Aspiration vs. Policy

By michelle, 9 January, 2024
Aspiration vs. Policy

From my Chasing Dragons | Hiding in Caves Substack.

If by Life one means cellular growth, then life begins at conception. But if by Life one means personhood, then, we do not know when personhood begins. From a faith perspective, personhood (soul) is eternal and not tied to a cellular level. We are told “at first breath” and scripturally (Jewish, Christian & Muslim) that seems true. Except in the Christian faith, when Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) and Mary (mother of Jesus) meet - Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist and Mary has just conceived. We are told in the story that “the Baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb” (Luke 1:41-42). These were supernatural times. But to decree laws based  on this story would be wrong. Because our tendency as humans is to put law before faith. And law is too often punitive.

Every woman’s story surrounding pregnancy, or non-pregnancy, is deeply personal. And the abortion debate can only be honestly discussed at that personal level. Yet not everyone is worthy of being entrusted with these stories. Legislators certainly are not. Yet here we are…again.

If the #MeToo movement taught us one thing, it was that women and men are repeatedly told to broadcast their trauma over and over again in order for justice to be enacted. “What does God require of men?  To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)  We are not there.

Legislating punitive laws is not acting justly. Legislating punitive laws is not loving mercy. And men sitting in judgment of women, holding their bodies in contempt, is not walking humbly with God. And yet…here we are.

[Jesus says to the crowd assembled] “To what, then, may I liken the men of this generation, and what do they resemble? They are like children sitting in a marketplace accosting one another, who say, “We played flutes for you and you did not dance; we wailed in lamentation and you did not weep.” (Luke 7:31-32 )

There are two conversations happening within the abortion debate. One is Aspirational and one is Policy. Aspirational would be the idea of “Sanctity of Life”. It is the idea that all life is sacred, that the emergence of life is hope and purpose and opportunity and promise of good. That life starts out innocent and in that innocence is goodness - not a person’s goodness per say but a deeply rooted idea of the goodness of creation (“Tov Meod” means Very Good in Hebrew). It is therefore odd that the people crying out loudly for Sanctity of Life are also the most likely to believe in a punitive, judgmental God and therefore enact punitive, judgmental laws to dictate behavior.

Policy is what eventually becomes Law. And Law can be either liberative or oppressive. Policy rooted in an Aspiration of Hope lifts from the bottom and listens to the cries of the oppressed. Policy rooted in shame and judgment continues to oppress and ignore.

In some ways, Aspiration cries out, “We played flutes for you and you did not dance” as the overturning of Roe v Wade was announced. Sanctity of Life was shouting from the roof tops.

But Policy then chimes in, “We wailed in lamentation and you did not weep” because real women are getting hurt and real children are being ignored and real families are being oppressed and our policies are not reflecting this reality nor committed to changing it.

And this is the tension that we have, and the Christian Church has not been honest in addressing it. If you believe recently enacted abortion laws will not impact you or a loved one, you need to think again.

My Abortion Story #SomeoneYouLove

My experience intersects the stigma of illegitimacy, the complexity of adoption, the painful challenges of infertility, the inadequate and often dangerously lacking access to healthcare, the ways criminalizing provider care will negatively impact the health and well-being of women and babies, the invasion of the State into personal and private matters around bodily autonomy, family planning, and healthcare, the emotional shame and stigma that haunts women who find themselves outside the societal norms of family planning, the manipulative politicization of women’s health by both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements particularly around miscarriage and reproductive health (we do not need agenda-driven healthcare, we need comprehensive and holistic healthcare) and the sheer lack of understanding the complexity and nuance required to hold these physical and emotional experiences in a productive tension. Without asking “why” someone holds the beliefs they hold and listening to their full story, it is far too easy to allow our own biases to separate us. Here is my story:

I am the second unplanned child to my mother. I was born when she was 19. Her first child, a girl, she conceived when she was a Junior in high school and dated her high school sweetheart. He had graduated high school and would be deployed to Vietnam1. They wanted to marry but their families disagreed. My mother’s parents instead quietly sent her away to a home for unwed mothers, where she delivered a healthy baby girl, held her for one day, and then handed her over to a nun to deliver to her adoptive family. My mother’s only request was that the family be far enough away that a chance meeting would never occur. Adoption was the right decision for my mother at this time, given all the circumstances, but it remains a traumatic experience. Experiences in homes like these, along with horror stories from orphanages are compelling reasons why women do not want to return to that era. For my mom, her time at the Home was never talked about in her family, as though the experience never happened. In fact, to those outside of the immediate family, she went away to visit an ailing aunt. In essence, she was never pregnant.2

When my mom became pregnant with me, it was not the same. As much as my mother would have desired it, my biological father wanted nothing more to do with her (or me) and said as much, even threatening to slander my mother’s reputation in court to avoid claiming paternity. So my mother never put him on the birth certificate. So final was her separation from him that I never even learned his name until I was in my 20s. She had dissociated much of her memory of that toxic relationship.

