I want to thank all of you who have shown up today in support of women, health care providers and the Jewish community. I’m speaking today as a women’s healthcare provider and as a person who was raised in the anti-choice movement. My parents were the co-chairs of Pennsylvanians for Human Life and worked tirelessly to take the legal right to choose abortion away from American women. My sister was a member of Operation Rescue. I know the arguments of the anti-choice side forward and backward because their talking points were the daily discourse in my home while growing up. Like the teenagers who came to our town and bullied women at clinics, harassed our Holocaust museum, and terrorized a doctor’s family in their private residence, as a child I too believed what my parents and other authority figures told me about abortion.
Then I grew up. And I became a midwife. And I began to fully understand the complicated reality of actual women’s lives. Over one-third of the women I served as a midwife had at some point made the decision to have an abortion. And they all had very good reasons for making these choices. And they obviously weren’t murderers. They were loving, compassionate, intelligent people who had made the appropriate choice for themselves and their families.
Because I love and care for the health of women, I want to talk to you about abortion. I want to explain to you that the ballot measure being pushed on our town by out-of-state religious extremists will hurt women’s lives. This measure is being billed as a referendum on “late-term abortion” but any woman who has been pregnant can tell you that 20 weeks into a pregnancy is by no means “late term.” Twenty weeks is the middle of pregnancy, which lasts an average of 40 weeks. Twenty weeks is also the point in pregnancy when women carrying fetuses with problems often begin to get very sick, because sick pregnancies frequently result in very sick mothers. Some of these women become so sick, it becomes necessary to end the pregnancy to save their lives. If this ballot measure passes, women will be forced to continue these potentially life-threatening pregnancies.
Twenty weeks is also the point in pregnancy where it becomes possible to diagnose severe and often lethal birth defects. On multiple occasions, I have been the midwife for a woman who has just found out that her very wanted baby is missing a brain, or kidneys, or lungs and will not survive for more than a few minutes outside of the womb. I have sat with and comforted these women as they made the agonizing decision of what to do in such horrible circumstances. While every woman’s choice may be different, I can say from deep within my heart that no one has the right to make this choice but the woman carrying the pregnancy.
If this ballot initiative passes, our city will have decided that we will force these women to carry pregnancies which will inevitably end in heartbreak and tragedy for up to another five months. We will see cases like the one in El Salvador last spring, where a woman with lupus who was carrying a baby without a brain was denied an abortion even though the pregnancy was causing her to go into kidney failure. Like the ballot measure being pushed on our town, the law in El Salvador states that physicians must work just as hard to save the life of the fetus as the life of the mother, even in cases where it is known that the baby will die immediately after birth.
This ballot measure would endanger women’s lives in ways that should terrify even women who believe they personally would never choose an abortion. If the measure passes, women will be denied life-saving care if they are miscarrying after 20 weeks and the fetus still has a heartbeat. What this means is that women will die. The world witnessed just such a death last year when a 31-year-old dentist in Ireland died because the country’s laws which were similar to this ballot measure forbade doctors from intervening when she was miscarrying. If this ballot measure passes, women could also be denied chemotherapy and radiation should they be diagnosed with cancer more than 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Last year a pregnant teenager in the Dominican Republic, another Catholic country that bans all abortion, died of leukemia after being denied cancer treatment on the grounds that it would harm the fetus she was carrying. These laws are horrific.
I ask all of you to work together to defeat this ballot measure and protect the lives of women. Medical decisions should not be made in the voting booth.