Our Visit To Washington D.C. (Part 3: About the Folders I was Holding, and How I Felt)

You might have noticed in my picture in my blog post from attending Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing that I had several blue and green folders with me:

Meeting Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley.  Photo from PBS NewsHour

Meeting Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley.  Photo from PBS NewsHour

The folders were assembled in a bit of a rush, because I didn't have a lot of notice that I was going to get to attend the confirmation hearing. But they held information I was absolutely proud to carry and deliver, including:

  • Jim's and my testimony. I have sent our testimony about how we learned about Grace's fetal anomaly, subsequently terminated the pregnancy, and how it was to undergo this in the state of Missouri in letter format a few times when there are bills being evaluated, and so on. Jim shared his testimony when he testified against HB 757, a 20 week abortion ban being proposed currently in Missouri. You can read the bill here. You may notice that the bill does not have exceptions for fetal anomalies. It is also scientifically inaccurate according to five doctors we've talked to so far, all whom independently said a fetus doesn't feel pain until 28 weeks, not 20 as the bill asserts. So HB 757 is a great example of a bill being both based on false and/or disregarded medical science (where the law is designed to allow politicians decide when a fetus feels pain over experienced medical professionals that specialize in this), and without fully considering everyone that might be impacted by it. 

You can watch Jim's heartbreaking testimonial and the responses here (starts immediately): 

Missouri Progressive YouTube Channel

  • My Op Ed in the Washington Post. Senator Feinstein referenced my Op Ed in her opening remarks, so I felt it was important to include.
  • Others' Stories. This was a big one. We are not the only people that have gone through this. In fact, on an infertility support group that I participate in, of the 130 members, at least 3 other women have had to terminate pregnancies for medical reasons due to fetal anomalies. Once I joined Ending A Wanted Pregnancy, an amazing support group for women that have faced similar circumstances and have had to, like us, choose the the "best" from unimaginable options, I found other women that had shared their stories too. I highly encourage you to read the stories that I brought with me to Washington D.C. here

While each circumstance is different, the common threads of utter shock upon the news of a fetal anomaly, feeling 100% that termination of the pregnancy was the best option, government interference and astronomical expenses show up in nearly each story. 

I gave the folders to Senators, legislative counsel representatives and other individuals where their understanding of the issue and its impact is very important; these are some of the people that need to know the realities of who these laws fully affect and in what way, so they can be enabled to support and/or make different policy decisions in the future. I know it won't change every mind, but I am very hopeful that raised awareness will help in even a small way. It's discouraging to think that a lawmaker would know of our circumstances and still choose to pass a bill that makes carrying out our decision, made out of parental love, even harder, but at least they will have been informed rather than just unaware. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to personally hand these packets to Senators and other individuals of great influence. Being invited to Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am still overwhelmed 2 weeks later. Being in the room while people like Sandy Philips told the story of her daughter losing her life to gun violence in the Aurora, CO theater shooting was one of the saddest privileges of my life. The impact was overwhelming, and I wasn't the only one moved to tears by her testimony.

Watching testimony like Sandy's as well as watching the Senators interact with each other and with the witnesses served as a great reminder that we're all human beings. We all have feelings and senses of humor and things that outrage us. Many of us are really putting ourselves out there hoping that in exchange for letting people evaluate and assess us based on what we're sharing (even Sandy was subject to some of that), that the payoff will be educating some people and bringing about some change. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story, and to the other women who have so bravely shared their stories. We are all possibly subjecting ourselves to having our accounts of their darkest days ripped apart by strangers, all for the chance to hopefully educate the public and our elected officials on the realities of later term abortions, and to hopefully help usher in some change. That's absolutely the hope of every single person that shares. That's how strongly we feel about it. I can assure you the attention we garner is more negative than positive, and some days it's hard to keep going. We share to hopefully help prevent other families from facing at least the legal and stigma-related pain in the experience.

Do you have a story about ending a wanted pregnancy? Please feel free to contact me. Every single story helps make a difference!

Our Story in Al Jazeera, and Watch "Abortion: Stories Women Tell" Documentary on HBO

We have two big updates today! 

Al Jazeera Article

Our story and experience, including the trip to Washington D.C. to attend Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing and meet Senator Feinstein, as well as some ideas around what we want to do next are included in this in depth article by Al Jazeera English (written by Massoud Hayoun). 

American women share the stories of their abortions

Last week, Robin Utz went to Washington. Utz, an American woman from the Midwestern state of Missouri, arrived there during the confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump's choice for the nation's highest court, which Trump has indicated he would like to ban abortion in the United States.

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Additionally, I am eager to see Abortion: Stories Women Tell on HBO tonight at 7 pm CT. It looks incredibly relevant especially since it features individuals on both sides of the debate (which I am always interested in) in Missouri. You can see a preview and read more about it here:

'Abortion: Stories Women Tell' is the documentary America needs

The opening scene of Tracy Droz Tragos's stirring documentary Abortion: Stories Women Tell, shows the Missouri state capitol fill with the chant: "All in Christ, for pro-life." Back in 2014, supporters of a proposed extension of the state-mandated waiting period for an abortion-as well as those protesting against it-crowded into the capitol building in Jefferson City.

