare as soon as they needed to to sign the consents to meet the 72 hour waiting period and get the termination before time ran out? Anatomy scans happen between 18 and 22 weeks, so this isn't implausible in the least. We also were lucky to have jobs that accommodated our last minute scheduling needs, but many are not nearly as lucky. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from funding abortions, so it's exceedingly expensive at our stage of pregnancy ($1500 at Planned Parenthood, $8000 at a hospital, which is highly recommended at our stage of pregnancy because it is risky for me as the mother). Who can afford that at such short notice? I was blown away at learning this is how it really is to get an abortion in Missouri.
That is how much I knew going into signing the actual consents to start the 72 hour clock and schedule our procedure. I had no idea how insulting the consents themselves would be. If the requirements I had encountered so far (geographical limitations, 72 hour waiting period, likely lack of insurance coverage, deadline that contradicted the recommended timeline of the anatomy scan guidelines per my doctor) were tone deaf to our situation, the consents and information we were given were downright callous and insulting.
When Jim and I arrived to sign the consents, we were met quickly by a doctor who, before reviewing the materials with us, warned us that she would have to guide us through some very difficult paperwork, but that it did no reflect how she, the doctor assigned to our case, felt about us at all. I quickly realized and confirmed that this was legally required paperwork, NOT medically required paperwork. I grew cautious and reserved, preparing myself for the worst. The state of Missouri delivered: we had to initial every line of this consent form
If you're reading this, feeling perhaps like it's appropriate, please consider the following: we were reeling from learning our intensely wanted daughter was going to die a painful, frightening death upon birth, if she made it that far. The care and support we encountered after learning that was being required to sign a consent saying I had seen an ultrasound and have heard a heartbeat. Imagine for a second how you'd feel in that situation. I was nearly 6 months pregnant. I had requested extra ultrasounds and had a home Doppler to check for Grace's heart beat every few days because I was so nervous after nearly 4 years of infertility and a prior miscarriage. This confirmation requirement was ridiculous, insulting and hurtful. Then I'm being told about Grace's anatomical and physiological features by a legal consent form instead of by my medical staff, as if I'm unaware. The doctor that just the day prior had given us an hour long ultrasound, detailing every feature. Would we allow this in our other medical decisions? Did they really think I needed education or reminding? I didn't need a government issued document to do this for me, especially when it included inaccurate information (more about that in a minute).
I couldn't believe I had to sign such an obviously biased and manipulative document (which highlighted all of the risks of having the abortion, but none of the higher risks of continuing the pregnancy, such as the very real risk to a woman's health), especially when my impending medical consents would cover everything necessary, and more importantly, were written using informed medical opinion and facts. The consent form lit me with indignation, outrage and defeat.
We had to take several breaks to process what we were having to sign. The layers of how openly against us our laws were kept washing over me. I have lived in Missouri all of my life. I have paid taxes here, voted in every election I can, volunteered here, defended it to people that want to call it backwards and ignorant. And here I was, a life-long citizen, being told I was less than a full human deserving of basic decency, bodily autonomy and incapable of making up my own mind about my pregnancy, because I had gotten pregnant. What a catch-22. I was deemed adult enough to be Grace's mother, but not to spare her an inevitable painful death. I wondered again if men would tolerate being treated this way.
When we were done with the consents form, we were given the Informed Consent Packet:
This is 36 glossy pages of tax-payer funded "education" on the fetus, carefully detailed (yet sometimes inaccurately) by gestational age before getting into the risks of abortion while ignoring the risks of continuing pregnancy (which are far greater than those associated with terminating a pregnancy (pages 13-15)). It inaccurately stated that fetuses start to feel pain at 22 weeks, while every doctor we talked to said 24-28. The packet is just as loaded with judgmental notes, starting with the first page where it notes: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.” This is of great debate, so I was angered that it was stated as fact, with utter disregard for the medical community's findings and opinions in regards to this. I didn't like that political opinions were being fed to me in my time of needing a medical procedure. And I wondered: what were we supposed to do? Say the packet succeeded in making me feel guilty and I wanted to change my mind. What was I supposed to do with that feeling? Not end our pregnancy? The information in the packet wasn't going to make Grace's disease go away, and all it did was make me feel disregarded, insulted, judged and utterly misunderstood. It felt like kicking us when we were down.
I asked if we had to take the packet with us, and were told no. Jim asked how many people had taken it with them and the doctor said the last one was probably taken 3 months ago. That told me a lot about how firm people felt once they made the appointment, and how much of a difference this packet likely made in the minds of the women it was designed to affect.
I felt terrible for our doctor, clearly there to provide me with great medical care, being required to give us this inaccurate information, designed to manipulate me. She never failed to be supportive and compassionate with us throughout the entire process.
We left the clinic to start our 72 hours of waiting, with the wound of our daughter's news still so new that it was increasing and spreading rather than being anywhere close to starting to heal. We added to it fury, disgust, helplessness and deep sadness at how we were treated by the state of Missouri, and how other women and families are treated. Do we not care about the psychological impact on our women over unborn fetuses? I never really got that concept so fully until then.
Anyone close to me would tell you I'm a different person now than I was before we lost Grace. Having to choose to end our pregnancy was life changing and devastating, but being treated like ignorant, flippant, uninformed parents by the state of Missouri changed me just as much. It ignited an anger and sadness in me that has been just as difficult to cope with, and spurned me into advocacy and this website. It has not been fun to expose myself in this way, as we have grieved, and to sometimes meet condemnation for our choice. But that's how desperately and strongly I feel about our experience. I never want another family to have to go through such an awful process ever again. I'm just one person, but I'll do what I can to try to make it better for as long as I can.
If our story filled you with the same feelings I've described, please consider sharing. The more people know about this reality, the closer we'll get to implementing real change. People need to know what the people they're voting for are doing, how badly written the laws are (and continue to be) and how it affects real families.