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Tag: baby

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, Killer

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial in Pennsylvania on murder charges (among others)  because of  practices at his abortion clinic. In January 2011, Gosnell charged with eight counts of murder resulting from gross medical malpractice in treatment of patients at his clinics. The eight victims of his alleged murders were seven infants said to have been killed after being born alive during attempted abortions, and one adult patient who was administered an overdose of painkillers during an abortion.

Medical malpractice is the action of medical providers that intentionally or negligently injure or kill a person in that medical professional’s care. From all accounts I have found and read, Dr. Gosnell is at the very least guilty of egregious and frequent medical malpractice.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is a real-life horror story.

The mistreatment and maltreatment reported by patients and even his own staff is hair-raising. Patients who change their minds about having an abortion, even if their feet are already in the stirrups, must be respected and treated with dignity. Unless the procedure has already progressed beyond a point of no return, it should stop immediately. This is true of any elective procedure, whether it is wart removal, plastic surgery, abortion, or hip replacement.

When I hear of patients infected with STDs because a doctor used unsterilized instruments on them, I am appalled.

When I hear that of bags containing at least 47 aborted fetuses were stuffed into a refrigerator, my stomach lurches. What the hell was the point of that?

My anger rages when I hear a 15 year old girl who changed her mind on the table was physically restrained and the abortion performed anyway. That is abuse. Assault. Battery.

When I think of a live baby’s spine snipped with a pair of scissors, my fury explodes.

Dr. Gosnell has been accused of all of these things. If they are true, he should never be allowed to practice medicine again. Ever. And he should go to jail.

I am not appalled that he was performing abortions. Women need a safe place to have abortions. But Gosnell’s clinic was not safe. Not for them, and not for the babies apparently born there after botched abortions. According to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, “The grand jury went to the scene wearing Hazmat suits.” The scene was littered with animal feces and stray cats had apparently had their run of the clinic.

Why Kermit Gosnell had Patients

Over the past 24 hours hours, the anti-choice media has been bewailing the fact that the case has not gotten much media coverage. I have seen it in my news feed daily over the last month, so until I investigated further, I didn’t understand why they claimed there was no coverage. Seems that the pro-choice media has covered it thoroughly – because Gosnell’s clinic is a harbinger of what will come if abortion is made illegal everywhere. The anti-abortion crowd has not covered it, because of the focus the case trains on illegal and unsafe abortions, which they know will happen with hyper-regulation and limited abortion access through safe, mainstream healthcare channels. Unfortunately, in today’s anti-choice climate, places like Gosnell’s clinic will become more common, not less. When abortions become illegal, vultures like him will be able to prey on more women.

The anti-choice advocates do not want this story covered, because this story will become more commonplace the harder abortions are to come by.

Women determined to abort the fetuses they are carrying will do so, one way or another. They should be able to do it in a safe, sterile environment that will prevent their own death or incapacity. This was where Dr. Gosnell failed. The women who sought treatment from him got rid of their unwanted pregnancies, but apparently often did so at the cost of their own health and safety.

Why should only the rich be entitled to safe health services? Why should abortion be readily available to wealthy patients, but not to poor ones? In one respect, Dr. Gosnell did indeed provide a necessary and desirable service. His method of purveying it, though, was devastating to his patients.

Gosnell is a symptom of a broken health care system. He is the poster child for why abortion services need to be safe, sterile, and sensibly regulated – not over-regulated so that only wealthy women can afford them.

Late Term Abortions for the Poor

When abortion is too expensive for a woman to be able to afford early in her pregnancy – when it takes her too much time to come up with the expense of resolving the problem of an unwanted pregnancy, she is forced to wait to abort the pregnancy. The longer she has to wait, the closer to viability or even to term she must have that abortion. By making abortion difficult to come by and expensive, we ensure that poor women must wait longer than wealthy ones to have abortions. We create the problem that a viper like Gosnell can take advantage of.

Elective late term abortions are not unheard of, even if they are rare. Late term abortions happen because women are either denied earlier access or because of medical reasons affecting wither the mother or the fetus. If a woman has to wait beyond the point of viability, but is still determined to end her pregnancy, she will still do so. And as long as it remains difficult and illegal for her to do so, she will accomplish her goal illegally. Outlawing late term abortions will not stop them. They are rare even without the legal restrictions. Women who are able to end unwanted pregnancies as soon as they can. They don’t wait for the opportunity to kill a baby.

