New York’s Reproductive Health Act and A Charge Towards Grace
When I became a doula almost three years ago, I knew that I would be entering into a community and network of women who come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I knew I would be surrounded by many different world views in this line of work, and I was excited about it. When we immerse ourselves with people who are different than we are we learn, we grow, and change and that is a good thing.
One of these areas is the area of women’s reproductive rights. I have close friends and colleagues on both side of this heated issue. On one hand, conservative Christian birth workers. Good, beautiful women, who believe that life begins at conception, the only option for an unwanted pregnancy is adoption after birth, and that termination under any circumstance is immoral and should never be considered. On the other hand, liberal, women’s rights activists. Again, beautiful, good women, who believe that a woman should have the right to choose whether to carry a child or to terminate a pregnancy. Let me reiterate, all of these women are kind, loving, smart powerhouses who love both women, and babies.
Over the last week or two, I’ve seen many, many articles about New York’s Reproductive Health Act. Unfortunately, most of these have been click baity, and full of misinformation. They have been written with the sole intention of enraging the conservative evangelical, and it’s working. I know many of you are angry about the passing of the Reproductive Health Act. I know you could never ever imagine a scenario where you would think it an appropriate option to end a pregnancy. I know that because you are my friends, and neighbors, and family members, and colleagues. I know you and I love you and I hear your hearts for this issue. I don’t imagine that any of you will read this and have a complete change of heart in your stance on ending a pregnancy. My heart - my intention - for writing this comes down to two hopes: 1. I hope to clarify some of the misinformation on the internet about the RHA, and the women who choose to have an abortion later in pregnany, and in doing so, 2. I hope to push you into a practice of grace for those women around you who may be faced with having to make the painful choice to terminate later in pregnancy. Moreover, statistically 1 in 4 women will have had an abortion by the age of 45 so it is a good chance that you already have someone in your life that has terminated a pregnancy. Remember, you are the image of Christ, and as an evangelical Christian, albeit a pretty progressive and liberal one, I believe that Christ is consistently moving me towards grace. Grace, and kindness, and love for the people around me.
The first thing we should all be doing is reading the actual legislation, because if we haven’t read it, we can easily be manipulated by emotionally charged words. So, please click here to read the actual legislation that was passed.
Okay, now that we’ve read that, here are some things that need clearing up.
The RHA did not create new law, it amended public health laws, and penal law.
So, this is important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is because so often the titles of these click baity articles are things like, “New York Just Passed a Late-Term Abortion Law,” which is just false. It amended two existing laws. The first, the public health law, the laws surrounding abortion and the circumstances in which it would be legal. The second, it removed abortion from the penal law. Which means that you can no longer be charged with murder or manslaughter if you have an abortion.
New York, Like Many other States, already had provisions in their public health law for Abortions Later in pregnancy.
Of the 43 states that have restrictions on later abortions, they each have some sort of circumstance where it can be performed legally. 19 states permit later abortions to preserve the life or health of the woman, 20 states permit later abortions to be performed to preserve the life or the physical health of the woman, and 4 states permit later abortions to be performed only to save the life of the woman. New York already had provisions in the public health law for the protection of the “patient’s life or health.” Which means that if the mother finds herself past 24 weeks, and her doctor judges that her health is being threatened by the pregnancy, she could terminate the pregnancy. With the passing of the RHA, a patient can also terminate her pregnancy after 24 weeks if the doctor within his scope of practice finds, “there is an absence of fetal viability.” The exact wording of this can be found on lines 42-49 of the legislation.
According to the CDC, only about 1% of abortions happen after 20 weeks.
I have seen people posting, really flippantly, about how now so many women will be able to get abortions just because they don’t want to be mothers. I think this is an incredibly hurtful misconception, that is driven by unfounded fears. Women don’t get to 24 weeks or beyond, which is the gestational age noted in New York’s RHA, without wanting their baby. If a mother is past 24 weeks pregnant, she has most likely already seen her provider, is choosing baby names, and is celebrating the life growing inside her. To imply that the mother just waited too long, or decided she suddenly didn’t want her baby is absurd, and an unfair judgement on her. The facts are clear that women who carry their babies to 24 weeks, want their babies and would only consider terminating under extreme cases. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president of health policy at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional organization, says,
“Abortion later in pregnancy is not used as an alternative to delivering healthy women's full-term, viable pregnancies. Additionally, it's callous to suggest that healthy women with viable pregnancies at term abruptly change their minds and seek abortion care as the solution.”
The Absence of fetal viability
“Those exceptionally rare cases that happen after 24 weeks are often because a fetus has a condition that cannot be treated and will never be able to survive -- regardless of the gestational age or trimester… Nobody arrives at the decision to have an abortion after 24 weeks carelessly. Rather, it's the rare case of rapidly decompensating maternal heart disease or a delayed diagnosis of anencephaly, where the fetus forms without a complete brain or skull, that bring people to these decisions.”
