Dear Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy,
“I’m sorry we have to meet like this.” This is the refrain that plays over and over in my mind as I remember how doctor after doctor, nurse after nurse introduced themselves to me at the hospital bed I was still stunned to find myself in.
At 22 weeks, six days pregnant, I was not supposed to be there, both as a practical and statistical matter. Less than 0.5 percent of pregnancies after 20 weeks will “end in a fatal demise.” And yet there I was, on the most difficult day of my life, being counseled by the best, most empathetic and professional medical staff on how to navigate my new reality: I would be a mom who never got to take our child home. I would be part of that less than 0.5 percent.
So, as I write to you today—parent to parent—I would like to say that I am sorry we have to re-meet like this. I’d rather still be pregnant than to share my story with you and others who need to hear it. And yet, after spending seven years as a congressional reporter who worked alongside you, your colleagues, and your staff, I feel an obligation to write this, to urge you to drop your advocacy of the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” and to defend the incredible medical professionals who support women like me and families like ours on their most difficult days—the medical professionals who would be criminalized by the legislation you support.
Today, House Republicans under your leadership are scheduled to hold a minority-only hearing on this bill, which would force intervention on babies born alive without any consideration of individual circumstance, medical standards,or quality of life for the child. And while voices like mine likely will not be heard, I want to be clear: this legislation is anti-science, anti-women, and anti-family. Its mere existence threatens doctors who entered their profession because of the desire to bring new life into the world by vilifying them and criminalizing their most difficult work. And it perpetuates a culture of silence and isolation we create for pregnant women by making them feel blame or shame when they lose a pregnancy.
“Born-alive abortion” is not a clinical term. The language of this bill makes clear that its authors either are confused by or deliberately misconstruing the circumstances under which a woman would deliver or have a child surgically removed from her in the second or third trimester.
I, unfortunately, can now personally attest to those circumstances.
On Sunday, Aug. 11, I woke up with terrible abdominal pain. I convinced myself that I maybe had a bladder infection. I couldn’t possibly have known that I was having contractions. How could I be, five months pregnant?
I didn’t realize the seriousness of what was happening to me until I saw an attending physician on the triage floor of the women’s hospital where I was supposed to deliver months later, in December. The doctor turned somber as she conducted her examination of me. Something was wrong. She soon informed us I was having contractions and two centimeters dilated. Like the parade of doctors and nurses we would see next, she was empathetic but straightforward when she told me I’d be taken to the labor and delivery floor, and while they could discuss potential options for me, I should begin emotionally preparing myself to deliver.
At 22 weeks, six days pregnant, I was not ready. But I had to be.
I keep mentioning this number—22 weeks, six days—not just because I will wear it forever as an emotional scar. Twenty-two weeks, six days is important because in pregnancy, every day matters. Medical research has shown that in the 22nd week of gestation, zero babies born ever leave the hospital without major morbidity, and 94 percent of babies die within 120 days of birth. At the hospital, we were informed in less statistical but just as direct terms that because I entered pre-term labor, this child we wanted would never develop healthy organs, never lead the normal healthy life we imagined for him.
We were devastated.
Despite the hospital where I was being treated having a standard protocol that they would not offer resuscitation until the 23rd week of fetal gestation, the pediatricians in the neonatal intensive care unit offered us the option to aggressively intervene, as we only were one day away.
This is where we reach the most important part of my family’s story.
Being a parent, at its core, is just making a series of decisions you think are in the best interest of your child. Sometimes those decisions are small: what kind of car seat is safest for him or what should he wear today? Sometimes they’re big: how do we teach him to be kind and what values should he have? Under normal circumstances, being a parent is an aggregation of a lifetime of these choices.
For me and my husband, we unfortunately will live forever with the knowledge and sorrow that for our first child, we only were afforded one choice to make on his behalf. We chose to give him a life of peace, knowing it would be fleeting. We opted for palliative care of our child, meaning that our medical team would focus on keeping him comfortable for the hours he was with us. We chose not to commit our son to an indefinite lifetime of suffering.
Our son was born alive but with no chance at a healthy life, and so we held him, touched him, and looked at him until he gently passed away.
We were counseled and ultimately made this decision within the parameters of the code of medical ethics regarding “treatment decisions for seriously ill newborns,” which focuses on promoting the child’s best interest and the chances that intervention will achieve clinically significant results.
It was a revelation, when in my grief, I came to understand that my husband and I are not aspiring parents. We already are parents—through the preparation of our hearts for this child and, most important, this choice we were able to make for him.
I appreciate that not everyone would make the same choice we did, and when faced with the same presentation of facts, those parents should be free to choose what is best for them. What I do not appreciate is the government threatening to interfere with the decisions between a doctor and patient and husband and wife. Every family should benefit from empathetic, honest, and transparent care from doctors and nurses who are free to act in accordance with the profession’s code of ethics and without fear of imprisonment.
I cannot and will not remain silent as House Republicans debate this bill because through your consideration and promotion of it, you are invalidating my motherhood by attempting to criminalize the very thing that made us parents.
Through this legislation, you are trying to imprison the doctors and nurses who guided us through delivery and post-delivery care, who cried with us and who helped us create meaning of a senseless tragedy by honoring the life of our child, creating a memory box for us to keep and open if and when we are ready.
Having covered Congress, I understand the concept of a “messaging bill,” industry jargon for legislation politicians believe and know will never pass but pursue anyway in an attempt to score what the media will characterize as “points” with their political base.
And yet what I need you to know is that I am not a player in a hypothetical game. I am a real person with a broken heart, a loving but devastated family, and a desire to make the world a kinder, less hostile place for families in their darkest hours. You know me.
The consequences of promoting the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”—which your colleagues have referred to the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security—are real. And they’re real even if you believe, as I think you do, that this bill will never become law. What you are doing is creating a culture of intimidation, fear, and silence that increasingly prevents women in America from getting sound medical advice from their doctors that is in line with the code of medical ethics and in service of patients’ personal family values.
For the leader of the party that has long claimed the mantle of “family values,” I expect better.