Because she came from a strong Catholic family, and abortion was illegal at that time, and the pain and shame of adoption still rang true, she decided to keep me. And yes, had abortion been legal when I was conceived, she told me she would have chosen that option, no questions asked. This may sound brutally honest to some and horribly revealing to others, but it is our truth. It does not define our story. But it is where Abortion entered my life.

I remember being a young girl in elementary school when Reagan was elected President and the Right to Life movement came into being. I don’t ever recall any debates over when life began until Reagan used it for his political platform. And I do remember being radicalized around it in the faith spaces we then occupied. Everyone in my world would identify themselves as Pro-Life Republican Christians (Actually, “Christian” was inferred so long as you stated Pro-Life and Republican together). To believe otherwise called into question your religious convictions and entire relationship with God. Because of the very real distinction in my life between “before Roe v Wade” and “after Roe v Wade”, I never gave abortion laws much mind. They were the law of the land, but I didn’t much agree with abortion, given my personal story. I could not bring myself to say I was pro-choice, so strong was the childhood association. Yet I also knew that if women like my mom were truly supported in all the ways they needed to be, abortion would be rare. I also felt this single issue was being used manipulatively. No one was being truthful with their stories or their core beliefs. This pissed me off.

When I was 26, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This was determined after what I now realize was a near-death experience. I had been experiencing 7 months of chronic lymph node pain under both arms, however, I thought I was having an allergic reaction to deodorant. It wasn’t until I was admitted to the ER that I learned the full truth of my situation. About a week prior, I had begun to hemorrhage. Without trying to be too graphic, I was filling a super tampon and a large pad with blood within one hour. And this was going on for over a week (24/7). At the time, the medical insurance I was on was through a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and it required me to have a primary care physician approve any specialized care. At that time, OBGYNs were considered specialists and COULD NOT BE  one’s primary care physicians. My primary care physician, a young white man, specialized in workers comp - it’s where he made the bulk of his money. During the week of my hemorrhaging, he told my husband that he got paid by our HMO whether or not he saw me and quite frankly, he made more from his other patients so I was not a priority. This was after he told me, “You always have irregular periods. You should just lie down and put your feet up,” and then proceeded to finally provide a referral. (If this was how he treated his white patients, I can only imagine how he treated his Black and brown ones.)

The week before my first OBGYN appointment, I was admitted to the hospital under suspected appendicitis. The truth was, after further examination by the attending ER physician and two specialists, I had experienced a ruptured cyst (probably over 7 months prior) that had infected my right fallopian tube. That infection (for these past 7 months) finally made its way to my appendix.

Because of PCOS and my near-death experience, I needed to go on fertility treatments the following year (1994) when my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. The first step in treatment for us was to use a drug called Clomid to stimulate ovulation. One of the side-effects of this drug is the possibility of multiples, since it could potentially release multiple eggs. (I personally know of someone who had triplets through this treatment.) While my own single pregnancy was successful (a healthy baby girl), under the new abortion laws, this form of fertility treatment poses additional health risks because women and their doctors are no longer in control of the “multiples” side effects. As one of the least expensive and easiest methods towards treating infertility, the risk may outweigh the reward and discourage many from seeking this treatment. To my knowledge, fertility treatments like Clomid do not fall within the in vitro fertilization (IVF) exception.

Fast forward to 2008. I was visiting family in Indiana in July and experienced an “unusual” period. Some slight pain and spotting but nothing more. Again, because of PCOS, I dismissed it. The following month my family and I were visiting family in England. I experienced sudden and intense pain and thought I was having a miscarriage. I’m taken to the ER, where after a quick examination, it was determined that I was pregnant (9 weeks) but there was no fetal heartbeat. In fact, the doctor does not know exactly when the pregnancy terminated (but most likely back in July). Since I was scheduled to return to the States within a few days, the option was given to me to wait for my body to naturally expel the fetus or have a D&C (Dilation & Curettage) to remove the fetus. Given the intense pain I was under and the fact that I had no way of knowing if I would experience a miscarriage on the plane (or perhaps have sepsis), I chose to have a D&C. Thanks to the UKs National Health Services, this medical procedure was immediately provided (and nobody asked me how I would pay for it!). Again, I look to current legislation and wonder what my experience would have been if it occurred today. Not to mention, the emotional pain my husband and I went through. We considered ourselves having single-child infertility. Having used no birth control for years, there was a glimmer of hope that we actually could naturally conceive. And then profound sadness that that conception resulted in a miscarriage. Deciding to have a D&C made the miscarriage for me very real and final. It was absolutely the right decision. But it was an intensely painful one. Under today’s laws, some states would not allow this and to be honest, if a provider is at risk of a criminal charge, I doubt a D&C would even be offered as an option unless a mother has sepsis and becomes a medical emergency. Beyond physical costs, why prolong the emotional pain? To what purpose?

