Commentary

Roe v. Wade let me make an important decision about my future; now it’s up to politicians 

January 26, 2024 5:00 am
Drawing of female reproductive system with judge's gavel and stethoscope

"If I received the same fatal fetal diagnosis in Wisconsin under the 1849 statute, I would be faced with a dire choice: carry my pregnancy to term, risking my own life to deliver a baby who would likely die within hours, or take time off work and travel hundreds of miles out of state to receive care," writes Jennifer Vollstedt. | Getty Images

I can’t imagine how different my life would look or if I would even be here today if I weren’t able to access a safe and legal abortion. Working as a labor and delivery nurse for 10 years and having made the decision to end a pregnancy myself, I know firsthand that there are many varied reasons that people may need or want an abortion. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has robbed millions of people of the freedom to decide what is best for their bodies and their lives. Now, on the 51st anniversary of the Roe ruling, we are faced with an avalanche of Republican attacks on the rights that were once federally protected. 

I couldn’t have been more excited when I learned I was pregnant in December 2015. I’d always wanted a child and was ready to begin the next chapter of my life. Because of my experience taking care of high-risk pregnancies, I opted into all of the prenatal testing available. After a blood test came back abnormal, leading to weeks of testing, my doctors confirmed a fatal diagnosis.

 At 17 weeks pregnant, I learned that my baby had a rare chromosomal abnormality. If she survived to term, she would have mere hours to live and would only suffer. The diagnosis also meant carrying the pregnancy to term would put my health and fertility at risk. Alongside my trusted team of health providers, I made the painful decision to end my pregnancy – a decision I took for granted that the Roe v. Wade ruling then protected as my own. 

I received an in-hospital abortion at 18 weeks, cared for by my compassionate and skilled medical team. While the experience was both physically and emotionally difficult, I knew it was the right decision for me and my family, with support from medical providers I knew and trusted. I received the type of abortion care that everyone deserves – care that is now inaccessible to patients across Wisconsin and the country.  

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe, Wisconsin anti-abortion advocates moved swiftly to revive the draconian 1849 Criminal Abortion Statute, effectively banning abortion across the state and threatening providers with felony charges and imprisonment. The ban, which does not allow abortions even for nonviable pregnancies like mine, has put patients in desperate and life-threatening situations and providers in impossible positions, preventing them from providing care their patients desperately want and need. 

If I received the same fatal fetal diagnosis in Wisconsin under the 1849 statute, I would be faced with a dire choice: carry my pregnancy to term, risking my own life to deliver a baby who would likely die within hours, or take time off work and travel hundreds of miles out of state to receive care. 

While I celebrated the recent court ruling to strike down the 1849 total abortion ban, allowing Planned Parenthood clinics in Milwaukee, Madison, and Sheboygan to resume providing abortion care for the first time since Roe was overturned, the battle for abortion access is not over yet. The case will now be debated by the state Supreme Court while Republican District Attorney Joel Urmanski is appealing the ruling and pushing for a full felony abortion ban. And just last week, Wisconsin Republicans introduced another extreme abortion ban – which would make my abortion illegal. 

At the national level, the picture is equally grim. Republicans have elevated anti-abortion extremist Mike Johnson to Speaker of the House and second in line to the presidency, making it clear that their end goal is a national abortion ban. Later this year, the same Supreme Court that overturned Roe will rule on the availability of medication abortion. The most consequential case related to abortion since Roe was struck down, the ruling could cause an additional 40 million more people to lose access to abortion care.

Even though my pregnancy was wanted, I now find this detail less important. The reasons for ending a pregnancy are complex and personal. Anyone who does not want to be pregnant should have access to abortion care. As a nurse who has supported patients throughout their decisions to end their pregnancies, I know how affirming and life-saving the freedom to decide is. Politicians have no place in these private medical decisions. I share my story and encourage others to speak out to show Republican extremists the real life impacts of their dangerous abortion bans. 

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