The rights of pregnant people are under attack both in the statehouses and from the federal government. With Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, combined with increasingly strict TRAP statutes across the country, we could be facing a full Roe repeal or at least a severe crippling of abortion protections. But there is also a more insidious trend: the criminalization of pregnancy.

The trend of criminalizing pregnancy takes two forms. Either prosecutors and judges contort existing laws in ways they were never intended, or legislators propose and pass new laws that target pregnant people. Prosecutions of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, and drug use during pregnancy — even when the drugs are prescribed and when the drugs do not harm the fetus — have become widespread.

As these cases continue to trickle in across the country, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that a person’s human rights are devalued and violated upon becoming pregnant. In Virginia, Katherine Dellis was sentenced to five months in jail in February 2017. Her crime? Suffering a stillbirth and disposing of the remains before seeking emergency medical help.

After her stillbirth, Dellis was convicted of concealing a dead body. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion clarifying that the law is not intended to apply to someone who has a miscarriage or a stillbirth and doesn’t head straight to a funeral home. “Virginia law does not criminalize women who have a miscarriage,” he said in a statement. But the opinion came too late for Dellis; a panel of the Virginia Appeals Court had already ruled against her.


Appeals Court Judge Theresa M. Chafin had concluded that “the legislature intended that a fetus be treated the same as a dead body.” Her ruling was so broad that, if it were to set a legal precedent, it would mean anyone who had a miscarriage at any stage in her pregnancy might find herself under threat of a felony conviction unless the miscarriage was immediately reported to the police.

On June 1, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam pardoned Dellis, but Virginia isn’t alone in depriving pregnant people of their rights. The volume of examples from around the country is staggering. In 2013, Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin from National Advocates for Pregnant Women released a study in which they cited 413 examples from 1973 to 2005 where a person’s pregnancy contributed to the deprivation of their physical liberty. And in recent years, there have been many new instances across the country.

In 2017, Amnesty International published a report documenting the “patchwork” of laws across the U.S. that are used to prosecute people when they become pregnant, concluding that “the existence and enforcement of pregnancy criminalization laws are violating of pregnant women’s human rights.” A recent case that raised public outrage was the prosecution of Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman imprisoned for three years after allegedly ending her pregnancy before she was finally freed by an appellate court. Although she was the first woman in the U.S. charged with homicide offenses for ending her own pregnancy, she is far from the only woman prosecuted for pregnancy outcomes, both intentional and unintentional. Women of color and low-income women are disproportionately affected, though no pregnant person is safe.

Many other women across America have stories similar to Patel’s. For example, an Arkansas woman was convicted of concealing a birth after delivering a stillborn fetus in the middle of the night at home. She safeguarded the remains for several hours and then brought them to the hospital the next morning. The Arkansas Court of Appeals overturned her conviction, but the DA in her county has chosen to re-prosecute her. Her trial is scheduled for this fall.

In rural Pennsylvania, Jennifer Whalen was sentenced to nine to 18 months in jail for helping her 16-year-old daughter safely self-manage an abortion with pills. Met with barriers of distance, cost, and unnecessary regulations intended to make abortions in clinics hard to access, Whalen researched misoprostol and mifepristone, the drugs that doctors prescribe, and purchased them online. She hadn’t known that buying the pills was illegal.

The future of reproductive rights across the country is under immediate threat — and this threat goes beyond Roe.

Also consider the story of Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant in Indiana who attempted suicide during her pregnancy. She survived her suicide attempt, only to be devastated by her daughter’s death just days after her emergency cesarean delivery. Shuai faced murder and attempted feticide charges, which were eventually pleaded down to criminal recklessness.

Every story is different, but the common thread that unites these prosecutions is the refusal to see pregnant people as not only the masters of their own bodies, but also as full citizens worthy of constitutional protection. Ironically, the push to punish only serves to strip pregnant people of their own rights and human dignity by reducing them to potential suspects and threats to their own pregnancies.


A recent resolution by the American Medical Association House of Delegates points to the public health policy implications of these prosecutions. The physicians raised concerns that criminalization would increase health risks and stop patients from seeking care. The resolution also pointed out the race disparities in prosecutions for pregnancy outcomes, which is of particular concern because women of color are more likely to experience miscarriages and other complications of pregnancy.

As executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Lynn Paltrow, cautioned in a New York Times interview in 2012, “there is no way to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses as separate constitutional persons without subtracting pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons.”

With Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote looming, the future of reproductive rights across the country is under immediate threat — and this threat goes beyond Roe. Federal protections are at risk, and we urge legislators and prosecutors across America and at all levels of government to treat pregnant people as human beings first, deserving of the respect of their full dignity and autonomy.

Galina Varchena is the policy and communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. Amber Khan is a senior staff attorney for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Farah Diaz-Tello is senior counsel for the SIA Legal Team at the UC Berkeley Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice.


Protester at a pro-abortion demonstration in Buenos Aires. The text on her skin reads “Rich women abort, poor women die.” Image: AP

Protester at a pro-abortion demonstration in Buenos Aires. The text on her skin reads “Rich women abort, poor women die.” Image: AP

A 34-year-old woman died this week due to an at-home abortion gone wrong, Clarín reports. Elizabeth, as she has been reported, was the mother of a 2-year-old child, and her death is the first reported tragedy following the Senate’s decision to reject what would have been a historic bill to legalize abortion up to 14 weeks.

A crime since the late nineteenth century, abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina. Elizabeth’s case was harrowing, though not unfamiliar. In an attempt to induce an abortion, she inserted parsley in her vagina. That led to an infection which, despite the removal of her uterus at the local hospital and two days at two different facilities, led to her death the following day. This was reportedly her third abortion.

Per Newsweek:

The Network of Professionals for the Right to Decide, a group of pro-choice medical workers, announced Elizabeth’s death in a statement. They asked: “How many women and pregnant people will need to die [before lawmakers agree] that abortion must be legal, safe and free in Argentina?” Senator Eduardo Aguilar wrote on Twitter: “There might not be a law, but abortions will continue, and if it’s without a law, the woman’s life is at risk.”

They went on to say “we also hold authorities responsible for this death.” Including, but not limited to, governor of the province of Buenos Aires María Eugenia Vidal, who recently said she was “relieved” at the news that abortions would continue to be clandestine. As news of Elizabeth’s death spread in Argentina, this blame was echoed with the #ElSenadoEsResponsable hashtag—which translates as “The Senate is Responsible.”

According to Human Rights Watch, 40 percent of Argentine pregnancies end in abortion. Yet, abortion continues to be taboo and illegal (with the exception of cases of rape or grave risk to the mother or child). Broadly, poor women end up suffering most as they don’t have the means to get the proper care required and resort to tremendously dangerous alternatives instead.

The “Ni Una Menos” movement (Not One Less) has been vocal about this reality for the last three years and pro-choice advocates have organized large protests in support of a more progressive stance. The Catholic church and political leaders in Argentina were clearly shaken—but not moved.


I’m going to admit something to you that I’ve never told anyone outside my closest friends and family. When I was a pre-pubescent adolescent, I wrote in my diary that I thought abortion was wrong. I did not understand why or how women would choose it as an option. At the time, I was steeped in the teachings of the evangelical movement due to the influence of a maternal uncle who had been taking me to attend church services at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas where he was enrolled.

To this day, I have always respected people whose perspectives on abortion differ from the strongly pro-choice one that I have since come to adopt. Maybe because I once held those same beliefs, I understand how the “moral” teachings of one’s church can instill a sincere belief that abortion is wrong.

But, while I have respect for a point of view that differs from mine, I draw the line when someone’s perspective on what is “moral” is imposed on those of us who see things differently, particularly where the imposition of that perspective demands that I give up my right to make decisions about my own body, my own future, and my own understanding of what is best for me and my family. I particularly take issue with that imposition when, instead of representing an honest difference of ideals and values, it is used as a wedge to gain political advantage. And, really, that’s what the conversation about abortion rights and the proposed appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is pretty much all about right now—politics.

How did my own thinking on abortion evolve? It’s simple really. I opened my heart to the understanding of other women’s stories. I saw the role that reproductive autonomy through contraceptive care played in my own ability to rise from struggling single mom to Harvard Law School grad. In short, I began living a life of empathy and understanding. I came to see that no outsider should ever be allowed to impose his or her judgment on what women know to be best for ourselves. And then, many years after becoming pro-choice, I made an abortion decision myself, terminating a much-wanted pregnancy after the discovery of a fatal fetal abnormality. I cannot imagine someone making such a deeply personal decision for me.