Interestingly, after this D&C, my periods, which had been horribly irregular and troublesome my whole life, suddenly were like clockwork and lasted three days. THREE DAYS!  It was as if I had a whole new uterus.

In 2011, at the age of 44, I found myself feeling like I had the flu. A friend asked if I might be pregnant and I laughed. But I picked up a pregnancy test at the local pharmacy and to our complete surprise, it came back positive. At the time I had no health insurance, so I decided to seek out a pregnancy clinic for an OBGYN visit. Because of my previous Pro-Life biases, I avoided Planned Parenthood. I had used them for free contraception and medical care in my 20s but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like going there this time. So I entered a local Pro-Life pregnancy center and learned that the only thing they could offer was a pregnancy test like the one I just took and a list of referrals to OBGYNs who did not perform abortions. I could not even receive an ultrasound to confirm a viable pregnancy. I remember feeling frustrated at their lack of medical care and angry that our national healthcare was so horrible that we couldn’t even access adequate maternity care without somehow getting swept up in the abortion debate. I was able to qualify for Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) for mothers and children and thankfully my high-risk pregnancy (due to my age and PCOS history) now received the care and attention needed. (I even received 3D ultrasound imaging - revolutionary at the time. Given my age, I figured I already had one surprise. Learning I was having a boy from the pictures was more to ease my nerves than anything. At least there was something I could plan for.)  It was not lost on me that this access to care was unavailable to me without being pregnant, nor under my previous (under)insurance plan. I soon delivered a very healthy baby boy.

Fast forward to 2014. I am now 47 and, even though I conceived naturally for my son, I am under the long-held belief that I remain for the most part infertile. And still, it was one time of unprotected sex that I found myself pregnant. Unlike with my daughter or my son, this time I felt great shame and embarrassment. Where 44 and pregnant after a miscarriage felt like a rainbow baby, 47 and pregnant felt deeply irresponsible. Financially our family was in a much better place, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had done something wrong. I don’t remember feeling fear for my health, however, I do remember being terribly afraid of raising two small children together. I had only ever been an “only-child” parent…twice. This was completely new territory for me, and I was acutely aware of my age and energy levels. For the first trimester, I waited for a miscarriage. It wasn’t until the third trimester that I truly felt hopeful again. We learned we were having another son and that gave me some peace. They would have each other, and my daughter would remain my only girl and hold that special place. During this time, my OBGYN informed me that I would need to have a Cesarean due to the size of the baby’s shoulders. I was concerned about this but because I had several friends whose deliveries were similar, I wasn’t afraid. In fact, realizing the operation I would be having, I asked if I could get my tubes tied. It made sense to me - if you’re already there, do something useful as well. The religiously affiliated hospital where I was registered to deliver required several weeks' notice before doing such a procedure, I guess to make sure women don’t make “hasty” decisions. Neither California nor federal law overrode this religious exemption. Unfortunately, my scheduled c-section was in that timeframe. So at 47, when the likelihood of me wanting more children or safely carrying more children was very low, the state overturned my choice. To have my tubes tied, it would require another invasive surgery to be approved by my health insurance, plus recovery time (meaning lost wages from work). Needless to say, I didn’t proceed3. With today’s laws, how many OBGYNs would have even taken me as a client, given my high-risk status? I truly believe we will see many women being rejected for maternity care simply on the basis that any complications would pose too great a threat to the provider.

Given the overturning of Roe v Wade and the various laws across the nation being enacted by states, especially Conservative ones like Indiana (where I presently live), I am concerned that women’s health will remain a battleground that denies women their personhood. So I sit at the intersection of the aspiration of Pro-Life (Sanctity of Life) and policy of Pro-Choice (freedom to choose, social safety nets for families, and access to full healthcare). And I share my story in hopes that people will talk and share their stories too. My body is not a battleground.

- Michelle

Vietnam (as well as many other wars and military escalations) - Early marriages were encouraged to avoid the draft and then, as the war escalated, having children became the requirement to avoid the draft. Whether wed or not, the threat of separation by war had a significant influence on the number of children born during that time too. War babies - this is another truth often forgotten.

I did not learn of my older sister until I was twelve and in the pre-trial discussion before my own adoption hearing (I have an adoptive father). My sister was reunited with my mother and me several years later after I hired an investigator to find her. Within a month of being reunited, she discovered she had breast cancer. It was stage four because when she first discovered a lump, she had no health insurance through her husband’s self-employment and was scared to have it diagnosed (this was in the days of “pre-existing conditions”). She had to get a job that offered health insurance and then wait 60 days for the probationary period to expire before seeing a doctor for a formal diagnosis. By this time, the cancer had spread. She passed away within a year of our visit. F*ck cancer. F*ck US Health Insurance.

I remained anxious about having another unplanned pregnancy until menopause fully set in.