Our Visit to Washington D.C. (Part 2: Judge Gorsuch's Confirmation Hearing and Meeting with Senator McCaskill's Office)

In my prior blog, I discussed preparing to go to Washington D.C. to advocate, and my husband Jim's meeting with Senator Claire McCaskill, where he shared our story with her and a room of 75 other Missouri constituents. As I said, Jim isn't really keen on public speaking or attention, and I am SO proud of him for advocating for Grace and families that need options like these to be available and legal. It was a huge demonstration of his love for his daughter.

While Jim was doing this, I meet up with Shivana Jorawar and Carina Ahuja from the National Abortion Foundation, which is an organization that has been amazing to work with. They have helped me share our story and focus on what might be most helpful in terms of advocacy, which is something I've gotten overwhelmed with as a new advocate. Shivana had picked up the guest passes for Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing, which Senator Feinstein had graciously provided, and we headed in to get settled.

My badge to attend Judge Gorsuch's Senate Confirmation Hearing. Photo by Marilyn Baker

My badge to attend Judge Gorsuch's Senate Confirmation Hearing. Photo by Marilyn Baker

Professionally, I don't do anything like this in my regular day to day work (I'm a project manager) so it was amazing to personally be in the room where it happens: where such important policy and political work takes place. 

Right when I was finally getting settled in and used to the idea that I was going to get to watch a day of Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing, I was invited over to meet Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Chuck Grassley. What an insane honor! I will go into how I felt about the entire experience in the next blog, so I don't want to delve into it too much here, but being able to thank Senator Feinstein for having me there, and for bringing our story to the forefront was amazing.  We have had so many amazing people advocate for and support us on this journey, and so rarely do we get to thank them in person. Senator Feinstein was absolutely lovely; warm and enthusiastically stating that we have to keep trying to have a family, and Senator Grassley likewise was warm, funny and very kind. It was an immense privilege and treat to meet them both, and being able to personally hand Senator Feinstein my thank you note as well as my packet of materials was such a source of pride for me. 

Meeting Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley. Photo from PBS News Hour

Meeting Senator Feinstein and Senator Grassley. Photo from PBS News Hour

You can watch our entire interaction here (which starts immediately): 

The hearing started immediately after my meeting (as you can see in the video above). I got to hear testimony on Judge Gorsuch's skillset, character, prior judgments and temperament. The wide variety of witnesses included members of the American Bar association, clerks Gorsuch has worked with, individuals who had been impacted by cases Judge Gorsuch ruled upon, and individuals representing organizations that have concerns about how Gorsuch's rulings as a Supreme Court justice might affect them, such as representatives from LGBTQ and Pro-Choice organizations. Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica, died in the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre gave the most heart-wrenching testimony of the day, and again I was overwhelmed by how lucky I was to be in the room where such important topics were being discussed. It really hit home how real each and every issue is, and how full of gray area and nuance they all are, not just the one I personally am fighting for (reproductive rights). More on that in the next blog.

The one break we took during the day was to meet with a member of Senator Claire McCaskill's Legislative Counsel to share my story and how we feel Gorsuch's confirmation may affect our legal options going forward. I was accompanied by Shivana and Carina from the NAF and Gaylynn Burroughs from the Feminist Majority Foundation, and it was so invigorating to be able to share my perspective and story with the room, and to advocate for Grace. I was able to share how heartbreaking it was to learn that our desperately wanted daughter wasn't going to survive pregnancy, our feelings that termination was our best option, and how the Missouri abortion consents made the entire process so much more difficult than it needed to be. I was also able to share that I felt compelled to advocate because of how terrified I and so many others feel right now after President Trump said he would nominate a judge that would overturn Roe v Wade. This isn't theoretical - this really affects lives in a very, very real way. It would 100% hurt Grace, in our opinion, especially since the Missouri abortion laws prove that exceptions are not put into place for very important situations like fetal anomalies. A cruel oversight at a minimum which doesn't give me comfort that our legislators will produce or pass laws that truly do want and consider the best for all of the parties that might be affected.

The day was incredibly exciting, invigorating and empowering, but also very bittersweet and overwhelming. As I mentioned above, the next blog will be about how it felt to be there, and how we feel now, but it goes without saying that the day was a blend of feeling so excited that Grace is making a difference, but also overwhelmed that the people that need to care maybe don't, or that we just can't reach some people. Logically knowing that and seeing it with my own eyes are separate things. But undeniably, getting to attend Judge Gorsuch's confirmation hearing and thank Senator Feinstein in person were once in a lifetime opportunities, and a testament to how loved Grace was, continues to be, and how much she has impacted people, even though she was only part of our world for a far-too-brief time. 

(Read Part 1 of our trip to DC here.)