Women choose abortion for a myriad of reasons. No single one of them is exactly alike. Each story is as unique as the woman who can tell it, should she choose to do so. Some, like me, make wrenching decisions when faced with devastating news. Some are survivors of sexual abuse. Some are already mothers, both single ones and married ones, living the challenge of providing for children that they already have. Some are in high school or college and have dreams of making something of their lives before they become mothers, if ever.

What we know about reproductive rights, including abortion, is that when the Supreme Court enshrined those rights with the protection of law, women’s ability to decide when and whether to have children changed our trajectory. We no longer had the threat of losing our lives if we chose not to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term. We became the authors of our destiny. We made a bold step toward what it means to live as equal citizens of this country and of this world.


I cannot state this more strongly: we cannot afford to go back. And even if you believe abortion is a decision you would not make for yourself, I hope you’ll fight alongside your sisters who have made or who might make such a decision in the future.

Make no mistake about it, we WILL go back if Brett Kavanaugh is appointed to the Supreme Court. How do I know this? It’s simple—because it’s what Trump has said he would do with his next Supreme Court appointment. And it’s what Kavanaugh himself has made clear he will do, having previously praised the dissentin Roe v. Wade and having opined in a recent appellate decision that he thought the government had a right to deny a young immigrant woman access to abortion care.

Let’s be clear what this is all about. The political forces supporting Kavanaugh’s appointment aren’t just trying to end abortion. They’re trying to stop women from controlling our own lives, families, and futures. They are dead-set on making sure that women will remain unequal in the eyes of the law, society, and the economy. Their success will devastate any hope that we have of living to our fullest potential. So, yes, the stakes are high and our voices are needed as much, if not more, than they’ve ever been.

I realize that the battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation may look like it’s a lost cause because I know what it’s like to believe that the deck is stacked so high against you that you are tempted to give up before you even start. I live in Texas after all, and I’ve faced many overwhelmingly high “decks” in the past. But, just as I tell the young #Changemakers that we work with at my non-profit, Deeds Not Words, we cannot let long odds keep us from engaging in a fight worth waging.

For the doubters, you need only to recall our battle here in Texas in June of 2013 against an anti-abortion bill making its way through the Texas legislature. In a state where we’ve become conditioned to give up in the face of overwhelming political and social challenges, where many of us don’t even bother to vote because we don’t think it will make a difference—even in this state—we’ve learned that we can make a difference when we decide not to cede our power. We, through the “People’s Filibuster,” armed with the personal stories of the thousands of women who sent them to us to be read on the Senate floor that day, demonstrated that we truly do possess the power to change things when we show up, stand up and fight with everything we have for what we believe to be right.

Texas - Sen. Wendy Davis filibuster
Wendy Davis and Senate Democrats cheer during her filibuster of abortion bills at the Texas Capitol.


What made the difference in Texas that day—the reason we were able to kill that anti-abortion bill by talking it past the midnight deadline for a vote—is the same thing that will make a difference in whether Kavanaugh is successfully appointed to the Supreme Court. That difference is YOU. That difference is making a decision to fight, even if you think we might lose. Our sisters, our daughters, and the daughters of our daughters are relying on us to give this all we’ve got. Are you in? Because I most certainly am.

Wendy Davis is the Founder of Deeds Not Words and was a member of the Texas Senate from 2009 to 2015. She will be on the road this year with the Rise Up for Roe tour.


The majority of women who have abortions are already mothers. Being a parent makes me support choice

The voices of the anti-choice movement have a specific vision of their enemy. It’s a selfish, reckless young woman who believes in abortion out of “convenience.” It certainly couldn’t be a man, because men don’t care about these things. It couldn’t be a woman who understands the experience of motherhood, because once you hold a little baby in your arms, you could never condone abortion. This of course it patently untrue. And it drives the enemies of reproductive rights crazy.

Earlier this week, my friend Deborah Copaken wrote an honest, fearless account of her reproductive history — three children and two abortions. She explained the personal and health reasons she terminated two pregnancies at different stages in her life, and also why she chose to go forward with an unplanned pregnancy in her late 30s. Here’s a simple inconvenient truth opponents of choice don’t want to acknowledge — for a lot of women, abortion makes their future families possible. My friend’s entire adult life, a life that includes three great kids, would be unimaginable without the abortions that have also been a part of it.

