This article was originally published September 2021.
Amy Brown, a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay area, is due to give birth to her first child in December.
Brown has always been pretty pro-choice. Hearing her mom’s horror stories about the lengths women would go to to obtain abortions before they were legal gave her a firm understanding of what was on the line each time a state tried to chip away at Roe v. Wade.
Still, she thought that the experience of being pregnant herself might soften her views, especially since conceiving with her partner took two and a half years and required fertility treatment.
“I thought maybe pregnancy would make me less pro-choice, like maybe I’d start to feel sentimental about a seven-week-old embryo once I’d carried one,” Brown told HuffPost.
Instead, because of her pregnancy experience, Brown said she’s more pro-choice than ever. With each month of her pregnancy, she and her partner could easily learn of a new development that’s catastrophic for her health or the health of their baby. Brown hasn’t had any life-threatening complications, but it’s still been overwhelming.
“I’m six months in and every day has been a struggle on some level,” she said. “It’s something I can’t imagine doing if my whole heart wasn’t in it. I feel more strongly that pregnancy and childbirth are things that absolutely must be entered into willingly.”
Right now, the writer is experiencing some intense prenatal depression. She has the support of both a therapist and a partner, but she can’t imagine how she’d feel if she’d gotten pregnant under different circumstances ― with a different, less supportive partner, for instance, before she was ready, or against her will.
These thoughts were top of mind for Brown and scores of others on Wednesday as the United States Supreme Court allowed a restrictive Texas law to go into effect that prohibits abortion after six weeks and deputizes Texas citizens to enforce the ban.
S.B. 8 effectively bans abortion at six weeks, when many people don’t yet realize they’re pregnant. The bill is more extreme than laws in states such as Alabama and Ohio because it includes a clause that financially incentivizes private citizens to sue anyone “aiding or abetting” abortion-seeking patients in Texas.
Brown was one of many women who tweeted about the news out of Texas and ruminated about how their various experiences with pregnancy, infertility, miscarriages, childbirth and even parenthood radically shaped their views on abortion rights. Having a baby or being pregnant made them more pro-choice than ever.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many people who’ve given birth are so vocally against the Texas bill. Parents know intimately how precarious, nuanced and hard any decision related to childbirth and family planning can be.
Women who’ve given birth actually account for the majority of abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, of those who terminated a pregnancy in 2014, 59% had already had “at least one birth.” They cited myriad complex reasons for doing so, from unstable relationship situations to personal finance problems to reluctance to add another child to their family.
Women HuffPost spoke to for this story say that even without those challenges, pregnancy, abortion and birth are all too complicated to judge from the outside ― and certainly too complicated to legislate.
Linda, a photographer in Austin, Texas, and a mom of two, had a fairly easy go of pregnancy: She had two healthy pregnancies that resulted in two healthy children. Both were unmedicated births, the last one at home with very attentive midwives just two weeks ago.
She has a loving community of fellow moms who check in on her, in-laws who are always willing to travel long distances to be by the family’s side, and a stay-at-home husband who changes every dirty diaper and would probably breastfeed the kids if he could, Linda jokes.
“I couldn't help but imagine being thrown into this situation without being prepared or without the desire to get through it.”
Work-wise, Linda had it comparatively easy, too: She said her employers were joyful when she told them she was pregnant, and more importantly, she gets three months’ paid maternity leave. (Among wealthy nations, the U.S. is the only country that offers no national paid parental leave program.)
And yet, even with all that support, pregnancy and having a newborn has proved to be one of the most difficult, chaotic things Linda has ever faced.
“When I was pregnant, I had this aching body that kept me from doing my job efficiently and caused me to think I might end up unemployed,” she said. “I had to put on a smiley face for my 7-year-old who I constantly worry about getting COVID, all while pretending like everything is OK in the world.”
Post-pregnancy, the “utter pain of labor” still echoes in the back of her head, and she’s dealing with some considerable postpartum anxiety.
But at least once a day, she thinks about how lucky she is that she wanted her children and that she chose to do this willingly.