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are or your partner is 20 weeks pregnant. You’re excited, picking out names, decorating the nursery, when something feels a little bit off. You go to the ER and the worst is happening. Your baby is literally falling out of your body. He is dying and no matter what you and your doctors try, there is nothing that can be done to stop it. That sounds dramatic, but it is exactly what happened to Taylor Mahaffey. As she had already had a miscarriage once before, they knew what was happening, and all she and her husband Daniel wanted was for Taylor to birth her baby, and mourn the life her baby would have had. She begged her doctors to break her waters so that she could birth her baby, and so that he could die in her arms, but because he still had a heart beat, under the laws in Texas, which have since been repealed, it would be considered a “late-term abortion” she was put through the most unimaginable hell any mother would have to endure. For four days, in and out of the hospital, hooked up to machines that would amplify the sound of her babies fading heart beat, they waited for her baby to die inside of her. Once her water broke, baby was already gone and she was left with the reality of birthing a stillborn baby. Here are Daniel’s word’s from Reddit,
“Me and my wife were expecting our first child. She had been pregnant for over four months. We did all the check ups, all the screenings. By all accounts he was a happy, healthy, big for his age little man, with his father's nose.
That was until my wife's cervix decided to dilate. By the time we got to the hospital, his feet were already coming out of the womb and pushing through the cervix. We tried a litany of emergency measures, but the sack was already outside the womb. There was nothing that we could do. The only humane thing to do at that point would be to pop the sack, and let little Fox come into this world too early to survive outside.
However, thanks to Texas' frankly inhumane and cruel "Women's Health Laws", this wasn't an option. He still had a heart beat, which we were forced to listen to. Because of this, and his age, any attempts to induce labor would be considered a late-term abortion. Even though he had no chance of surviving, this was considered an abortion. These laws made my wife feel our child struggle inside her for days. We cried ourselves to sleep every night. We spent four days in and out of the hospital waiting for nature to take it's course. These laws, in their effect, forced a woman to give birth to a stillborn baby.”
There are many other stories like Taylor’s. They are heart breaking to read, but they are important. The stories like these are the reason the RHA was passed and the public health law was amended. Now, I can hear the push back already. “God performs miracles!” “Baby has a heart beat!” “The Bible says…” Listen, I hear you and I mostly agree with you. I know there are many women who would choose to keep their babies in their wombs for as long as possible, even knowing their baby wouldn’t survive. I personally know some women who’s babies had Anencephaly, and chose not to terminate. These women knew in their souls they made the right choice for them, and I am glad their desires were honored and supported. But do you really feel like you can force that decision on another mother who is mourning the loss of the life her child would have had? The passing of the RHA puts the decision as to whether to carry a child in your womb who will not survive out of the womb in the hands of the mother and no one else. I cannot imagine having to make the choice, and I hope I never have to, but I hope that whatever choice I would make would be honored and met with grace.
lastly, Not just anyone can perform an abortion.
The law reads like this, “A health care practitioner licensed, certified or authorized under title eight of the education law, acting within his or her lawful scope of practice…” As it always has been, only authorized health care professionals can perform abortions in New York State. Naturopaths cannot legally perform them, Certified Professional Midwives cannot perform them. Dentists cannot perform them. Every health care practitioner has a very strict scope of practice that is the law when it comes to what they can and cannot do legally. This has not changed with the passing of the RHA.
Whatever you believe about the RHA, make sure you check your thoughts and biases against what the actual law says. We cannot be comfortable with making assumptions about the law - about any law - just because you may or may not agree with it.
Furthermore, for those of us who identify as Christians, and feel strongly about God’s law, I want you to look to Christ for your example for how to engage with hurting people, “sinners,” and people who believe differently. It was always, always, ALWAYS with a heart of grace, and mercy, and love. If you’re looking for a time when Christ became angry and told people off, the only time in Scripture where that is found is when he was tearing into the religious elite who were using His space and His words to oppress and discriminate against others. If that makes you uncomfortable, sit with that feeling and unpack it. I love you and I am so glad you chose to read this blog. If you don’t identify as Christian, if you have a different faith, or no faith at all, and have stuck with me to this point, thank you as well! I love you just as deeply and I am grateful you are in my life.
Here are the articles and links that I used for reference when I was writing this blog:
State Later-Term Abortion Policies
State Policies on Later Abortions
How Abortion Law Will Change In New York and How it Won’t
My Nightmare with Texas’ Women’s Health Laws
Before Judging Late-Term Pregnancy, Understand What it Means, Doctors Say
Abortion Surveillance - United States, 2015
Here are the scripture references I referred to: