(Otto Kitsinger for States Newsroom)
Nearly a year and a half after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban went back into effect, it may be easy for some to forget the harm that the ban has been inflicting. But as anti-abortion lawmakers in our state continue to pass legislation to obstruct and stigmatize abortion, I can’t forget what these restrictions do to women like me.
I was 19 weeks pregnant when I went into previable preterm labor with advanced cervical dilation: Our son had not developed enough to survive outside of my womb. My husband and I would inevitably lose him. We couldn’t imagine that our state’s laws would create a situation that would nearly cost me my life in the process.
The night before we lost our son, while my husband was away for work, I lay in bed in severe pain, searching desperately on my phone for a potential, and hopefully harmless, cause. What I read reassured me that I was just experiencing round ligament pain,meaning the ligaments surrounding my uterus were experiencing short, painful spasms. As the pain worsened, I held onto hope that I just needed to rest to alleviate it.
In and out of sleep all night from severe cramps, I froze at 5 a.m. when I woke to find my underwear soaked with blood. I immediately FaceTimed my mom, a nurse, who frantically said to go to the emergency room. My father took me to the hospital. I was inconsolable as he tried to convince me that everything would be okay. At that point, we were all trying to convince ourselves of that. But deep down, I had only a sliver of hope that it would be. Unfortunately, it was even worse than expected.
I was quickly taken into triage and transferred to the obstetrics wing. Providers rushed in, first checking for a fetal heart rate. They found the heartbeat with little difficulty, and it was strong. I breathed a loud sigh of relief; while I knew there was an issue still to be resolved, I became more convinced everything would be okay. My mom told me my husband was nearby, and I was ready to tell him the good news.
The attending physician arrived and explained she was going to perform a pelvic exam. No one could have prepared me for what she found. My amniotic sac was bulging. What I had perceived to be round ligament pains were actually contractions, and I was six centimeters dilated. I was in labor. All I could tell myself was that this couldn’t be happening. Our baby was coming today, and at 19 weeks gestation we knew he wouldn’t survive.
When my husband arrived, I was nearly hysterical. We were moved to the labor and delivery unit.
Three doctors separately outlined how sick I would have to be before they could provide care: Under Wisconsin’s abortion ban, they couldn’t legally take action yet. Three doctors explained the risks I faced because of these egregious restrictions: I could expect an infection, sepsis or another critical illness that could result in death. Not only would I painfully lose my baby, but I could lose my life.
So we waited, feeling the most pain we have ever felt, as I labored hopelessly for hours. Because of the legal uncertainty surrounding our state’s abortion ban and the fear of legal consequences that accompanies it, I had to wait until I crashed to be treated instead of swiftly receiving care. The law ties doctors’ hands and forces women to be on death’s door before they can receive the care they need and deserve.
Eventually, my white blood cell count jumped, which indicated infection, and my heart rate accelerated while my blood pressure plummeted. I was prepped for an emergency dilation and evacuation, but learned once I came off of anesthesia that our baby delivered naturally. He lived for only one hour.
While our son couldn’t have been saved, the way we lost him was made worse by Wisconsin’s extreme and dangerous abortion ban. I couldn’t just grieve for this loss, which was excruciating enough — I also had to needlessly worry about living. This additional fear could have been prevented had my doctors been allowed to provide safe and simple abortion care.
Even though a Dane County judge has issued a preliminary finding that the 1849 law does not ban elective abortion, leading Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin to resume offering abortion care in Milwaukee and Madison, women are no safer. Doctors attending pregnant women in critical medical distress are being forced to hesitate to act.
“Wisconsin leaders are tying doctors’ hands by preventing them from providing swift abortion care to patients in medical distress,” said Dr. Kristin Lyerly, a Green Bay OB/GYN and member of the Committee to Protect Health Care. “Doctors should be able to rely on their medical expertise to treat patients, not be forced to follow dangerous policies passed by legislators who prioritize their political agenda over the health and well-being of their constituents”
While Wisconsin leaders continue working to restrict and stigmatize abortion, we want our story to serve as a reminder that these laws have life-threatening, heartbreaking implications for women and families across our state.
My husband and I firmly believe that lawmakers have no place in the exam room, and that women need to be able to make their own health care decisions with their doctors, particularly in medical emergencies. Abortion is not black and white; each circumstance that leads a woman to seek care is unique. That’s why one-size-fits all bans and laws don’t work. My family and I do not want another family to have to experience the trauma we have endured.
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