Oklahoma SB 1433, also referred to as the “Personhood Amendment” would establish in the Oklahoma State Constitution that “Life begins at conception,” thereby opening the door to criminalizing abortions, contraception, and fertility treatments. While there have been a surprising number of supporters who are against this cause, that this type of legislation was introduced in the first place should come as no surprise to anyone in this state. Oklahoma has long history of backing conservative politics and politicians (Rick Santorum’s recent Primary victory is one example), and with this being an election year, most Republican (and some Democrat) legislators are following the trend of their party’s current hot-button issue. Since the men who introduced this legislation claim that they are “speaking on behalf of the unborn”, I – as a woman – would like to put a face to the real issue at stake, and share with you the tales of six women whose lives would be jeopardized by this kind of amendment had their stories taken place today.
Cecily K. of Philadelphia, and her husband, Charlie struggled with infertility for several years before finally succeeding with the pregnancy of their twin sons, Nicholas and Zachary, via IVF in 2004. Everything seemed to be going great in their lives until a routine exam and ultrasound at 22.5 weeks gestation revealed that one of the twins had passed away. Not only did they have to deal with this devastating news, but tests showed that Cecily was also suffering from severe preeclampsia. Despite being admitted to the hospital and given a barrage of medication to try and stop her blood pressure from continuing to rise and causing a life-threatening stroke, her doctor finally had to tell Cecily and Charlie the news that there was no way to save the remaining twin, and the only way to save Cecily’s life was to immediately terminate her pregnancy via an Intact Dilation and Extraction (known in pro-life circles as a “partial-birth abortion). A C-section or induced labor was not possible because Cecily could potentially bleed to death during the procedure due to her high blood pressure. Without this procedure, Cecily would have either died or become so severely brain damaged from a stroke that she would have no quality of life whatsoever. This was not a decision that Cecily, Charlie or her doctor – who called this the worst moment of his professional career – made lightly. It was made to preserve both the life and health of Cecily in order that she could someday have more children. In fact, she has. Cecily and Charlie now have a beautiful, healthy, 5 year old girl named Tori. Without the D&X procedure (which has since been banned), there would be no Tori, because there would be no Cecily. If the same thing happens to a woman here in Oklahoma, under the Personhood Amendment that woman would be forced to undergo labor and delivery and would most likely die. That’s not very “Pro-Life” is it?
Julia K. of Austin, Texas also had to make the painful decision to undergo a late-term abortion. Julia, like Cecily, was 22 weeks gestation into her first pregnancy when she discovered that the son she so desperately wanted was afflicted with the condition arthrogryposis. Because of the severity of the condition there was no way that her child would survive after birth, and Julia’s doctors recommended termination. After much research, prayer, and soul-searching, this self-described “church-raised, Republican, All-American girl” and her husband decided that the most loving choice they could provide their son – whom they named Thomas – would be the one they would want made for themselves, to end his suffering. By this point, Julia was almost 24 weeks gestation and once she hit this milestone no medical provider in the state would perform a termination. As it was, all of the hospitals in her area refused to perform the procedure and Julia was forced to go to Houston for care. In a poignant moment, via a single injection to his heart, her son’s life ended as peacefully as it began. Julia then labored for 17 hours to bring Thomas into the world to say good-bye in person. Julia has since gone on to birth two healthy girls and is currently expecting a baby boy. In 2005, the State of Texas was considering anti-abortion legislation and was allowing testimony before the Texas State Legislature on the issue. Because of what she went through, Julia wanted to ensure that all mothers had the same options open to them as she did for her son in similar situations, so she testified about her ordeal in order to bring understanding and compassion to those who might otherwise be swayed by what they didn’t know. You can read Julia’s heartfelt and moving testimony on her blog.
Mary (not her real name) was a young woman, not even twenty-one, when she had to make the painful decision to terminate her unplanned pregnancy. At the time of conception, Mary was not on the best paths of life – drinking, partying and dabbling in drugs – when a one-night drunken fling with a co-worker resulted in pregnancy. For a while after finding out the news, Mary considered both keeping the baby or adoption, and even tried to have a relationship with the birth father. However, Mary quickly came to the realization that she was too young to handle the responsibility of caring for a child herself, and she was also too much into the party scene to properly carry a child to term. Now, some might call that action selfish, but I say that the realization that she did not want to risk harming a fetus by carrying on with her lifestyle one of the most unselfish things she could’ve done. A child would not be born either drug or alcohol addicted/exposed and would not have to potentially suffer through life with disabilities. Within a couple of years, Mary had cleaned up her act and has since married a wonderful man and now has two beautiful children with another on the way. Mary has expressed feelings of guilt and sadness in the past regarding her decision to abort her first pregnancy, but not regret. If she had not, she would never have met her husband or birthed the children she has and loves.
