“I had to abort my disabled baby in America, but women like me could soon be criminalised”

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  • British-born Sarah Ivens, who faced an agonising decision over her unborn baby in the US argues why America's move towards total abortion bans in some states should worry women everywhere


    Six years ago I had an abortion in Louisville, Kentucky, a place where highways are decorated with giant billboards aimed to fill women with guilt and despair. In the weeks following my termination, I had to drive by protestors at the city’s only abortion clinic, shouting and terrorizing women as they entered and pull up behind cars covered in bumper stickers telling me I was going to hell.

    As a British woman, I have always believed in the right for a woman to choose what she does with her own body, so I never doubted my heartbreaking decision, but the cruel rhetoric seen and heard around me in America, especially in the red states of Kentucky and Texas, where I now live, has made me learn the hard way that women need to support each other, talk openly about this taboo topic, and fight for our rights as a collective whole.

    On Tuesday this week, Trump nominated a staunch conservative – Neil Gorsuch – with a history of hostility towards women’s reproductive rights to one of the most important roles in the U.S – Supreme Court Justice.  This is deeply worrying. The rhetoric of condemnation surrounding a woman’s right to choose under Trump pushes the topic of  abortion in to a dangerous space. And I know how dangerous this can be.
    My story is one not heard enough in this debate. When I finally fell pregnant after two years of desperately trying I was 35 years old. This meant my pregnancy was deemed high risk for genetic disorders so, along with our first scan at 13 weeks, the doctors performed a Nuchal Translucency procedure to test for Down’s and other issues. The test involved a blood test and an ultrasound, when the fluid behind the baby’s neck would be measured. As the faces of the medical staff turned ashen around me, I knew something was wrong. There was too much fluid around its neck, heart and brain. I felt woozy and sank back into the bed, my stomach still exposed and sticky from the ultrasound fluid.
    After 72 agonizing hours, pacing around my house like a zombie, a specialist provided us with a frankness I will always be thankful for. “This fetus has zero chance of survival,” he said. “For your health and future fertility I recommend you eliminate it immediately.”
    My only options were to abort my longed-for childor to wait for it die inside me and give birth to it, risking complications. This wasn’t the selfish woman scenario the activists and politicians shout about and legislate against.

    I remained strong in our decision until, five hours later, I was dressed in my pale blue gown and told to lie down on the gurney. The anesthetist was struggling to get the IV into my arm because I was crying so much, the tears soaking my cheeks and neck. I could hear my husband, just outside the curtain, on the phone to my devastated mother in London, assuring her that I would be okay. His voice cracked as he struggled to keep his own pain hidden so as not to upset her even more.

    Anyone who assumes having an abortion is the easy way out, or unchallenging, is naïve at best, dangerous at worst. The weeks following my abortion passed in a blur of emptiness. I was mentally and physically empty. My swollen breasts and belly slowly deflated but the pain remained. My husband no longer kissed my tummy as he left for work each morning. I feared seeing newborn babies in the street in case I burst into tears. My heart felt like it was too heavy to carry on beating. It was, and always will be, the most difficult decision of my life and I am sure most women who have been in similar circumstances, for whatever reason they felt discontinuing a pregnancy was best for them, have felt the same way. Last year I ran a free writing workshop for women who had suffered child or pregnancy loss. I am still haunted by the stories of judgment and depression some of the attendees felt regarding their personal choice to have an abortion, although it was at the time the only decision they could make physically, financially or mentally, and their heartbreak is reinforced every time a Republican – or the president – mocks their decision, criticizes them, or aims to take this right away from future women who suffer as they did.

    Six years on, we have two healthy children. We are lucky. And we had health insurance and were financially able to look after ourselves during this traumatic event. We were lucky. Many women around the world aren’t as fortunate as me which is why Planned Parenthood and other global organisations offering advice and support during such times are crucial, invaluable and must be fought for. These are organisations that Trump’s administration have cut all funds affecting millions of women.

    Some republican majority states, are pushing to ban abortion under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, even in a situation like mine. States such as Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Texas, and Arkansas. This scares me. Not for me. I am married and have two children, I have good health insurance and money saved to pay for emergencies. But I am frightened for other women, and I am nervous for the way American policy is heading – the America my three year old daughter is facing.

    We cant sit by and allow this slow erosion of our rights to continue. Thats why I’m joining this campaign.

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