If his patients had had the chance to go to a clean and safe clinic, Kermit Gosnell would not have had a practice. As someone I spoke with said recently, Gosnell’s clinic was “the template for underground and illegal abortion [mills]. As abortion rights get more restrictive, as people seek to find ways to make them even harder to come by, people looking to make money off this human suffering will find a fertile grounds on which to thrive.”

When a “Baby” is not a Baby

A pregnant woman talks about her baby in the present tense, but she has no offspring yet. We refer to saving the lives of babies when we talk about prenatal health care. The anti-choice crowd talks about saving babies’ lives when they talk about not aborting pregnancies. So when is a baby a baby, and when is it not?

A fetus is the unborn or unhatched offspring of  non-marsupial mammals – any non-marsupial mammal, including a human, a goat, a bear, or a platypus. (Marsupials do not have a fetal stage. They go from embryo to joey instead of from embryo to fetus.) A fetus is dependent on its mother for oxygenation, which is essential to life.

Viability, or the ability of the fetus to live outside the womb, is the measure the Supreme Court uses to determine the point at which the states may restrict abortions. Prior to viability the fetus cannot survive without its natural life support system: a woman. The point of viability is not a clear, bright line for every developing fetus. Some fetuses delivered earlier may live, while some delivered later may not. Medical advances have made it more likely that younger, smaller fetuses can live if their families choose to exercise those so-called heroic measures.

Until living tissue can oxygenate itself, it is dependent upon its mother and is not a baby. It is living tissue, but it lives a parasitic existence. As long as it lives a parasitic existence, its host may either accept it or reject it. We take steps to reject other parasitic lives dependent upon us, whether the parasite is a hookworm or a paramecium. The difference between these parasites and a fetus is that the fetus is a developmental stage of our own species, made with its host’s own DNA. We are more reluctant to reject our own species than we are to reject another. Once a fetus is born it becomes a baby that any other human can care for. After the umbilical cord is cut and the baby draws its first independent breath, it can be given to a wet nurse, it can be held by any other person or set aside in a crib away from other people completely. It is still dependent, but not for each moment of life. Its sustenance can come from anyone, not only from its mother.

Furthermore, after a fetus is born alive – that is, after it becomes a baby at the magic moment of birth – certain rules go into effect. Those rules allow us to remove terminally ill, dying, doomed, and comatose from the medical interventions keeping them alive. There is no legal requirement that heroic measures be taken for anyone, regardless of how long they have been breathing.

Why should there be a legal requirement that life support systems must stay in place simply because of the short length of time since conception? And why should anyone be legally compelled to provide life support for another person at the expense of her own body?

Someone pointed out McFall v. Shimp in a discussion today. In that case, McFall needed a bone marrow transplant and Shimp was the only suitable donor found. When Shimp refused to donate bone marrow, McFall sued. The court famously found that while Shimp’s refusal was morally indefensible, the court had no authority to order him to submit to personal, physical harm and bodily intrusion in order to save McFall’s life, and would not do so. Personal ethics are one thing. Demanding that another person put himself in harm’s way is yet another.

A pregnant woman unwilling to sustain the developing life within her own body is analogous. Every pregnancy has adverse health effects on every woman, Increased heart rate, edema, sepsis, increased blood pressure, hormonal surges…the list of physical systems challenged and even compromised by pregnancy is long and frightening. Then there’s death. Every woman fears death as a result of pregnancy. A woman may be under a moral obligation to provide healthy conditions for the tissue in her womb that has the potential to develop into a human being; however, she is under no legal compulsion to do so.

That is why women who use drugs and alcohol during their pregnancies are not incarcerated.

A fetus becomes a baby when it is born – when the umbilical cord is cut and it takes its first breath of air. At that moment, it is no longer dependent upon another creature’s continued life in order for it to exist. If a pregnant woman dies, the nonviable fetus inside her also dies, as does a viable fetus not immediately removed surgically.

Too often the terms “fetus” and “baby” are used interchangeably. I’m guilty of this, too. It’s the colloquial vernacular. These are not interchangeable terms, though. One means a creature that has not yet been born; the other means a creature that has been born.

A fetus does not become a baby until it is separated from its mother and living on its own, even if “living on its own” means that some degree of medical intervention is necessary. No one condones severing the spinal cord of an already-born baby who otherwise is healthy and able to survive. If the news reports of the testimony at Kermit Gosnell’s trial is accurate, he may have killed at least seven healthy babies – not fetuses.

There is a difference.

Valuing Human Life and Dignity

Valuing human life and dignity takes many forms. Personally, I value the life in existence more than the potential life. I certainly value the dignity of an existing person capable of feeling indignity more than that of a theoretical one.

