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Talking About Abortion, Part II: T.C.'s Story

Brace yourself for a Titanic-sized non sequitur. Here is a picture of the reading that (Z) assigns to students for the lecture about the Philippine-American War:

A reading entitled 
'We Should Not Be in the Philippines (1898)' and one entitled 'We Have the Filipinos on the Run (1899)'

You get the point, presumably. To help the students understand the subject, they get an anti-war perspective and a pro-war perspective. That approach, used by pretty much all history professors, shows up throughout the readings for the course: "10 Rules for Building a Successful Business" by Sam Walton is paired with "Wal-Mart's Unfortunate Labor Force;" "The Southern Manifesto" is paired with "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King Jr.; "Beatlemania Arrives in America" by Tom Wolfe is paired with "Communism, Hypnotism, and The Beatles," by David Noebel.

Since the Dobbs decision came down, we have gotten lots and lots of questions about abortion rights. Many of those questions, we are able to answer. Some of them, which ask for the perspective of anti-abortion activists, we are not. In view of that, given our instincts as teachers, we recruited several people who actually are in a position to answer those questions. We selected 10 questions that readers put forward, and got answers from three anti-abortion readers. The answers were long enough that we could not run all of them in one fell swoop. So, we ran the first three questions and answers, and we have seven more questions and answers still in the bank.

The response to this first set of questions and answers was... very mixed. Some folks very much appreciated hearing the anti-abortion perspective, even if they don't agree with it. Here's one example, from J.L. in Chicago, IL:

I am strongly pro-choice but disagree with the recommended course of action (stopping the conversation with anti-abortion readership) from C.W. in Carlsbad.

One of the common lines from our side on abortion is, "If you don't like abortion, don't have one." That does not make quite as much sense as those saying it would like it to, but the idea does apply here: "If you don't like part of the content on this site, don't read it." I don't know that I have skipped content because it would upset me, but certainly have done so because it did not interest me. I do not think it has ever even occurred to me to suggest that others be barred from reading it.

There is a lot to criticize the right for these days but one of the unfortunate and quite serious offenses of at least portions of the left is suppression of speech one dislikes. As a Jewish child growing up in Chicago, I supported the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, IL (a suburb, then and now, with a sizable Jewish population and then with far more living Holocaust survivors) and I still think I was right. So, I am not being selective on this principle and, as I say, I am pro-choice, anyway. But, I want to hear people with whom I disagree and, even if I don't, I want others to be allowed to do so.

Others, including C.W. in Carlsbad, suggested that we push the eject button immediately, with the main reason being something along the lines of "the three anti-abortion readers aren't saying anything I haven't heard before." We've thought very carefully about that line of argument, and have a couple of responses. The first is that people who are very close to/involved in this issue are likely to have been exposed repeatedly to ideas/arguments/rhetoric that aren't nearly as familiar to those who aren't as close to/involved with this issue. To use an analogy, (Z) probably isn't going to get much out of a History Channel documentary on the Civil War, but that isn't necessarily true for all viewers.

The second response is that if a question is posed to the trio of anti-abortion readers, and the trio all come up with answers that seem similar and unsatisfactory, that is information. Again, to use an analogy, if Ted Cruz is asked ten times why it's OK for him to run for a third term when he promised to serve only two, and he hems and haws every time, that tells us something.

With all of this said, we should have planned things out better, and followed the model suggested by the readings in (Z)'s U.S. history course. Fortunately, the mail inbox has solved that problem for us. We've gotten a number of heartfelt messages from people who have personal experiences with abortion, along with a lot of interesting comments from people responding to the three questions and answers we ran. So, this is the plan. We've already run Q&A Set #1. Today, we will run a message we got from reader T.C. in Saint Paul, MN, about her experience with abortion (she gave explicit permission to share the story, and her gender is necessarily revealed by the content of her narrative). Tomorrow, we'll run a carefully curated set of comments from readers in response to the questions and/or the account from T.C.