Deborah is not unique; plenty of the mothers I’m friends with have had abortions. Plenty of yours have too, whether you want to admit it or not. Here’s your evidence. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Fifty-nine percent of abortions in 2014 were obtained by patients who had had at least one birth.” And sorry, the women having abortions aren’t godless heathens: “Seventeen percent of abortion patients in 2014 identified as mainline Protestant, 13% as evangelical Protestant and 24% as Catholic.” Yup, a full quarter of the women seeking abortions are Catholic, just like I am. Put that in your conclave and smoke it.

I know mothers who’ve had abortions when they were young and their circumstances would have made raising a child impossible. I know mothers who had them when they were older and they had serious health considerations. They had them for all kinds of reasons. They were all deeply personal and all made thoughtfully, because no one has any better sense of their private needs and those of their families than they do. End of story.

I have never had an abortion. I’ve had two children and I’ve had one miscarriage from an unplanned pregnancy. I still grieve that loss, and would have gone forward if my body had not had other ideas, despite the far less than ideal circumstances in my life at the time. I also spent two years in a clinical trial for late stage cancer, and I would not have hesitated for a moment to choose to terminate if I’d become pregnant during that time. Not when the choice would have been between continuing treatment and living or miscarrying and dying. Any religious or political leader who would take that option from a woman, from a mother trying not to die so she can raise her children, honestly has no sense of how valuing life actually works. Or, for that matter, the blessing of choice.

Few things I can say in public provoke more logic-defying fury than when I mention that because I was conceived out of wedlock before Roe v. Wade, my mother didn’t have the options I have been blessed with and that I fight for my daughters to keep. I, unlike pundits like Kevin Williamson, do not rejoice in my mother’s forced parenthood — a situation that my father, who walked away before I was even born, never had to endure.

“But you wouldn’t be alive now!” the eager anti-choice voices cry. Well, yeah, I wouldn’t be alive now if my mother hadn’t sat next to my father at the cafeteria either. I wouldn’t be alive now if I died that time I almost drowned when I was 17. And I definitely wouldn’t be alive if I’d died of cancer. Meanwhile, my daughters know that they were planned and wholeheartedly wanted.

About a year ago I got an email from a young woman whose mother had experienced a high risk pregnancy but decided to continue it, resulting in her beloved sibling. She truly couldn’t understand why a mother might make a different choice. I told her the key word there was “choice.” Her mother got to make a decision about her pregnancy. What sadist would deprive any other woman of the same right? Why demand that women die — and women keep dying, all across the world, every day — so they can carry nonviable fetuses? Why demand they give birth to babies they aren’t financially, physically, or mentally competent to care for? Could it be about something other than fetuses? Like a fury over women controlling their own lives? I don’t expect to change anybody’s mind, by the way, I’m just spitballing here.

“Close your legs” and its corollary, “Tell you daughters to close their legs” is a thing that people actually write to me all the time. And if that doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the fear and contempt surrounding women’s sexuality that’s at the slimy bottom of the anti-choice rhetoric, I don’t know what is. Believe me, I am all for women refusing to have sex with men who don’t support their bodily autonomy, and the fewer d-bags getting laid out there the happier I am. That said, this specious argument ignores reality. For starters, it puts the entire burden of pregnancy prevention on women, despite the necessary male component of impregnation. Second, the Guttmacher Institute reveals that “Fifty-one percent of abortion patients in 2014 were using a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant.” Shocker! Contraception doesn’t always work. Third, there’s something called sexual assault. Rapists don’t really pay attention to your evangelical insistence on clenching your knees.

There are people who would truly rather women and their doctors be murdered than see them have access to a safe and (so far) constitutionally protected right. I hear from these men all the time. (It’s mostly men.) They don’t care about our country’s shameful maternal mortality rate. They don’t care about healthcare or education. I get truly scary vitriol sent my way regularly, but it really ramps up whenever I express the fact that I’m a mother who supports choice and who wants my teenage daughters to have the freedom to choose when and if they have children. This means access to birth control, morning after pills and abortion. Because I love them more than anything in the universe and I want them to be educated, independent, and healthy. People who want to protect their daughters are called mothers. And people who are frightened of that prospect are called misogynists.


So-called crisis pregnancy centers sometimes masquerade as abortion providers and attract patients with offers of free pregnancy tests, but most operate with the over-arching mission of preventing abortions.

A new billboard campaign in Northern California aims to educate the public about the deceptive tactics of “crisis pregnancy centers,” according to the campaign sponsors.

The five billboards went up in Sacramento and Fresno funded by the national Abortion Care Network. More are planned for Chico. Organizers said these locales are where anti-choice pregnancy centers have deliberately set up near independent abortion providers.

The timing of the billboards follows a recent decision, NIFLA v. Becerra, in which the U.S. Supreme Court sided with California anti-choice pregnancy centers that challenged the state’s 2015 reproductive disclosure law. The Reproductive Fact Act required pregnancy centers to post a brief notice that described how to access all reproductive health options, including abortion, through state programs. Unlicensed facilities also had to disclose that fact.

Pro-choice advocates call the deceptive anti-choice centers “fake clinics.”

“Now that the fake clinics are not going to be held accountable because of NIFLA v. Becerra, the real question is … how can we get patients to the services they need in a very transparent and easy way,” said Monica McLemore, a San Francisco nurse and abortion provider whose face appears on the billboards.

With close proximity to abortion clinics and with names that mimic abortion facilities, anti-choice pregnancy centers have been known to confuse and mislead patients—when what patients need is “care they can trust,” McLemore told Rewire.News.

These anti-choice pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics in this country, although by how much isn’t clear. The facilities sometimes masquerade as abortion providers and attract patients with offers of free pregnancy tests, but most operate with the over-arching mission of preventing abortions. Federal and independent investigations have caught staff at such facilities misleading patients, exaggerating the risks of abortion, and delaying care.

“That’s really what this campaign is about: Trying to get patients the care they need that is ethical, accurate, and without delay, shame, or deception,” McLemore said.

The new billboards follow an outreach effort in the Bay Area earlier this year. That campaign sought to debunk claims that abortion pill “reversal” is sound health care, and it pushed back against a controversial decision last year by the state nursing board to allow training on abortion “reversal.” Meanwhile, advocacy groups have targeted Google’s Bay Area workers over the search giant’s maps, ads, and results that direct people who Google “abortion clinic” to anti-choice pregnancy centers.

McLemore said the new campaign targets the cities of Fresno and Sacramento in part because of the area’s prominent anti-choice billboards. With messages such as: “Pregnant? Scared? Call Us,” the billboards funnel callers to deceptive anti-choice centers in the area.

“It’s really problematic when those billboards are directing people to places that don’t offer health services,” she said.

The campaign’s landing page includes resources to report an anti-abortion center and to find a legitimate abortion provider.

The billboards are expected to remain up for 30 days.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly identify the locations of the planned billboards.


What a woman chooses to do with her body should not be up for debate in 2018.

At this point in my 52 years, filling out the forms at the doctor’s office feels like writing a memoir. Any past surgeries? Why, yes. So many! Here we go, in alphabetical order, to the tune of “Twelve Days of Christmas”: one adenoidectomy, one appendectomy, two D-and-C’s, one frenectomy, one hysterectomy, one inguinal-hernia repair, one meniscectomy, one Morton’s-neuroma repair, one trachelectomy, one vaginal-cuff-dehiscence repair … and a partridge in a pear tree. That’s 11 surgeries, eight of which were related either to my children’s births or to disease of my postpartum reproductive organs. We’ll get back to that.

Then comes the inevitable question: Number of pregnancies? Followed by: Number of live births?

Five and three, I write. Five pregnancies, three live births. But these numbers do not tell the whole story, either about my health or about the gap between births Nos. 2 and 3. And it is in the delta between all these numbers (along with the answer to the question left out—namely, how many of those pregnancies were planned?) wherein everything I hold dear about Roe v. Wade resides: a woman’s right to choose what’s right for her, her family, her body, and her life at the time she finds herself pregnant, whether intentionally or not.

The day when you find yourself six weeks pregnant at the age of 17, as I did, is not a joyous day, particularly after doing all the right things, birth-control-wise, including getting yourself fitted for a diaphragm at Planned Parenthood. For one, you can’t have a baby. You’re still a baby yourself. You would (you know, even then) cause permanent emotional damage to a child, in not wanting to have one, never mind that you have neither the skills nor the means to raise one properly. For another, you’ve just been admitted to college, and though you love your high-school boyfriend dearly, you have no idea who you are or what you want out of love or life. Plus, raising a baby in a freshman dorm was never part of your plan. Nor your college’s. And adoption—for you, personally—is out of the question. The pain of handing over your child to another person would, you know, become a lifetime of “Little Green” sorrow.Your parents drive you to the abortion clinic in Maryland. No one in that car is happy, but everyone is nevertheless grateful for one another’s love and for your right to legally choose this option. The clinic makes you answer a bunch of invasive questions to prove you know what you’re about to do, as if you hadn’t been thinking only about this moment for the past week. You’re awake for the entire procedure, which is painful. You cry a bucket of tears into your saltines in the crowded recovery room after, because it hurts and because you’re still 17, the age of emotional roller coasters under the best of circumstances, which this is not. But not one of those tears can be traced back to shame or to regret over the decision to abort the minuscule embryo of cells inside you. In fact, it was not a “difficult decision.” It was easy: the only rational one, to your mind, to make.

