After Roe, The Murky Matter of Who Matters Most
Updated: Jul 22
Mary Dean Cason
The Sunday morning shows were ripe with lawmakers like Kristi Noem, the Governor of South Dakota, eager to explain to the rest of us why finally overturning Roe will set the world right again. I’ve come to think of folks like Noem as the pop-its-a-person people. Personhood, they tell us, begins at conception, that magic moment when the heartiest of a gazillion sperm wiggles his way through an ovum’s cytoplasm and POP-its-a-person! With more rights today than its own mother. I know, I sound bitter. I am.
I'm bitter not only because overturning Roe screams that women matter less than a blastocyst, but because the very woman who’d take a bullet for the kids she already has, can’t be trusted to say, no, not this time. Odd, isn’t it, that it’s only pregnant women who are forced to give their bodies so fully to another. We don't force people to give organs, blood, or bone marrow that could save the desperate lives of thousands of people who are already here.
In the early seventies, I was a twenty-year-old flight attendant living in Chicago, a good Catholic girl recently arrived from North Carolina. On my days off I volunteered in the emergency room at the notorious Cook County Hospital where one day I was helping a frail young woman, maybe my age, into a gown when a torrent of blood gushed onto the tiles between us. She went limp, sending us both to the floor. I managed to yank back the cubicle curtain and yell. Time, of course, has dulled the edges, but the memory of half a dozen green scrubs diving to the floor is sharp, so is a gloved hand slapping her inner elbow, an IV finding a vein, wads of gauze being pressed between open legs. Less clear is who was in the girl’s face repeating her name which I don’t remember and to which she never responded. And who kept yelling where the HELL is the Gyne resident? Oddly, what stays clear are the muted colors, the patient’s dark lips gone ashen, and the ghastly color blood becomes when it soaks into green scrubs.
I learned later that “incomplete abortion” wasn’t an uncommon admitting diagnosis at County. I also learned it often proved fatal. The Gyne resident arrived, transport aides got the patient onto a gurney and sprinted to the elevator. I never found out if she lived.
In my early 30s, I had an ectopic pregnancy, and like the patient at County, I lost liters of blood, not onto an emergency room floor, but into my abdomen putting me in septic shock and rendering me infertile. My husband and I got lucky and adopted a boy and a girl who are my world. For years, people assumed that because I’d adopted my children I was opposed to abortion. What I’m opposed to is refusing to accept the reality that abortions happen whether laws forbid them or not. Amy Coney Barrett might think otherwise, but it’s not the duty of those saddled with an unwanted pregnancy to provide children to infertile couples.
Not long ago, a fifty-year-old Texas woman whose hormone replacement therapy had been playing havoc with her system for weeks, felt really sick while driving the last of her four children to college. The next day, an ultrasound revealed she was six weeks pregnant. After she got over the shock and because they could afford it, she and her husband flew to Chicago for an abortion. She cried all the way home but knew it was the best decision. If she’d been poor like the patient at County, she might've done something desperate that might lead her to bleed to death on an emergency room floor.
Abortion is loaded, often a moral dilemma. But isn’t it the woman’s dilemma? According to Kristi Noem, women with unwanted pregnancies are victims. You got that sister! Victims of failed birth control, victims of rape, victims of thinking you’re postmenopausal, victims of being a kid who forgot what she learned in health class. But here's the thing, Kristi, they don't stay victims. They make the tough choice and they live with it. If their choice is abortion, they carry it, not you.
A high-risk pregnancy specialist who says she's literally in the business of being pro-life put it in perspective. She and her team fight to deliver babies that are so wanted that many of their mothers put themselves at risk to carry them. Most days are filled with relief as mother and baby come through with flying colors. But on rare occasions when heart-wrenching decisions must be made, her world has grown murky. The vague language that says a person’s life has to be ‘imminently’ at risk before doctors can perform an abortion puts doctors in a bind and patients at risk. It’s not uncommon for a diabetic patient - think Steel Magnolias - to move through the first trimester fine, but her condition can take a terrible toll on her organs by the second. When there is a crisis, inevitably the doctor says, someone, usually the woman's husband will come tearing down the hall, clutching at her arm. "Whatever you do, don't let my wife die. Please save my wife."
Thank God, there’s nothing murky about that.