Naomi was twenty-four with two children, ages one and four, and recently separated from her abusive, alcoholic husband when she discovered she was pregnant with her third child. Naomi had endured a very difficult pregnancy with her second child and almost lost the baby several times. She had since had a multitude of gynecological problems and underwent several D&C procedures in order to biopsy her uterine lining. She and her doctors were extremely shocked to discover that she had conceived in the middle of all of the testing, and were not sure what the ramifications would be. After a few weeks, it was determined that Naomi’s uterus was too thin from the repeated D&Cs and she was also not in the best of health to carry the pregnancy to term. She was advised that if she did choose to continue the pregnancy, chances were that her uterus would rupture before the sixth month and could kill both the fetus and herself. Although it broke her heart to do so, Naomi could not bear the thought of dying and leaving her two other children behind, so she chose to terminate the pregnancy. A biopsy of the fetal remains later revealed chromosomal abnormalities that would have caused severe deformity and disability in the child, had it been born. If Naomi had not made that decision, her children would’ve known the pain of growing up without her love and protection. She also would not have been able to meet and marry her current husband of 22 years who was not only a wonderful father to her two children, but also to the three girls they foster-adopted together seven years ago. As painful as the decision was for Naomi, I’m so glad she made the choice she did because Naomi is MY mother, and I can’t imagine a world without her in it.
My story is one of pain, secrecy and shame. When I was five years old I was repeatedly sexually assaulted by my thirteen year old half-brother when he was supposed to be babysitting myself and my two year old brother. Though the abuse occurred thirty years ago, the memories of what happened to me are as fresh now as if they had occurred yesterday. My abuser (I refuse to call him my brother) threatened me after every encounter to not tell my parents or he would hurt me. How he could hurt me any more than he already was, I don’t know, but at five years old, I believed him. I also believed my parents when I would hear them say that they would kill anyone who dared to touch their kids when they would see reports of childhood sexual abuse on television. So, rather than let them know what was going on, I stayed silent for fifteen years. Only my closest friends, my baby brother, and eventually my then boyfriend/current husband knew what happened to me. I felt dirty, ashamed, and not worthy of love. My abuse only stopped because within a few months of it starting, my abuser was sent to live with his mother due to a child support and custody dispute between our father and his mother. It wasn’t until right before my wedding at age twenty that I was able to tell my parents what had happened, and then it was only because my baby brother had seen my abuser when he went to visit our father out of state. Our father noticed my brother’s barely concealed contempt and rage towards my abuser and could not figure out what was going on. My brother refused to say anything because it was my secret to tell. So, when my mother confronted me with what had happened, I finally broke down and told her the truth. My mother was devastated to know that she had not protected me from that harm, but I don’t blame her. After many of years of soul searching I have even managed to somewhat forgive my abuser because I believe that the same thing must have happened to him when he lived with his mother (I already knew he was physically abused by her). The reason my story is relevant is because the Personhood Amendment makes NO EXCEPTION whatsoever for cases of rape and incest. I cannot imagine the anger, pain and shame I would’ve had to endure had I been old enough to conceive a child from my rape. I also would’ve probably hid the truth from my family out of fear of the repercussions. The thought of some other woman or girl having to be forced to carry such a pregnancy to term sickens me. Those who are able to do so are brave and I don’t know that I could do the same in their shoes. My story also has relevance to the issue because my husband and I are infertile. We cannot conceive a child without the assistance of IVF, and the Personhood Amendment puts IVF and other fertility treatments at risk of being eliminated for fear by doctors of prosecution. My husband and I have ultimately chosen adoption as a way to build our family, and I only want adoption to be a loving choice by a birth mother and not one that was forced upon them.
Lastly is the tale of Karen Santorum. That’s right, the wife of Presidential candidate Rick Santorum. In 1996, the Santorum’s discovered during a routine ultrasound that the fetus, a boy, had a fatal birth defect. Like Julia K., they thought long and hard about what to do and ultimately chose to try a risky intra-uterine surgery on the fetus to try and save its life. Instead of saving the life of the fetus, the surgery instead caused Karen to contract a deadly infection. Rick Santorum was informed that if his wife did not receive life-saving antibiotics that would also induce labor – thereby terminating the pregnancy – then Karen would die. Senator Santorum is quoted as saying of the decision, “The doctors said they were talking about a matter of hours or a day or two before risking sepsis and both of them might die,” Santorum said. “Obviously, if it was a choice of whether both Karen and the child are going to die or just the child is going to die, I mean it’s a pretty easy call.” Because their child – a son they named Gabriel – was born before the 24 week viability mark, he died within two hours of leaving his mother’s womb. While this loss for the Santorum’s is a sad one and should not be mocked, it is worth noting that not only did Senator Santorum make a choice that he would like to deny others, but also the medical terminology for what occurred to his son is considered to be ABORTION. Late-term abortion, in fact. Most likely the hospital submitted the claim to Senator Santorum’s insurance company under the code for ABORTION because in all technical sense in the medical world, that’s exactly what it was. Senator Santorum has stated that he believes that insurance companies should not have to pay for abortions, yet he had HIS insurance company pay for one!
In closing, I would like to state that I hope reading the stories of these six women has shed some light onto the subject of abortion and why the Personhood Amendment must NOT pass. In no way is this a black-and-white issue, nor is it a subject that is taken lightly by those who have had to make that decision. These women are not “baby killers”, “sluts” or “doing the Devil’s work”; they are mothers, wives, tax payers and voters. They are your neighbors and friends, the person you sit next to on the pew every Sunday. We are not asking you to change your belief system; we are only asking that you keep your beliefs to yourself and out of our lives and the laws of the land.
Editor’s Note: On April 1st there will be a candle light vigil at the State Capitol. Only flameless candles will be allowed at the Capitol. Organizers will have some available for a set donation. See the Facebook event page for more information.