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Sarah Buttenwieser Headshot

We Are In Texas Now

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Last night before I went to bed, I read a piece in the Texas Observer that's making the rounds. The writer, during her planned pregnancy with her second child, learned in that shockingly awful way -- a routine ultrasound -- that the son she'd been eagerly awaiting with her husband had a horrific medical condition. Long story short: The prognosis if the pregnancy went to term for any child born with these particulars would be huge amounts of medical care and even still huge amounts of suffering. Termination of the pregnancy -- abortion in the plainest language -- was presented as the only humane option.

The piece was in the Texas Observer and the terrible news occurred soon after the new sonagram laws began in that state and so she describes being subjected to a third ultrasound in a day, a graphic description of the baby she didn't want to lose being required despite her circumstances and learning later that her ordeal had fallen during a window of time before the law changed enough to spare women like her that indignity. By women like her what I mean is women whose pregnancies required termination due to unexpected and dire medical circumstances. As she described her situation, she and her husband felt smart and even charmed with jobs, house, marriage, rescue dog and healthy daughter.

Like every other reader, I felt devastated on her behalf for the loss of her pregnancy and the son they'd already begun to usher into their hearts and for the assaultive invasion upon their personal tragedy of a law that imposes nothing shy of cruelty to women facing what's already potentially a devastating situation (as hers was).

Like most of us in thick in the world of raising children, I've had women close to me experience the horrible ordeal of intended pregnancy slamming up against terrible medical complications. It's sad and unfair and jarring -- good intentions, good faith and inconsolable loss -- that's a formula we find particularly frightening when in the throes of dealing day in and day out with the juxtaposition between freighted responsibility and the reality of vulnerability that raising a family brings.

And like most of us in the thick of raising children, I routinely try to tell my kids -- and let's face it, I model this on a regular basis -- that people make mistakes and that mistakes aren't the worst thing in the world. You fall down? You brush your tushy off and keep going. This is how we build resilience -- and fortitude and flexibility, all traits that aid us as humans.

I woke thinking about this sense of identification, this twist on a very bad thing happening to a well-intended person. We use this formula to "get it" on a gut level -- there but for whatever grace go I -- and we are, after all, a society founded on puritan values and the idea that hard work and kindness and good intentions are enough to inoculate us against certain hardships. We know it doesn't always work that way, sure. I woke thinking that the Texas sonogram law is equally cruel to the 15-year-old or the 23-year-old or the 42-year-old without such a dramatic and instantly sympathetic narrative. Obviously it is but it isn't obvious to us, not really. The statistics on abortion reveal that unintended pregnancy happens routinely. Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned -- and four in ten of those pregnancies end in abortion.

I woke thinking about how different I would have felt at 17 or at 20 or at 42 had I faced abortion as a punishing experience rather than simply a medical procedure chosen and provided without fanfare. During those decades, fanfare -- protestors and metal detectors --has become a routine part of the experience almost everywhere, so let's say relatively little fanfare. Each bomb threat and each roadblock to the simplicity of care requested and care received has altered the experience and raised the stakes.

Blind eye to poor women, blind eye to young women, blind eye to mistakes that were just that -- that is how we've lost agency over reproductive rights, how abortion has slid from being a hard-won right to a dodgy not-right heaped with constrictions guaranteed to make the experience of obtaining one an ordeal even to the woman least conflicted about the decision. That is how mind-boggling the inanity that is filling state houses with things larger than urban myths about how birth control kills babies and abortion causes cancer and whatever else. When the well-intentioned and privileged thought access wasn't really the story and the intangible "right to choose" was, the boat sailed to Texas. The alarm that should have sounded when the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976 is, finally, so loud we cannot ignore it. And that's how we got here. The question isn't about modifying a cruel law to make it less cruel when the pregnancy was hoped for; it's about abolishing laws this punitive to all women. The only way we move from here is to remember this -- and act on it.