Fast-forward from 1983 to 2000. You are now 34, married, and the mother of two planned children, ages 5 and 3. You love your children! They say funny things and bring you untold joy. You’re about to publish your first book and have started working on a second. Life’s chaotic, as it always is with young kids, plus you are doing all the domestic chores and child-schlepping solo while also bringing home a substantial chunk of the bacon. Even so, you don’t make enough to afford full-time child care in America.

America: a country where pro-life actually means pro-blastula, pro-embryo, and pro-fetus, not pro-baby. You know what pro-life policies actually look like?  Universal health care, so all women could afford prenatal doctor visits and the birth itself; paid maternity and paternity leaves, to allow parents to actually care for a living baby without emptying their bank accounts; subsidized daycare, so parents could go to work without paying all or most of their income to private babysitters; and a school day that hews closer to the workday, not to some outmoded agrarian schedule designed to get kids home in time to harvest crops.

You start to wonder why you ever left Paris, where your kids could have had high-quality, affordable, government-subsidized crèches, after your ample months of paid maternity leave, as well as longer school days. You argue with your spouse about the gross inequity in domestic responsibilities as well as about more pressing relational issues. You are worried that your discord is affecting the children. Put simply, you’re not sure this marriage will last, but you are seeing a couple’s therapist to try to save it. Meanwhile, you had an IUD inserted after your second child was born to make sure you’ll have no more babies. Two kids: That’s enough. But then, one day, you wake up and realize your period is late.

Apparently, seeing an embryo next to an IUD in a sonogram is a rare enough occurrence that the entire ultrasound office is called into your examining room to bear witness. Though you’ve agreed to serve as a teaching moment, you feel a bit like a zoo monkey. While the ultrasound technicians and medical students ooh and aah over the image on the screen, your mind races over this unplanned turn of events. Should you have this baby or not? The next day, you are on the phone, crying to your ob-gyn, “What should I do?” You tell her that you don’t think you, your bank account, your marriage, or your kids can survive a third child right now. She lays out the facts clinically, without emotion: The IUD has to come out, a procedure that often dislodges an embryo. Moreover, the oral Lamisil you’ve been taking to combat a toenail fungus for the past week is contraindicated for pregnancy.That seals it for you. You would never knowingly bring a baby into the world who had possible deformations and disabilities from the start, never mind everything else going on at home. Your hideous, embarrassing toenail fungus has, in a sense, saved you from having to make a more difficult choice this time, but even if it hadn’t, you realize, you would still not choose to gestate this embryo. The marriage is teetering, imbalanced. A new baby, with or without disabilities, would be the final thumb on the scale. On the day of your D&C, a procedure that has improved in the intervening 17 years—you are put under twilight anesthesia this time, so the pain is minimal—both you and your husband are clear in your choice. The only tears this day are those of relief.

From 2000 to 2005, the marriage improves, somewhat, and you’re back to using a diaphragm for birth control: Your breast tissue has abnormalities that will later lead to more serious problems, and the estrogen in the pill exacerbates this. Plus the IUD was clearly a bust. Moreover, at 39, the chances of you getting accidentally pregnant again while on birth control are low. And yet, once again, your body shatters the odds. When your period is late, you assume you’re entering menopause, but you decide to pee on a stick to confirm this. The little plus sign appears. You curse. Loudly.

In that instant, you feel a sudden jolt of shame for having cursed so loudly, and acceptance of this new and shocking reality. At 8 and 10, the kids are not yet old enough to fully respect your privacy in the bathroom, but they are old enough to require much less care. Hurtling toward 40, you feel comfortable in your own middle-aged skin. You love babies, you have loved being a mother, you even love breastfeeding, and your husband has said he’s always wanted a third child. In fact, he’s been begging you for one, promising to take paternity leave this time. Should you do this?You consider the cons. The money issue is still there, but it will always be there. Your country still has no paid parental leave, and pregnancy discrimination at work, while illegal, is nevertheless real, pervasive, and financially punitive. You’re worried about your own health as well. Pregnancy has not been kind to your body. Each prior live birth has led to two surgeries: the Morton’s neuroma, formed during your first pregnancy, when your shoes got too tight; and the inguinal hernia, popped giving birth to the daughter now standing in front of you. And yet despite all these downsides, the pull of that tiny blastula growing inside you is strong. “Nothing’s wrong, sweetie,” you say. “We’re having a baby!”