The inherent point about abortion is that a woman who is determined to end her pregnancy will do so, no matter how much it costs, no matter what lengths she has to go to, and no matter if it may kill her.

I have witnessed abortion. The life, health, and future of my friend having that abortion while I held her hand was more important than the potential life that was then unable to live outside her womb. To this day, nearly 32 years later, she does not regret her choice, and I do not regret making sure she was able to have that abortion safely. I called home from college and asked my dad for the money. My friend could not ask her parents, but I knew my father would help me without hesitation and he did. I don’t know if he believed me when I said it was for a friend, but it did not make any difference to him. A young woman’s future was on the line.

I have also seen ultrasounds. I’ve seen different stages of healthy fetal development, and I have seen severely malformed fetuses in ultrasound after 20 weeks. One such fetus was also aborted. Less than a year later, performing that abortion would have made a felon out of the very humane and humanitarian doctor who performed it.

The fetal human being suffers no more and considerably less than the animals we humans routinely slaughter to eat, and does so with significantly less fear and trauma. It suffers less than a living human being whose artificial life support must be withdrawn because of health care directives. It suffers for a shorter period of time, too, and its death in safe, sterile surroundings does not compromise anyone else’s life or quality of life.

Abortion opponents want us to believe that abortions will stop if they are made illegal. They won’t. More people will suffer at the hands of butchers like Kermit Gosnel is reputed to be.

Butchers like Kermit Gosnell are the reason Roe v. Wade became necessary.

Butchers like Kermit Gosnell are the reason pro-choice proponents despair of ever-restrictive abortion laws.

Fetus Frenzy and Abortion Angst – NSFL

The fact is that women have been trapped. Reproduction is used, consciously or not, as a means to control women, to limit their options and to make them subordinate to men. In many societies a serious approach to reproductive health has to have this perspective in mind. We must seek to liberate women.

Dr. Nafis Sadik
Executive Director, UN Population Fund

abortion Arkansas logoI am a woman in the Bible Belt. In my state, Arkansas, the most restrictive abortion law in the country just passed. The governor vetoed it yesterday, but I don’t expect that to stop it from becoming law. As I write this, the Senate has already overridden the veto, and the House is expected to do so. For some crazy reason, our state legislature can override a veto with a simply majority – the same as they passed it to begin with. Arkansas gives only lip service to separation of powers.

Last week our governor vetoed another extremely restrictive abortion bill, HB 1037, but the legislature overrode the veto in less than twenty-four hours. HB1037 is a more permissive bill than the one at issue today. It prohibited abortion for any reason after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of medical emergencies. However, the term “medical emergency” under this new act “does not include a condition based on a claim or diagnosis that a pregnant woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” That’s right. If she were so psychologically distressed that she attempts suicide because she wants an abortion, allowing her to abort the fetus does not count as a life-saving measure. In making the decision to terminate the pregnancy, the law specifically prohibits considering psychological harm to the pregnant woman. Doctors who perform abortions anyway become felons under this law.

This law makes no exception for severe fetal anomalies, even if the fetus will never be born alive. It does make exceptions for rape and incest. It’s okay to kill “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth” – that’s how the act defines an unborn child – if it was conceived in reprehensible circumstances, because … why? Is that collection of cells “less human” than one conceived intentionally or negligently? This exception makes no sense, except if we accept that there is something morally wrong with forcing a woman to bear such a pregnancy to term.

And who makes the judgment call about when forcing a woman’s body into service is morally reprehensible? Not the woman herself. She is apparently incapable of that.

Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.

— 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo

HB1037 stops abortions at 20 weeks except for cases of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the mother. It ignores completely the fact that the first ultrasound is not done until about 20 weeks into the pregnancy. At 20 weeks, doctors often get their first clues that an “individual organism of the species homo sapiens” might not be viable, or might have horrific defects. At 20 weeks, testing of fetal anomalies may just be beginning, because that may be when they are discovered.

I have a pair of young friends. Six months ago they were faced with an awful diagnosis and a horrific choice. The husband wrote a letter that was posted on the Arkansas Blog. He sent it there at my suggestion. He and his wife wanted to get the word out, in as visceral a way as possible, that this 20-week abortion ban was wrong.

The day they told me they were pregnant, love and excitement shone in both their faces. They are in their late 20’s, comfortable in their careers – he’s a pilot in the Air Force and she’s a surgical nurse – and their relationship is strong and committed. They were over the moon with the knowledge that they would soon be parents for the first time.

A few days before hitting that 20-week mark, they went for the ultrasound appointment. This was when they would find out if the baby was a boy or a girl. Whether the nursery would be pink or blue. Whether they should prepare for a son or a daughter. The husband, K, described the appointment:

Within moments we were looking at our baby girl for the first time. Her name was Amelia.

