Anti-abortion laws have traditionally allowed an exception to protect the “life of the mother.” Not anymore.
Originally published in POLITICO.
In 1942, my grandmother lay in a hospital bed in center city Philadelphia waiting to die. She was 26 years old, happily married, and pregnant with her first child. Only something went horribly wrong in the last trimester, and suddenly, both she and the baby were in a fight for life.
My grandfather, distraught but resolved, begged the attending physicians to do whatever it took to save my grandmother’s life, even if that meant the life inside her wouldn’t survive. But in those days that wasn’t always the practice; this was also a Catholic hospital, which forbade such a practice because it was considered tantamount to abortion. My grandfather was told she would be kept comfortable, and they would monitor both mother and baby, but that nothing would be done to privilege her life over that of their unborn child. In the end, my grandmother pulled through — barely — but sadly, the baby did not.
Flash forward six and a half decades.
It’s 2008, and I’m lying in a hospital bed in the center of Boston’s medical district also facing death. The cause was a spontaneous coronary arterial dissection that caused me to have two heart attacks in one week. At the time, not much was known about the condition. Relying on scant medical literature, all the doctors could tell me with “some degree of confidence” was that SCAD seemed to be linked to hormones and pregnancy and that getting pregnant would almost certainly be “life-changing, life-ending.”
Flash forward one more year. Despite the odds and every effort to prevent it, I discovered I was pregnant. I was 34 years old, also married, and now also in a fight for life.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t in the same immediate, actively dying, distress that my grandmother endured all those years before — the kind often associated with the “life of the mother” exception to abortion restrictions, called the “life-or-health” exception in legal circles. To look at me, having healed from the damage caused by the heart attacks, I was healthy and…