I aborted my much-loved baby because he would not have survived birth. Many mothers no longer have this choice

The overturning of Roe v Wade will not save babies’ lives, but it will cause unimaginable suffering, says Anna Hogeland

First Person

I aborted my much-loved baby because he would not have survived birth. Many mothers no longer have this choice

Author Anna Hogeland was 20 weeks pregnant when she learnt that her son had a congenital heart defect

By Anna Hogeland

In the rare times the topic arises, my friends often call it my loss or, sometimes, my miscarriage. They know that the loss of my first pregnancy was not by miscarriage, it was an abortion. But because it was a loved baby, a planned baby, and the loss devastated me and devastates me still, it seems to have been coded in their minds as a miscarriage: a mistake, rather than a loss I had any agency in performing.

My son had a severe congenital heart defect that wasn’t visible on the ultrasounds until I was 20 weeks along. Abortion – although even the obstetricians referred to it as “termination” – was the only option that would spare my baby any pain, and so that is what my husband and I chose to do. It was not a miscarriage.

I used to avoid correcting my friends, or anyone else who mislabelled the nature of the loss, because I could see their discomfort in talking about it with me at all. They were so worried about saying the wrong thing, and so, when they did say the wrong thing, I didn’t bring it to their attention. I knew it was a simple error, and I was grateful they wanted to engage with me about it in any way.

But in recent months, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade – restricting abortion access for millions of women across the US as individual states can decide how to regulate abortion provision – I have been correcting, gently but with intention, that my loss was an abortion, a right that can be and has been stolen from us.

Protests in South Carolina as state lawmakers consider tightening abortion laws after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade (Photo: Meg Kinnard/AP)

Losing this baby, whom I had already come to love beyond comprehension, has been the great trauma of my life; and still, there are many ways in which it could have been far more painful, for me, my husband, and our baby.

For one, I was a white woman living in California, with health insurance. My family was heartbroken with me, and supportive of my decision: there was no talk of hellfire and eternal damnation for my choice.

If I had lived in another state, or had not had access to good care for any number of reasons, I could have been forced to carry him to term, threatening my own health in the process, then birth him – which in itself is too often traumatic even when delivering a healthy baby – then watch him suffer, then die, possibly without being able to hold him at all.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, it was this wrenching scene that I imagined. I didn’t imagine it happening to me, but to women I didn’t know, who would be forced to endure the trauma upon trauma that I had been spared.

I believe, in my more generous moments, that there is a large fraction of people who do not truly know what the outlawing of safe abortions means in the US. It means forcing women to carry, birth, and raise a child (the idea that a woman can “just put them up for adoption” is gravely flawed in many respects), a child they cannot support for any number of reasons.

Representative Cori Bush is detained for her part in an abortion rights protest outside the US Supreme Court in Washington DC in July (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

It also means, and this they might not consider, as it is such an overlooked part of the discourse, that babies like mine, who are not going to live – or could live, but with a very poor quality of life and only for a short time – will be forced to consciousness only long enough to feel pain.

This is not a sort of life I would choose for myself, and so I couldn’t justify choosing it for the baby who had no choice at all. They do not realise that such defects in the heart and other organs are not often seen on imaging until the 20-week ultrasound, and sometimes further testing takes a few weeks longer than that, which is much later than most states allow abortion.

Many people do not realise that the treatment for many other unviable pregnancies, such as ectopic pregnancies, missed miscarriages and retained tissue after miscarriage, are also abortion methods. These procedures do not save the lives of babies – these embryos will not become babies under any conditions – they are in place to save the lives of mothers.

Immediately after learning of the Supreme Court’s decision, strong emotions eluded me. I became overwhelmed with fatigue, and needed to lie down for the rest of the day. I didn’t want to go to protests, or read or write articles, or engage with the topic at all. I wanted to refuse the knowledge completely.

In the weeks since then, I’ve been scared to have sex with my husband, even though I have an IUD, and I am a white woman with health insurance, in a state that – for now, at least – still performs legal abortions.

It might not be entirely rational, but the fear is real, and its basis is real; I feel my choices could be taken from me now at any moment.

We now have a daughter, and we are happy, overwhelmed, fulfilled, and we do not feel the desire to have more children. And while I have only become more staunch in my ever-held position that choice is essential, and that abortion is healthcare, it is not a decision I would make without great consideration.

I do not want more children, and yet, if I became pregnant again without intention, it would be a tormenting process of deciding how to proceed.

The Supreme Court’s decision has been made, Roe v Wade is dead. Yet my story – along with all stories that show how essential laws that protect reproductive rights are – still matters.

These stories matter now more than they ever have before. They reach women and parents who have known what it is to lose a baby, in any way, and tell them they are in company, what happened to them was real and devastating and others have felt it, too.

They reach voters and lawmakers and celebrities, and other people who hold influence over the collective. It’s stories like these, stories that complicate and humanise the discourse around abortion, that I believe are our greatest weapon toward regaining the rights so many of us have already lost, and protecting what rights we still have.

Anna Hogeland’s novel The Long Answer is published by Serpent’s Tail, £16.99

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