Imagine how we felt when our ultrasound technician stopped smiling. … Even flying in combat over Iraq and Afghanistan, I had never fully understood the meaning of dread. Now I know, dread is what occupies the 15 minutes between an ultrasound and doctor’s return.

After a very long weekend, we were seen by a high risk specialist. Two new words were inked into our vocabulary: “encephalocele” and “holoprosencephaly.” Do not Google these terms; the results will break your heart. Of her numerous problems, these were the most serious. We had previously opted for every diagnostic test to ensure our baby’s health, and were one of the first couples in Arkansas to try a new screening of our baby’s chromosomes in blood taken from the mother. We had gotten a false negative. Amelia would not survive to term.

“Devastated” does not begin to describe their reaction to the news. Both K and his wife, A, have talked to me at length about that awful day, and the awful days that followed. Despite what K said in his open letter, I do think it is important to Google terms like “encephalocele” and “holoproencephaly.”

Encephalocele 2 encephalocele 1Encephalocele is a neural tube defect. After heart defects, neural tube defects are the most common congenital abnormalities. A common neural tube defect is spina bifida. Many children with spina bifida can survive, though. Those with large encephalocele cannot, because their brains protrude through a skull defect of the skull, usually in the back of the head. The protruding part of the brain is destroyed because of mechanical disruption of the tissue – it is not where it needs to be – and a restriction of blood flow to the protruding area of the tissue. Brain tissue around the defect is also malformed and disrupted. Large occipital encephaloceles are always fatal because of inevitable damage of the brainstem.

The embryonic forebrain fails to develop into two separate hemispheres in holoprosencephaly. Like with encephalocele, holoprosencephaly can be very mild, such as with a cleft lip and palate, or it can be so severe as to result in the facial features being seriously disorganized, the brain fails to develop, and brain function is severely compromised. Severe holoprosencephaly causes cyclopia – the fetus appears to have only one eye, usually where the nose would be in a normal fetus and instead of a nose, a tubular growth extends from the forehead. Even malformations that are not this severe result in miscarriage or stillbirth. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, most cases of holoprosencephaly cause malformations so severe that fetuses die before birth.

holoprosencephaly

Various Degrees of Holoprosencephaly

Amelia’s holoprocencephaly was not the most severe, but it was severe enough that the doctors did not expect her to be born alive. If she did make it out of the womb, she would likely live only hours, if that long. With a “reasonable degree of medical certainty,” as we say in the legal arenas, Amelia would never see the light of day. Her parents would never hold her, and if they did she would never know it.

My friend A, who was pregnant with Amelia, is a surgical nurse. She knew exactly how grim this prognosis was. From K’s letter:

Regardless, I cannot adequately describe our grief, fear, and anger, or the agony of days spent on hold with insurance companies and hospitals.

The genetic counselors in the high risk pregnancy center were patient and understanding, but the situation was bleak. We could allow the baby to die naturally, but my wife could feel the tiny baby kicking and that constant reminder would be emotionally unbearable.

“Emotionally unbearable.” What an understatement. Pregnant women are emotionally labile anyway, but knowing that instead of decorating a nursery she was waiting for a miscarriage that might not happen for months would emotionally cripple most women. Instead of decorating a nursery, K and A would be in a macabre waiting game with nature. But in the meantime, A felt the baby kick and turn. She described to me feeling the baby move inside her in the days after the ultrasound, as she and K waited to see the specialist. With every flutter inside her womb, she cried. K could not bear to bring himself to touch A’s swelling abdomen, even though they had spent hours feeling Amelia move in the weeks prior. His emotional response exacerbated hers. If this pregnancy continued for another five and a half months, K and A would suffer incredible emotional harm. It hurts me to contemplate the potential damage to their marriage – I really love this young couple.

The doctors did not tell them what decision to make, but they knew they had only one reasonable option: terminate the pregnancy. Or, to use the hot-button term in vogue, a second trimester abortion.

Again, K’s words:

We returned to the specialist center later and sat down in front of the ultrasound for the last time. The doctor placed a needle through my wife’s uterus to the baby’s heart, which stopped immediately. Two weeks later, our stillborn baby was delivered in a quiet delivery room. She weighed eight ounces, much smaller than I expected.