“I cannot fathom what it would be like to go through all of this because I couldn’t get an abortion,” she said. “Last week my baby was screaming five hours straight and I thought I was going to lose it and I couldn’t help but imagine being thrown into this situation without being prepared or without the desire to get through it.”
Women who’ve lost a baby say the experience has caused them to view abortion differently, too.
For other women, losing a baby prematurely is what convinced them how vital it is for a mother to have agency in her own obstetric care.
Losing a pregnancy at 36 weeks made Bethany Pierce more pro-choice than ever before.
Before getting pregnant at 35, the 41-year-old librarian from South Carolina considered herself pro-choice. She never thought she’d need to consider her stance more thoroughly than that.
“‘Later-term abortions’ were always an abstract thing in my mind,” Pierce said. “I think we don’t talk about the prevalence of late-term loss and complications because it’s just so horrifying to conceptualize.”
The idea that women are having “late-term” abortions ― at or after 21 weeks ― has been heavily politicized in recent years, most notably by former President Donald Trump. But the procedures account for about 1% of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. When they do occur, it’s usually because the fetus has been found to have a fatal condition that wasn’t detected earlier, such as a severe malformation of the brain, or because the mother’s life is threatened.
After losing a baby, Pierce said she thinks about later-term abortions a lot more these days. Her pregnancy in 2015 was planned and extremely normal and healthy, up until it wasn’t.
It turned out that Pierce had an exceedingly rare condition called “amniotic band syndrome” that will usually cause birth defects, not stillbirths.
“That was not the case with me, and my son was stillborn on May 19, 2015,” she said. “I don’t know if my son felt any pain. I don’t know that there was anything I could’ve done to spare him a second of discomfort or pain; I simply stopped feeling him move one day, and the ultrasound showed his heart had stopped.”
Every time the debate about abortion is reignited, Pierce said she’s reminded of that day in the hospital with her late son.
“It’s hard not to think about,” she said. “I don’t know if my son experienced any pain or discomfort, but if I knew beforehand that this would happen and if having a late-term abortion would spare him an iota of that, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.”
“These ‘late-term abortions’ aren’t people who decide late in the game that they don’t want a baby anymore. When someone is terminating a pregnancy at that point, it’s because of a tragedy. Something is wrong with the baby, the parent, or the pregnancy itself.”
Becky, a teaching assistant from southwest Ohio, had twins at 26 weeks in 2017. Her daughter survived after 132 days in NICU, but her son died at one month. Becky said the experience made her “deeply pro-choice.”
“People don’t know how complex and terrible even the most wanted pregnancy can be,” she said.
After years of experiencing miscarriage after miscarriage, Becky found out she had dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease that complicates pregnancy. Soon after, Becky found out that she was 11 weeks pregnant with twins.
Unfortunately, her twins’ growth started to slow, and at 25 weeks, she was hospitalized so doctors could run daily scans. After each daily scan, she, her husband and a team of doctors would sit down and discuss what had changed overnight and how the twins might survive if they were born that day.
“That meant every day we had to have a frank discussion about how our babies would probably die and then wake up for another scan to see if both were still OK,” she said. “I still struggle with the emotional strain of that.”
Ultimately, the twins were born alive, though very premature. Becky recalls that all their care looked like a form of torture.
“To see 1 lb humans who needed morphine for a diaper change? It looks cruel,” she said.
Of course, it was all worth it, for the chance of a better life for them. Eventually, things took a turn for the worst for Becky’s son.
“He developed sepsis and organ failure very quickly one night and we withdrew his life support to end his suffering,” she said. “He was the equivalent of a 30-week fetus and we had options for his end-of-life care only because he was already born. That feels wrong to me.”
Like Becky, Megan LeBlanc, a mom of two who lives in suburban Boston, became more defensive of abortion rights, especially mischaracterizations of “late-term abortions,” after losing her child.
In 2009, LeBlanc’s daughter was born at 24 weeks. LeBlanc’s water had broken early due to a weakened cervix, and the baby was born via emergency C-section.