But as glad as you were to have chosen to gestate him to term, it was hardly an easy pregnancy. He tried to come out dangerously early, at 30 weeks, turning the end of the pregnancy into six weeks of strict bedrest and constant contractions. This eventually led to the discovery, after his birth, that you had severe anemia and advanced adenomyosis, requiring a partial hysterectomy, followed by a trachelectomy of your diseased cervix five years later, which lead to a near-fatal bleed-out due to vaginal cuff dehiscence three weeks after that. A few months after his birth, you’d keeled over, on a city sidewalk, with the kind of pain that became an emergency appendectomy, not knowing, until sitting down to write this essay, that the risk of acute appendicitis in postpartum women over 35 is 84 percent greater than the risk to the general public. We often forget, in the abortion debate, the real toll pregnancy can take on a mother’s body, never mind the fact that the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world by a landslide: 26.4 per 100,000 live births, compared with the next on the list, the U.K., with 9.2. (The lowest, Finland, has only 3.8.)
I’ve had five pregnancies and three live births, I write on the medical forms, but what I leave out is now crucial, as Roe v. Wade once again comes under attack. My youngest was not planned. But he was chosen—I want him to know—with love, optimism, and hope, just as the terminations of the two other unplanned pregnancies were also chosen. My body is now a canvas of pregnancy-related scars. I knew, going into that third birth, the physical toll pregnancy had already taken on me. And yet I chose to go into it anyway.My third pregnancy/second live birth, my only daughter, is now 21. She is extremely responsible and trustworthy, yet she calls me at least three times a year when some glitch in her birth-control-prescription delivery service sends her scrambling to fill in the gaps with her friends’ pills. (Her friends’ pills!) Though I pay a backbreaking $2,298.30 a month for our insurance, my daughter, like all Americans on the pill, must visit her doctor in person for a new prescription every year. This is not easy when your prescribing physician is in New York, you’re a full-time premed student in Illinois, and you work 10 to 20 hours a week on top of that as a condition for your financial aid. What she chooses to do with her body if she finds herself accidentally pregnant—and, given her genes and prescription hurdles, this seems as likely as not—should not be up for debate in 2018.

Only two of my five pregnancies were planned. Three were not. If those were the odds in blackjack, no one would ever play. In other words, what’s at stake in this ridiculous debate over bodily autonomy is choice. It’s always been about choice. To be alive and human is to be in favor of life, but to bring an unwanted child into this world—or to force any woman to do so against her will, her health, her future, her finances, or her well-being, because that is your moral stance, not hers or her doctor’s—is not pro-life. It is control wearing the mask of virtue. It is government regulation at its most invasive. It is being willfully blind to the inevitable bloodshed from illegal abortions and high-risk pregnancies. It is choosing an embryo over the life of a woman. It is, to put it succinctly, anti-woman.


Liberal groups are working to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation – which could threaten to unravel abortion rights

Protesters opposed to the nomination of supreme court pick Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill on 1 August. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Two thousand Planned Parenthood organizers and volunteers, mostly female and young, gathered recently in Detroit to imagine what they see as a kinder, more peaceful America.

But eighteen months and counting into the presidency of Donald Trump and with the threat of a conservative supreme court that could unravel abortion rights in the US, their mission was nothing short of political trench warfare.

“Are women going to be equal members of this society or not? Are they going to have equal rights or not?” said Deirdre Schifeling, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund said. “That is what is on the line.”

As part of that fight, the 100-year-old women’s health organization convened Power of Pink, the “biggest, baddest, raddest grassroots training ever”. Planned Parenthood, along with a coalition of other liberal groups, are working to mobilize opposition to Brett Kavanaugh, whose supreme court nomination was been cheered by social conservatives as a chance to finally overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 landmark supreme court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The stakes are particularly high as Kavanaugh would replace moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a sometime-swing vote who embraced more liberal views on abortion.