The two weeks between that last ultrasound and the stillbirth were two very long weeks, when A knew that Amelia was gone, but still with them. Her belly was still swollen, but the baby no longer  fluttered inside her. She didn’t stop crying as she waited for the miscarriage to begin. Neither did K. They still haven’t stopped crying, but not because of their decision to terminate the pregnancy – they know they did the most reasonable and humane thing for themselves and for Amelia. They grieve for the child that they had hoped would be their daughter. But, they haven’t stopped crying in part because of the pariahs they are made out to be for taking the best action available to them, considering the prognosis and the totality of their circumstances.

Many family friends and coworkers have since come forward with their own stories of abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. We had never suspected. As one mentor put it to me, I had joined a secret fraternity of parents who had lost a baby.

The Arkansas legislature refreshed K and A’s pain beginning in January with its focus on abortion. The wounds from losing the child they had hoped for are still fresh. They do not regret their decision, but they are very angry. Had this pregnancy happened in 2013 instead of 2012, they and their doctors would be criminally penalized for doing what they believed best in a terrible situation.

As K has said, the 20-week cut-off is arbitrary and wrong.

Our first ultrasound happened at nineteen weeks, as is the case within most pregnancies. It is usually the first opportunity for doctors to diagnose serious problems. By the time we were seen by a specialist, we were past twenty weeks. Recently a coworker came to my wife in tears, sharing her story for the first time. Her own ultrasound had revealed her baby’s fatal kidney failure and she faced the same gut-wrenching decision.

The Arkansas legislation establishes criminality at the very moment when parents and their doctors have to face painful reality. The bill is a product of ignorance and insensitivity to the suffering of parents and their unborn children. This legislation demands that grieving mothers carry their baby as long as possible, without exception. It declares that politicians know better than medical experts in every situation, even ours. This is not an argument about unwanted children. It is about the right of parents and their doctors to make educated and moral decisions with all the facts, not with a calendar.

The debate about abortion is personal for us. We wanted our child.

HB1037 ignores the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey which, because of technological innovations since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1972, moved the date of viability from 28 weeks of gestation to a less definite date. It defined viability as the point at which the fetus could be reasonably expected to survive out of the mother’s uterus. The Casey decision was very careful to point out that the decision of whether, when, and how many children to have was a very personal one, and the individual’s interest in such a decision outweighed that of the state before viability. This position in in line with

The Arkansas legislature apparently believes that if it redefines “viability” as something completely different than the stage of life anticipated in Casey and Roe, it gets around the holding in those cases.

At the capitol, the proponents of this bill were all about “saving children.” With complete disregard for the fact that some children can’t be saved and it is more merciful to end suffering, these people would have us believe that women are cavalierly having “recreational abortions.” Yes, that is an actual phrase that was used. Although there may be some out there, I cannot imagine any woman not thinking very hard about whether to terminate her pregnancy, no matter what stage of pregnancy and no matter what her reasons. Abortion is simply not undertaken lightly, no matter what the anti-choice advocates would have us believe.

They would have us believe that irresponsible women love getting knocked up just so they can have medical procedures done between their legs. Ask any woman: we so adore our trips to the gynecologist, because we get to put our feet in stirrups and have someone go digging around down there. For those people, the worth of a woman is measured solely by the reproductive capacity of her body. She does not have a brain to go along with her genitals, and therefore cannot be expected to use it to make ethical decisions.

There was much testimony pertaining to abortion from women who chose to continue their pregnancies despite fetal abnormalities. Those witnesses ignored the fact that they had a choice to begin with. About 70,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, and many more suffer infections and other consequences.

Much of the violence against women occurs in the context of sexuality and reproduction. The health consequences of violence often occur in the context of reproductive health and seriously contribute to the burden of disease in women and young people.

Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima
Director General of the World Health Organization

I am very skeptical that if their wives were four and a half months pregnant with a fetus diagnosed with severe fatal holoprosencephaly or irreparable encephalocele, each of the legislators – mostly males – who voted for this bill would require her to continue the pregnancy to the point of natural miscarriage or stillbirth, knowing that instead of decorating a nursery they would spend the next five months planning a funeral. I cannot imagine that someone with such controlling demands would soothe and comfort their pregnant wives, wives who would feel every fetal kick as a false promise of a child that would never live. I can easily imagine that they would refuse to touch her belly so they wouldn’t get attached to a child that would never draw a breath – never mind that their pregnant wives have no escape from feeling those fetal movements. And I suspect that they have no appreciation for the psychological trauma suffered by pregnant women in these situations.

We can make the decision to terminate the life support systems for our aged and infirm family members who are already out of the womb, but we can’t make that same decision until they do make it into the world, under these laws. With the passage of these two laws, Arkansas creates an unconscionable double standard that disproportionately affects the young, the poor, and women.