We'll repeat this trio next week, and the week thereafter: (1) Q&A from the anti-abortion readers, (2) Account(s) from a reader or readers who have a personal experience with abortion, and (3) comments on #1 and #2. We hope that we can make this into a useful, rather than hurtful, exercise. And with that said, here's T.C.:

My husband and I have been married for 9 years and we are so blessed to have a healthy and happy 7-year-old daughter. Last year, at the age of 46, I became pregnant. We were shocked that this was even possible, given how unlikely it is to occur naturally after age 43. We were excited but also trepidatious because the probability of carrying a healthy baby to term is quite low for my age. My daughter asks for a sibling all the time, and so against the odds, I hoped it might be possible to make our family a little bigger. As we were wrapping our heads around the idea of having another child, about a week later, when I was 7 weeks pregnant, I started to have scary and very concerning symptoms. I had shortness of breath and my heart was beating erratically. I had no energy. I would get winded after climbing up one flight of stairs. As a physically fit person with a healthy diet, and a public health professional, I knew that those symptoms weren't normal. So I booked an appointment with an internal medicine specialist that works in the women's reproductive health clinic that I go to. Our healthcare system is so overwhelmed that they had to squeeze me in and I got only 10 minutes of her time. She listened to my heart and said, "Yes, I hear arrhythmias." Then she ordered a full set of labs, including biomarkers for heart failure and pulmonary embolism, an echocardiogram, a wearable cardiac monitor, and a fetal ultrasound. It took weeks just to get all of the tests performed, because it was very difficult to get appointments in cardiology, and I again had to insist the schedulers have me squeezed in.

While I was waiting for test results, I continued to feel terrible. I couldn't even get off of the couch to play with my daughter and I could barely do my job. My husband was terrified. I was calling my best friend a lot during that time, and I remember that she said to me, "Don't sacrifice yourself to give your daughter a sibling. You are everything to us, the whole world, and we can't lose you." One morning, as I was driving to get yet more lab work done, I had the thought occur to me suddenly, "What are you doing? Going for all of these diagnostic tests is pointless. You already know what you have to do." I told my husband that night that I thought I had to abort the baby. It was a real concern for me that physicians wouldn't be able to identify the problem with my pregnancy or the fetus until the second or third trimester, and then terminating the pregnancy at that stage would be even more horrible. My husband suggested to me to sleep on it and then talk about it more the next day. The next day, with his support, I called my clinic and requested a medical abortion.

A medical abortion is an awful experience. It is very similar to a miscarriage, which I have also had before, but even worse due to the medical inducement. The cramping pain is blinding, the bleeding is profuse, I had to vomit repeatedly, and it goes on for days. Meanwhile, I had to do this all in secret so that I wouldn't scare my daughter. No one would opt to endure one of these on a lark.

Once I recovered from the abortion, I could breathe normally again and my heart arrhythmias disappeared. The last of the test results came in the mail and everything came back normal. Nobody in the medical system ever figured out why I was having such difficulty breathing or what was causing my symptoms. Oh, and I was getting all of my care at the University of Minnesota. That place is not known for hiring slouches. It showed me the inadequacies of our crumbling healthcare system, and how little still that medical professionals understand about women's health. I have a suspicion that I may have ended up with pregnancy-induced cardiomyopathy, but I will never know.

After my experience, I am even more bewildered by the abortion bans that elected officials have passed. They seem unbelievably cruel to me and I will not quickly forget that cruelty. Doctors can't predict with absolute certainty when a pregnancy is going to be fatal. They don't know for sure when they need to "save the life of the mother." The gray area is enormous. I had to make a terrible decision, the least bad option of a range of bad options. Scientific evidence and medical professionals could not help me make it. To this day, I grieve the loss of that potential life, even as I know that I made the best decision available for me and for my family. I mourn the fact that my daughter would have made a lovely and loving older sister and now, that is not to be. Tears stream down my face as I type this. But, according to about a third of this country, I am a murderer.

I hope my story provides some additional insight to your readers about the political abortion debate. For those of us who are capable of bearing a child, it is not a debate, nor is it about politics, but rather, deeply personal and painful.

Thank you, T.C., it is very courageous of you to put yourself out there in this way. (Z)

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