The volunteers at the Power of Pink training are the ground troops in an uphill, multi-million dollar battle to stop Kavanaugh from being confirmed to the supreme court.

“I have my kevlar on. I have my boots on, my pink camouflage. I’m ready to fight,” said Peshka Calloway, an Army veteran from Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Calloway has relied on Planned Parenthood for care and support after being sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier. Now she’s doing everything she can to protect the organization and the reproductive health services it provides.

“I may even run for office,” she exclaimed, having just left a candidate training run by Emily’s List, which helps to elect pro-choice women. “A lot of people tell me I should.”

The three-day training was held at the Cobo Center, a sprawling structure in downtown Detroit with a glass atrium boasting views of Ontario, Canada. That just across the Detroit River, healthcare is free and the prime minister is an unapologetic feminist was not lost on attenders.

Brett Kavanaugh would replace moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key sometime-swing vote who embraced more liberal views on abortion.
 Brett Kavanaugh would replace moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key sometime-swing vote who embraced more liberal views on abortion. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Throughout the weekend, participants heard from Cecile Richards, who recently stepped down after serving more than a decade as president of Planned Parenthood, Debbie Stabenow, a US senator from Michigan, and Barack Obama, who applauded their activism in a pre-taped video. Then, in break-out sessions and panels, they strategized how to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

In the Senate, Democrats alone do not have the votes to derail a supreme court confirmation. But if they hold their party together and persuade two Republican senators to their side it would be a death knell for Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The plan is to pressure red-state Democrats like senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia who are still undecided on Kavanaugh and moderate Republicans like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who have said they support abortion access. It is widely seen as a long shot, but that is not deterring them.

“We know from the fight over the Affordable Care Act that hearing from thousands of Alaskans across the state really impacted her decision,” Jessica Cler, an organizer with Planned Parenthood in Anchorage, said of Murkowski, who helped block a Republican bill that would have repealed the healthcare law. “We know it will be the same with Scotus, so folks are doing anything and everything they can to make sure that she’s hearing from us.”

Yet in interviews with the Washington Post, Murkowski and Collins said they felt the emotional pleas from constituents over the supreme court nominee have “less intensity” than the stories they heard during the healthcare debate. But the senators acknowledged that the personal appeals had affected them.

Already Planned Parenthood volunteers have made hundreds of calls to the senators’ offices and sent postcards and letters from women sharing their personal stories. They also published op-eds in the hometown newspapers of key senators.

Planned Parenthood and a coalition of advocacy groups have launched an offensive against Kavanaugh that will give volunteers the chance to put their training into practice. Supporters will participate in more than 100 actions across the country this week “to sound the alarm on how Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court would threaten people’s health and rights”.

The ‘Kavanaugh Singers’ perform in front of the supreme court promoting the confirmation of nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on 8 August.
 The ‘Kavanaugh Singers’ perform in front of the supreme court promoting the confirmation of nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on 8 August. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Meanwhile, Susan B Anthony List, an anti-abortion political organization, launched a seven-state campaign to pressure vulnerable Democrats to confirm Kavanaugh as part of a broader effort to help galvanize opponents of abortion ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Behind the sharp political debateare deeply personal, and often painful, experiences, said Síona Cahill, an Irish pro-choice activist who helped mobilize voters to repeal Ireland’s near-total ban on abortion.

In one of the most warmly received speeches for volunteers in Detroit, shesaid the Irish campaign was successful because thousands of women broke their silence and shared their stories.

“We didn’t make it about those who disagreed with us,” she said. “We made it about the people that a ban on full reproductive rights affects: everyone.”

A majority of Americans have long believed that abortion should be legal and that share has only climbed since Kavanaugh was nominated. That gives abortion rights advocates hope that a public pressure campaign could sway votes in the Senate.

“It has been the singular goal of the anti-abortion right to get the courts packed with conservative justices who will overturn Roe,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “They were gleeful until they realized that their glee collided with what the American people want.”

Planned Parenthood and coalition of pro-choice groups have demanded that lawmakers oppose Kavanaugh unless he commits to affirm the “right of all people to make personal decisions about their bodies,” including the right to use contraception and access abortion. He will almost certainly decline to answer questions about how he would rule from the bench during his confirmation hearing.

While Kavanaugh has not ruled directly on abortion, Laguens said his writings and speeches are evidence enough to justify their worst fears.

“It may not be the Handmaid’s Tale,” Laguens said. “But it won’t be pretty.”