K says,

It is unfair to demand that parents like us come forward with stories of personal loss, now in the state Capitol or later in courthouses. The decision we had to make was painful, personal, and ethical.

After overriding the veto of HB 1037, which would have made A’s doctors criminals for terminating her doomed pregnancy, Arkansas’s Tea Party-dominated legislature once again proved that a half-baked legislation makes good PR sound bites to a party that eschews freedom and wants to micromanage other people’s lives down to the most personal decisions.  These laws make mockery of a Republican party that once championed smaller government and greater personal freedom. And mock them we do, as we quiver in terror for the freedoms they take away from us. The Arkansas legislature ramped up its war on personal choice to legislate morality even more restrictively in SB 134.

This draconian bill, which the legislature passed and the governor vetoed yesterday, defines fetal viability as a “medical condition that begins with a detectible fetal heartbeat.” Never mind that the fetus is neither truly viable at that moment, nor that Roe. v. Wade defined viability as the point at which a fetus, when delivered, can survive naturally outside the womb. At 28 weeks, or seven months, the fetus has nearly a 90% survival rate, even thought it often needs artificial support to aid its continued development.  At 24 weeks, the fetus has about a 50% chance of survival outside the uterus, depending on its weight, development, its mother’s health, and the presence of congenital defects. Viability does not begin with a fetal heartbeat, which begins at around 21 days into the pregnancy.

4 week fetus

Human Embryo at 4 Weeks:
The heart is beating, so it’s viable in Arkansas

Reproductive rights … rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so,and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence…. In the exercise of this right, they should take into account the needs of their living and future children and their responsibilities towards the community. 

Paragraph 96, Platform for Action, Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing.

The current version of SB134 was modified from its original form. It is now ever so much more permissive. At first, the bill  outlawed abortion as soon as the cells that will become a fetal heart started rhythmically contracting, at about five weeks into the pregnancy, if counted from the last menstruation. Many women don’t even know they are pregnant by this point, especially if they have irregular menstrual cycles to begin with.

This bill coerces women to bear children whether or not they want to, whether or not they believe themselves to be financially, physically, and emotionally capable of enduring a pregnancy or rearing a child. It disproportionately affects young and adolescent women, who tend to be in the least powerful position to do something about their situations.

It abuses women, it insults them, and it oppresses them.

The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

Paragraph 94, Platform for Action, Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing

Roe v. Wade didn’t start abortion, it stopped women from dying from abortions. Women who don’t want to bring a child into the world will abort their pregnancies, one way or another.

As a woman in Arkansas, my stomach has been in a knot this entire legislative session. The Tea Party, with its proud anti-intellectualism, its hyper-Christianity, and its coercive tactics is in charge of the state capitol, and Arkansas women’s rights are getting flushed down the drain.

The fact that these bills make exceptions in cases of rape and incest tells me that their supporters are not truly focused on the purported rights of human tissue that cannot survive outside the womb. If that was they case, it would not matter how those cells came to start dividing and how that fetal heartbeat came to be. It tells me, instead, that they care more about controlling the behavior of women. Only when the woman is pregnant under circumstances they find to be morally reprehensible will they permit her to make a decision about the number, spacing and timing of her children, or give her the means to control it if her first line of birth control fails.

I’m too old to get pregnant, and definitely too old to be personally affected by this law. There is a bigger issue, though. What these two laws say about my worth as a woman, as a thinking human being, devastates me. Solely because of my gender, I cannot be trusted to make decisions about my health and the health of any unborn child I might carry. Nor can anyone else born without a Y chromosome.

I have never liked living here. So many of the people I encounter seem to be willfully ignorant, racist, homophobic, disdainful of education and suspicious of those who are educated, untraveled, and hyper-religious to the point of denying the reality right in front of their faces. But before this legislative session I never before have I seriously considered what it would take to move away from here, to go someplace like Vermont or Washington State, to live in a place where not only would I be respected as a thinking human being capable of making ethical decisions for myself, but surrounded by like-minded people for a change.

I’ve thought about leaving my extended family, who I know would not follow me. I have wondered how often I would see my son, who is my only child and still is the light of my life, even though he is a grown man. I have thought about leaving my comfortable home, making new friends in a strange place, and who would care, in this new place I would go to, if I lived or died.

I don’t want to live in a place where the law restricts me or people like me – my sisters in gender, if not in generation – from doing what we honestly think is best for ourselves. I don’t want to live in a place that has no respect for my brain’s ability to make decisions simply because of my chromosomal makeup.

I feel trapped. This is a dystopic nightmare.

handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale is not a fiction in every society of the world, even today. It will not be a fiction for long in America.

