In the final presidential debate on Wednesday, October 19, Republican candidate Donald Trump displayed profound ignorance about what late-term abortion is.
“If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother,” Trump said. “Just prior to the birth of the baby.”
That’s not true, of course, but long after this election cycle ends, it’s the kind of insidious myth that will linger. Someone, somewhere, will hear “late-term abortion” and vaguely recall a politician talking about babies being grabbed from the womb. They will think of a lie, and not the fact that abortions that happen more than halfway through a pregnancy are rare (just over 1 percent of abortions in the United States are performed at or after 21 weeks), and are typically done either because a mother’s life is in danger, or because her baby has severe birth defects. The women who seek them are often in the throes of the most heartbreaking time of their lives.
So to set the record straight, two women ― both of whom came to HuffPost via the Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign, which works to end abortion stigma ― are sharing their experiences of what it’s really like to get a late-term abortion. Listen up, Donald Trump, and do better.
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“I’m just a mom who didn’t want to put my kid through pain.”
― Heather, 45
I was kind of a late start mom when I got pregnant 10 years ago. My husband and I didn’t have any trouble getting pregnant, and all of our early screenings came back fine. Everything was kind of ‘happy happy, joy joy.’ There was no reason to worry. I had good prenatal care. I did all of the things you’re supposed to do.
Because I was over 35, I was eligible for a level-2 ultrasound, which is basically a much more detailed ultrasound at the 20-week mark. I went into it thinking everything was going to be fine and we were going to hear if we were having a boy or a girl. But then the sonographer got quiet part way through. I distinctly remember getting this weird feeling in my belly at that point. When she told us the doctor would be in to see us soon and left, I told my husband that something was wrong. He was kind of like, ‘What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.’ But I knew. That woman was not OK when she left the room.
The doctor came in and said, ‘I don’t really know how to tell you this, but we’ve detected a pretty devastating abnormality.’ It’s called Alobar Holoprosencephaly. Basically what it means is that the brain did not divide into two hemispheres. It’s a spectrum disorder, and this was the worst form. Everything just kind of fuses together in the middle. The child would have had one cyclopic eye and a proboscis, no nose. There was no chance of survival. They were stunned that my pregnancy had even made it that far. Normally, people miscarry. They knew that if I carried to term, the baby would not survive, but they weren’t sure what would happen with me. There was a chance I could have a late-term miscarriage, in which case my life would have been in danger, too.
They gave us our options, but I knew right away that I wanted to have a D&E [a surgical abortion]. I knew from the minute my husband and I got the news that I was not going to bring a child into the world that was going to die in my arms. If I had chosen to induce labor, I would have had to have been on the labor and delivery floor, and I didn’t want to be that woman with the little red tag on the door. I didn’t feel like I’d be able to recover from that. They referred me to a doctor [who performs late abortions] and who I call my angel of mercy.
There was a nine-day gap between the diagnosis and when the first part of the D&E started. That was nine days of feeling movement, and of showing, and having people ask about my pregnancy. Then it was a three-day procedure. First, they give you something to dilate your cervix, and then they send you home. It was Halloween, and I had to sit there while I was cramping and spotting and listen to trick-or-treaters. I pretty much hate Halloween.
I went back two days later, and honestly, it was pretty horrible. If the physician hadn’t been so wonderful, I don’t think I would have had the strength to get through it. He held my hand and told me it was going to be cold in the OR, and noisy and bright, and then I would drift off to sleep. When I woke up, I was not pregnant anymore. The awful thing, though, is that you’ve still got to deal with your milk coming in, and your womb shrinking and cramping and bleeding ― and you don’t have a newborn in your arms. At first, I didn’t want to know the baby’s gender, but then five years ago I finally asked if it was a boy or girl. It was a boy.
People in the far right like to try and paint you as a heartless baby killer, but I don’t think anyone knows what it feels like to have to let go like that. I’ve always been pro-choice, but it never occurred to me that I’d ever need to have an abortion, and certainly not at age 35 with a husband and a child who was very much wanted. I’m not any kind of genius mom here, but I do know that mothers will do anything they can to take away their child’s pain. And I’m just a mom who didn’t want to put my kid through pain. I have sadness, but I have no regrets.
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“We knew that if he lived, it would be a life of suffering, period. No doctors were saying, ‘Well... there’s a tiny chance.’”
― Lindsay Bubar, 34
In July 2013, my husband and I found out that I was pregnant with our first child. It was a planned pregnancy and we were incredibly excited. At a prenatal checkup, they told us it looked like we were having a boy, but that they’d confirm at our 20-week anatomy scan.
In the middle of that appointment, I realized something was very wrong. When the doctor got to our son’s brain, he kept measuring it over and over again. He told us it looked like something was off. They got us in for an MRI the same day. I’d say we definitely understood the gravity of what has happening, particularly because they were getting us into appointments so fast. Based on the MRI, they suspected hydrocephaly [a severe condition sometimes known as “water on the brain”].
The next day, we got into a world-renowned specialist. He’s the kind of guy who, if you get news like ours, you fly halfway across the country to see because he does in utero brain surgery, and he just happened to be right where we live. He told us our son had a malignant brain tumor with a likely related case of hydrocephaly. I wasn’t far along enough to try and deliver him and have the doctor attempt brain surgery, and in utero surgery wasn’t an option. He told us that if I did carry to term, our son would either die at birth or a few hours later go into immediate surgery where he’d have only a 50-50 chance of living. And if he did live, it would be a life of suffering without being able to see, hear, talk or smile. Even given all that, he suggested we wait about a week to get another MRI to re, re, re-confirm that everything they were seeing was right. We definitely knew what was happening, but we also did keep saying to each other, “We’re not there yet.” Every step of the way, we held out that littlest bit of hope.
We had the last MRI, which was pretty awful. The machine was so loud and I think the baby did not like it. I could feel him squirming around, like he was trying to get away from the noise. That MRI confirmed everything.
At that point, it didn’t feel like it was a decision any more. It wasn’t like we had to consider odds, like, ‘What if?’ We knew that if he lived, it would be a life of suffering, period. No doctors were saying, ‘Well...there’s a tiny chance.’ We felt really grateful for that. I can’t imagine how difficult and complex the choice is for families where there’s more uncertainty.
I had a D&E and for me, it was a three-day procedure. My doctor was one of two in the area who provide late-term abortions, five minutes from our house. It is not lost on me how fortunate we were.
The people at the hospital clinic were incredibly empathetic. They explained it to me very thoroughly, which was comforting and hard. I knew that what was happening the first and second day was preparation for the procedure on the third day. My memory of it is a little fuzzy, partly because I was under anesthesia and then on pain medications.
My husband and I both work in politics, and we watched the debates. I was glad they asked a question about abortion, but then I was so horrified by what Trump said and so personally hurt. I had that moment that undocumented immigrants and sexual assault survivors (and the list goes on and on) have had. There he was saying that my husband and I were inhumane butchers who had our baby ripped out of me.
I think that what is important to note is that everyone’s experience is so different. My husband and I had a late-term abortion because our baby had a malignant brain tumor, and almost no one has that. It’s so, so, so rare. The reasons why people chose to get abortions at any stage are different and unique to them. That’s why I think that trying to legislate this choice is so dangerous.
These accounts have been edited and condensed.