Trust Women to Protect Themselves

Caucasian mother holding newborn in hospital
Caucasian mother holding newborn in hospital

Seven years ago today, I was in labor when we lost track of my daughter's heartbeat. Our OB wasn't on duty that Sunday before dawn when a doctor I had never met leaned over me and informed my husband and me coldly "we lost the fetal heartbeat, you must have emergency C-section surgery." I refused. I demanded a second opinion. I learned that the umbilical cord was strangling our daughter, was put on oxygen, and, many hours later, gave birth to a healthy girl -- umbilical cord still around her neck but very much alive. Today my Bella, the light of my life, turns seven.

We had an adventurous pregnancy. It was high-risk, because I was over 40 -- various tests and challenges, none less appealing than the gestational diabetes test where they feed you orange flavored syrup, extract vials of blood and send you home with a migraine. Though my test results were healthy, I had the stressful experience of fighting my insurer for nearly a year before they finally agreed to cover that test.

Many women say the pain of pregnancy and childbirth is a blur, but I often think back to that time with sharp clarity. If I didn't have the experience as an attorney and the confidence of an advocate, my path -- our daughter's path -- might well have been different. I wanted, demanded, and received quality medical care and a healthier birthing experience knowing that too many women though accident of their birth faced obstacles securing healthy births and happy birthdays for their children. My experience made me all the more committed to fighting the good fight for universal healthcare, of which the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a monumental cornerstone.

Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women who are pregnant no longer face medical discrimination. And women don't have to fight for prenatal testing as I did. But what if I lived in a state where I needed -- but my governor refused -- prenatal care through Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act and I could not seek treatment for risk factors extant in prenatal and infant illness and mortality such as poor nutrition, pollution, smoking, and stress? Life has not changed for the better for poor women who need Medicaid Expansion's prenatal care and well baby visits but whose GOP governors refuse to help.

What if I lived in Mississippi where, as Nita Martin reported in 2014 for ProPublica, prosecutors using fetal harm laws tried to send the mother of a stillborn child to prison based on the faulty evidentiary allegation that her stillborn child, umbilical cord around her neck, may have instead been killed due to traces of crack cocaine? Or in Tennessee, where, as Katie Klabusich just wrote last week, lawmakers voted for the prosecution and subsequent 15-year prison sentence for any pregnant person who ingests an illegal drug?

What if I were the mother in New Jersey who, like me, refused consent for a C-section -- and who never needed one during labor -- but who, unlike me, got reported by hospital staff to the Division of Youth and Family Services and suffered a court later erroneously using that fact as an element in its decision to deny her custody of her daughter? When a white privileged woman has the freedom to refuse consent for a C-section and a poor African American woman is penalized for doing same, we have a problem with race and justice in our maternal health policies in America that cries out to be fixed. And if we believe that our daughters must truly have all the equality of opportunity than our sons, then what happens to a mother in New Jersey or Tennessee or Mississippi should matter a great deal to every person in America, because we share a common humanity. And because this is not just a right wing desire to drive people away from the lifesaving services they need, but a desire to punish women rather than trust us with our own medical decisions.

The right wing conservatives blocking the Affordable Care Act six years on, preventing Medicaid Expansion, denying reproductive freedom, and passing fetal harm laws repeatedly claim these are laws to "protect women" -- but it's 2016 and we women can protect ourselves. We don't need patriarchal "protect women" laws -- we need laws and policies that say to women "we'll help you protect yourselves."

So today we count the candles and count our blessings, recommitted to a world where our daughter has the freedom to dream big and chart her own path with equality of opportunity, healthcare as a right not a privilege, and laws that trust her to protect herself.