January 24, 2015


On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v.  Wade, I admitted a drunk woman to labor and delivery. She was full-term, had had no prenatal care, and this was an undesired pregnancy. She had never planned on keeping the pregnancy. She had wanted a termination, but by the time she found out she was pregnant it was either too late or too expensive, and so here she was, contracting, having come straight from the bar where she "got credit from the bartender." I forgot to mention--she was also homeless; she had been living with the father of the baby but sometimes he would kick her out, and this was one of those times.

Part of me wanted to be angry, that this woman had jeopardized the life inside of her; but mostly, I couldn't help but feel a terrible sadness for the stark limitation of the choices in her life. How could I not be touched by her agonizing tragedy? She had no place to go: she was trapped by her pregnancy which continued despite her desires, despite her resources, despite her best efforts with drugs and alcohol. Her hopelessness was immediately apparent; she freely told her story with little prompting, and her expression made it clear that she had surrendered to fatalism. She had no control over her life, no resources at her disposal, and things had spun out of control until she arrived here, in triage, drunk after three drinks and a beer.

You can argue for or against the availability of abortion. But arguing against allowing abortion is to look at this woman and say that she was required to go through this ordeal, that whatever the other circumstances in her life, this pregnancy--because it represents a "life"--takes precedence over her already suffering existence. If abortion were more accessible instead of less, this woman would not have tried with drugs and alcohol to do what she could not afford to do medically; we would not be admitting a woman who was drunk to labor and delivery; and the state would not be faced with the burden of another child, potentially disfigured by the substances she used during pregnancy, who would stay in an orphanage or an adoption agency until the baby could be placed...or not at all.

Women with means will always have options, while women with nothing will always struggle. I advocate for abortion access for all women because I'm a feminist, because it is the right thing to do, but in particular because women like this one should not have to struggle so hard to obtain something with the potential to so drastically alter their life. I love labor and delivery, where there's nothing more sacred than ushering new life into the world and shepherding mothers through the process of birth; but nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a woman trapped by her body, betrayed by physiology, and cornered into childbirth.