Hazel McHaffie

ectopic pregnancy

Abortion: rights, choices and heartaches

Whatever you feel about the rights and wrongs of abortion, I suspect the news this week of the Supreme Court’s decision in the USA to overturn Roe v Wade and end the constitutional right of women to decide about reproductive matters for themselves, putting the decision into the hands of the legislature in each State, will have had an effect on you. And if my understanding is correct, some Republican States will even make it illegal to intervene in cases of ectopic pregnancy where the fetus, growing usually in the fallopian tube, cannot be viable, and the mother’s life is at risk.

Phrases like ‘going back 50 years’, ‘a dark day for women’, capture the sense of shock and outrage so many feel in the 21st Century where equality, autonomy, rights, interests, are everyday words, not esoteric ethical terms.

I guess my own circumstances influence my personal views, but I confess, I foresee dire consequences. I was in clinical practice in the days before the Abortion Act came into force here in the UK in 1967, and saw at first hand the maternal death, the terrible damage, and the family heartache caused by both self-inflicted and back-street abortions carried out by unqualified people in unhygienic conditions. It underlined for me the desperate measures women would go to to end an unwanted pregnancy. It shone a light on the grave disadvantages of those with limited resources and choices. It highlighted the anguish of losing a baby. It brought me face to face with the tragic death of young girls.

Nor is the closure of these specialist clinics only the end of a single service: abortion. There are far-reaching repercussions. Because these centres – well, the good ones anyway – don’t just process patients on a conveyor belt; inbuilt into their work is listening, counselling, supporting, guiding; helping vulnerable women and girls to address the problems which make them consider termination in the first place. Decision making is a staged process. And it includes guidance for the future: dealing with the grief and guilt, avoiding further unwanted pregnancies, coping with the responsibilities they already have.

Opponents of abortion have a right to their opinions, but in my view, they do not have the right to force their opinions on others, especially on those who are at their most vulnerable and traumatised.

The reasons for seeking to terminate a pregnancy are legion. Ending the life of an innocent child is indeed a big deal, but what of the well-being of …

Sally, who has been told her 20-week fetus has a lethal abnormality.

Jacqui, whose mental health is precarious already, and who knows she can’t cope with a dependent child when she’s struggling to look after herself.

Dolly, who has learning difficulties and scarcely understands what’s happening to her body, and of her mother, already worn out looking after Dolly.

Precious who has been told her unborn child has a genetic condition that will mean he will never walk or talk or know her.

Twelve-year-old Caroline, who was sexually assaulted by her father and now has a positive pregnancy test hidden in her school bag.

Mother-of-three Hetty, who’s daily struggling to cope and simply doesn’t have the financial, emotional, or physical wherewithal to raise a fourth child.

Trixie, caught between a pregnancy which will end all contact with her family on the one hand, and the judgement of her church which forbids abortion and preaches eternal damnation on the other.

Teenager Katarina, who was assaulted by a stranger when she took a shortcut through the park so her mother wouldn’t be worried that she was late home after sports practice.

Fatima, who is in an abusive relationship and regularly raped by her partner, and now expecting his child, whom he attempts to dispose of through violent kickings every Friday night.

Elizabeth Jane, who has just got that longed-for promotion at work and for whom pregnancy right now would be the end of a promising career.

Yasmin, who has been through years of infertility treatment, ending up with five viable implanted eggs requiring selective reduction to ensure her own and the babies’ safety.

First-year university student Andrea who was taunted for still being a virgin, and in a drunken moment of madness allowed a persistent boy to remedy the situation.

It’s not for me to pick and choose which of these pregnant women/girls deserve my sympathy, which should have a choice, who qualifies for an abortion. It’s not for me to force them to give birth to these babies and live with the horror of what that means. I won’t be there.
It is for me to understand and support and stand up for the freedom to choose.

If you want to hear firsthand what a ban on all abortions can mean in real life, listen to an American lady speaking to Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Andrea Prudente was on holiday in Malta this month, when she began bleeding profusely at 15 weeks – her placenta had started to sheer off. Then her waters broke and she was told her much-wanted baby could not survive. But Malta is the one EU country that bans abortion in any circumstance, even when the fetus can’t survive, even when the mother’s life is in grave jeopardy. And this lady’s life was indeed in danger; nevertheless she had to risk a flight to another country to obtain the medical assistance she needed. It makes harrowing listening. But we can’t turn away from this reality and sanitise it. It’s happening to real women in June 2022.

America’s overturning of the constitutional rights of women doesn’t stop abortions; it stops safe abortions!

 

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