The infant was only 1 pound, 9 ounces at birth, and died when she was five days old due to a brain hemorrhage.
In the months that followed her daughter’s death, LeBlanc met parents online and in person through groups for people who had experienced pregnancy loss, stillbirth and newborn death. For some of the parents, they’d had to terminate their pregnancies because of fetal anomalies or maternal life endangerment.
“It drove home the fact that these ‘late-term abortions’ aren’t people who decide late in the game that they don’t want a baby anymore,” she said. “When someone is terminating a pregnancy at that point, it’s because of a tragedy. Something is wrong with the baby, the parent, or the pregnancy itself.”
The parents who’d aborted their children were mourning their losses the same way LeBlanc was.
“These were loved babies whose futures had been planned for and daydreamed about, and then something went terribly wrong. The only difference between our stories was that my daughter had been delivered to try to save her because she had a chance of survival,” she said.
Now LeBlanc gets angry when she hears politicians portray abortion in the third trimester as some “evil procedure designed to kill off unwanted children.”
“It couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s nothing more than a scare tactic that hurts the people who need these procedures,” she said.
From ‘Pro-Life’ And ‘Single-Issue Voter’ To Pro-Choice
For Holly, a 43-year-old mom of three who’s married to her high school sweetheart, pregnancy led her to drastically rethink her views on abortion.
Holly, who lives in Austin, Texas, was raised evangelical in the Midwest and was “very anti-abortion” prior to having her kids. All three of her pregnancies were planned and trouble-free. All three of her kids were born healthy and birthed without complication.
But even within a stable, happy marriage, parenthood was more depleting than Holly could have ever imagined.
“After my first child was born, I just began to realize that, as much as I had wanted this child and loved him, it was also hard and exhausting,” she said. “It made me imagine not having support at home or the means to take care of him well and how that would be devastating for anyone to go through.”
Holly, who once voted for candidates based on how pro-life they were, said she realized that a pregnancy shouldn’t be forced on anyone who wasn’t prepared for the commitment she had taken on.
“It really was like a switch flipped for me and I was no longer a single-issue voter,” she said.
Holly now looks for candidates who advocate for and prop up social programs that lower unwanted pregnancies and provide support to families once a child is born.
“Things like sex education, free and widely available contraception and birth control, free daycare for working mothers and parents with children and mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave,” she said.
Lisa, a 38-year-old marketer in Atlanta, was “weakly” pro-choice prior to giving birth in 2019.
“I believed women should have the choice but for me, it was more based on not forcing women who may be pregnant or assaulted to have unplanned children that could derail their lives,” Lisa said.
“Every pregnancy is a dice roll in your life.”
Her own pregnancy and labor were relatively uncomplicated, and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
“But as soon as I got pregnant, other women started sharing what pregnancy did to their bodies and the hard choices they made to abort babies with incredible deformities,” Lisa said.
Lisa, who’s Black, also started researching the maternal mortality rates of Black women. She discovered that the rate of life-threatening complications for new mothers in general in the U.S. has more than doubled in two decades because of preexisting conditions, medical errors and unequal access to care.
There are 700 to 900 deaths each year related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to a joint report by ProPublica and NPR. But that figure overshadows an even more alarming statistic: For every U.S. woman who dies as a consequence of pregnancy or childbirth, up to 70 suffer hemorrhages, organ failure or other significant complications, amounting to more than 1% of all births. The annual cost to women, taxpayers and the health care system runs into billions of dollars, according to the report.
“When you start reading up on this, you realize that having a baby is more than having a baby and finding a way to feed it,” Lisa said. “Every pregnancy is a dice roll in your life. And there are zero resources for women to have safe, equitable pregnancies.”
Lisa had an enviably uncomplicated pregnancy but says there’s not one part of her body left untouched by the experience ― and she can’t imagine having done all she did unwillingly.
“I planned a pregnancy,” she said. “My story ended fine: I have a perfect sweet-faced baby girl, but it’s not lost on me this could have just as easily not been the case and I want others to be able to make that choice for themselves, too.”