Every day, we wake up in the morning and read about ourselves in the paper, or at least, about what we are doing – abortions for women who need them.
We have the bizarre and malignant law in Texas signed by the governor with Trump-style flourishes that makes abortion in that state illegal even before a woman knows that she’s pregnant. It makes everyone with a mean desire to control other people’s lives eligible to make a legal living hell for anyone who even thinks about helping a woman with her personal health care.
And we have the U.S. Supreme Court giving serious consideration to eviscerating Roe v. Wade by upholding the Mississippi law that would make my medical practice illegal.
In the midst of this, we are routinely helping women from red states who come to my office in Colorado to end pregnancies that would endanger their lives in many ways.
One of them came to us recently with a desired pregnancy that was hopelessly afflicted and threatened her own life and health. She learned more than halfway through her pregnancy that she was carrying twins joined at the chest with one heart.
This is extremely rare. In 47 years of medical practice specializing in outpatient abortion services, this is only the fourth case like this I have seen.
The “normal” obstetrical treatment for a case like this is cesarean delivery at term using the “classical” (vertical) incision in the uterus. This means that the woman is not only subject to the usual risk of death for the duration of the pregnancy, she also has a uterus that is permanently damaged. This increases her risk of death in future pregnancies. It is the “normal” treatment even though there is no hope that she can have a healthy baby.
Before the time of modern obstetrics, this pregnancy would have been a death sentence. Among the Native Amazonians among whom I have lived and worked for over 55 years in remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon, a woman with this pregnancy would die.
In my patient’s case, she was not only distraught at having to end a desired pregnancy, she also viewed me and members of my staff with open contempt, hostility and disgust. She is against abortion. She accepted our care that she requested, and we took care of her.
Because of the protocols that I have developed in over 45 years of this work and a highly skilled staff, we applied our routine procedures over four days, and in the end, we delivered the hopelessly deformed twin fetuses intact.
This was amazing, but everything worked perfectly. Her procedure was relatively easy and completely uncomplicated. This was not only better for her medically and surgically, but she wanted an intact delivery so she could view and hold her babies.
As we routinely do, for women who want this, my laboratory staff dressed the twins in baby clothes that we provide including two stocking caps and placed the twin fetuses in a basket lined with quilted blankets. A former patient donates these for women who, like her, suffered this loss of a desired pregnancy.
My head counselor took the fetuses into the recovery room, where my patient, with her mother, sat together and grieved. The patient held her babies, touched them, and kissed them. She and her mother wept and told her babies how much they loved them. Her mother expressed gratitude for our help.
The patient requested that I make family photographs of this moment, which I did, and which I routinely do for patients making this request. Patients often request footprints, which my staff makes, and request private cremation, which we arrange. We send the ashes in an urn to the woman and her family.
Before discharge, a nurse gives the patient final instructions, my medical colleague and I visit with the patient and help arrange for her follow-up exam at home, and a member of my staff takes the patient to her hotel in our vehicle.
This is very personal health care for women who are having the worst moment of their lives. We are making it safe for them to make this decision so they can go on with their lives. Why should it be controversial?
Why should these women’s lives and health be at the mercy of the next election? Why should their emotional suffering be compounded by ruthless people with a political agenda? Why should we have to work behind bulletproof windows to help them?
Warren M. Hern, M.D., is director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic.
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