 

We’re Going to China!

smith-jack-maggie-groves-2.JPG
Jack and Maggie

I’m going to be an Auntie Anne again. Or maybe a godmother. I’m getting another baby from China, and I’m sending her home with my best friend.

As some of you know, almost two years ago I traveled to China with Jane and Rich and got Maggie, their first daughter. Maggie’s full name is Margaret Lili Anne… yes, she was named after me. Why?

It’s complicated.

Jane came to work for me in October 1994. I was just back on my feet after my first bout with cancer. Thanks to Gloria, her predecessor, my solo law practice was able to hobble along for the six months I was at home. Almost as soon as I returned to work full time, Gloria told me she was moving back to Virginia. I was devastated. I was losing a phenomenal legal secretary and the woman who had kept my hopes for my business alive. I was our primary breadwinner at the time, and without Gloria I can’t imagine how bad things would have been for us financially. Jack was three years old.

Gloria assured me she would find me a good replacement for her. I despaired. She smiled at me in the cooly confident way she had and told me not to worry. Worry? I had to rebuild my practice and train a new assistant at the same time, making sure the bills were paid, while still recovering from cancer. What, me worry?

We interviewed several people. Gloria handled most of the questions. For some reason, I remember Jane’s interview but not any of the others. Maybe it’s because Jane was such a superlative candidate for the position.

Jane had worked for a part-time municipal judge who had an active law practice in her home town, which was about 45 minutes from Little Rock in the Ouachita Mountains. “The commute will be long,” I remember saying.

“I’m moving to Little Rock whether you offer me this job or not,” Jane replied with determination.

I explained they type of practice I had. It was a general practice, and I handled a little bit of everything. The complex things I referred to lawyers who did those cases more frequently, or I associated the lawyer on the case and let him do most of the work. There were lots of divorces and post-divorce matters, settling estates and probating wills, writing wills, advising small businesses, creating corporations, the occasional car wreck, real estate transactions, evictions for landlords we represented, leases, paternity cases, boundary disputes, juvenile delinquency, custody cases, and child welfare cases. She’d be exposed to almost everything but securities work and adult-sized criminals.

“Not a problem,” she said. “That’s what my boss and I do now.” She had worked for this lawyer for six years.

During my conversation with Jane, Gloria excused herself then reappeared with a cup of coffee. She set it carefully on my desk, then turned to Jane.

“I want to hire someone who will take good care of Anne,” she said to Jane. “That means bringing her coffee, calming clients who are upset, screening her calls, and making sure her parking tickets are paid.” That last bit was not a joke. Someday I’ll tell about the parking tickets. It’s a subject for a completely different blog.

Jane smiled. “Right now, I pay my boss’s bills for him, arrange for babysitters, screen his calls, and handle the calls from the defendants in municipal court who think they can talk directly to the judge. I’m used to taking care of my boss, and I think he will tell you I do a good job. Call him and ask him.”

I will do that, I thought to myself, an I’ll check these other references, too.

Gloria and I were both impressed with her. “That’s my replacement,” Gloria said as Jane left the building.

I called her references. First was Jeannie, a lawyer in her hometown I knew from some volunteer work she had done in Little Rock’s juvenile court while she was in law school.

“Jane can’t spell her own name,” Jeannie told me, “but she goes the extra mile. She knows what to do and when to do it. She is the person I go to when I have questions about cases.”

“You don’t ask her boss?” Jeannie and Scott, Jane’s boss, were sharing office space.

Jeannie snorted. “Why would I? Jane does all his work.”

Next I called the insurance agent whose office was next door to Scott’s.

“Jane is the best lawyer in Morrilton,” he declared.

I laughed.

“Really,” he insisted. “She writes all the wills for my clients. I send them over there and Jane fixes them right up. I’m really going to miss her.”

I called Scott. Jane had said I could, and the current employer is no better person to give an assessment.

“She told me she had interviewed with a lawyer in Little Rock,” Scott said ruefully. “I guess this means I’m going to lose her for sure.”

“You don’t want her to leave?”

“Lord, no! She’s the person who runs my practice! I’m not going to find anyone to replace her anytime soon.”

“How’s her work?”

“She’s fantastic. She can’t spell, but that’s what spell check is for. She writes my letters, takes care of my clients, and makes sure I know where to be and when to be there. She does it all.

“I can’t keep her here as long as the big city lures her. I think there’s a man,” he confided.

Offering Jane the job was definitely not a mistake. Over the last 13 years we’ve had our ups and downs, but not with each other. She’s become my best friend, my confidant, my cherished girlfriend. She’s my right hand and my left brain. She’s the reason I have time to write the occasional blog.

I’ve sent her to paralegal school and announced on Friday afternoons that we needed to go see a chick flick. Our husbands wouldn’t take us to them, so if we wanted to see tear-jerkers we were on our own. Every once in awhile we’d take the morning and go for pedicures. It’s not all about work. The work gets done, though.

Jane and I celebrated our tenth anniversary together with a trip to New York without husbands or children. We saw shows, went shopping, and played tourist. Our families vacation together in the summers. We go to the beach as soon as school gets out for a week. She is like my sister. In fact, people often ask us if we’re sisters. We’re both short, plump, and have dark hair. We laugh. We are sisters in spirit, we tell them. We are good judges of each other’s moods. We can finish each other’s sentences. We laugh at each other. We are not at all alike, but we complement each other beautifully.

After years of fertility treatment, Jane and her husband Rich, who she met a year or two after coming to work for me, were finally able to have a son. After that, though, the fertility treatment was frustratingly ineffective. She became pregnant twice and miscarried. Her doctor told her he’d keep doing the in vitro, but he doubted it would work. Jane and Rich had spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on fertility therapies. It was time to look into adoption. I was relieved. All those hormones made her into a raging monster. I was glad to put up with it, though. She put up with me, after all.

Jane was terrified of adopting a child through a local agency or through the state. Practicing family law, we were all too aware of how badly wrong things can go, especially when the birth parents start fighting each other and drag the adoptive family into it. Several high profile adoptions going wrong cemented Jane’s resolve to adopt internationally.

Jane came to work one morning and solemnly asked me if we could talk. Their health insurance didn’t cover the fertility treatments and they had borrowed money to keep trying to have a baby. Although they were steadily paying the debt off, and had already paid a significant amount, there was still a lot left to pay. If they were going to adopt, they needed to borrow money.

Jane outlined a repayment plan to me, and I agreed. I would have agreed whether she had a plan to repay it or not. This baby was important to her, and I had the power to make it possible. I told her that day that I didn’t expect repayment. This was something I could afford to do and something she needed. There was no way I could, or would, refuse her. She insisted on signing a promissory note. I never got around to drafting one. Jane is important to me.

China seemed to offer the best program. China’s been exporting girls for decades because of the law that allows each family only one child, and the Chinese preference for sons. They began the long process of applying for approval from China.

From the time they made the decision and started gathering paperwork, it was a year before they were told that Maggie was waiting for them in Guangdong Province, the place we used to know as Canton.

“We’re going to China!” Jane exclaimed joyfully.

“Not without me, you aren’t,” I told her.

That’s right. I tagged along when they adopted her baby girl. In fact, one of my very first blog entries, before I started writing regularly, was made from China.

Jane and Rich’s family still wasn’t complete, though. About six months after we returned from Guangzhou, Jane told me that she believed there was another Chinese girl who would be calling her “mommy.” This little girl’s name would be Kennedi. Kennedy is a family name on Jane’s side.

They started the paper chase again. All the documents that had been gathered for the Maggie’s adoption were out of date and had to be replaced. Jane got busy and replaced them and sent them to China. The debt from the fertility treatment is almost paid off, and Jane and Rich have paid all Kannedi’s adoption fees to date with money they have managed to save.

Jane called me today, in tears. We only work two days a week now. She spends lots of time at home with Maggie, who is now two and a half and acting every bit of it. She is able to pick her son, Cade, up from kindergarten every day.

“We got the referral,” she said. I barely understood her she was crying so hard.

“Tell me about her!” I demanded.

“She has a cleft palate.” We expected this. This time Jane and Rich had requested what the Chinese refer to as a “waiting child” – one with a birth defect or some other special need that prevents them from being the most desired for adoption.

Jane and Rich specifically asked for a child with this particular birth defect. We can have it fixed here in Little Rock at Children’s Hospital. One of our clients works for a local doctor who specializes in this surgery, and makes regular trips to China to donate her time and skills doing the surgeries there.

“We haven’t got the last of the fees saved yet,” Jane told me. They hadn’t expected the referral this soon.

“You know that’s not a problem,” I told her.

Once again she outlined a repayment plan. Once again, I will forget to draft the promissory note.

I’ve spent the afternoon staring at the pictures of a very pretty baby. Yes, she has a funny smile, but that smile will be as perfect as it ought to be shortly after we get her home. She’s bald. She’s 9 months old. She lives in an orphanage near the border of Tibet. If only she was actually in Tibet!

Jane and I are going to get Kennedi without Rich, this time.

We’re going to China!

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