Story No. 199: Anne from Georgia

Commissioned Officer Affected by Hyde

We got married when I was 37. Our premarital counselor told us what he told everyone: wait two years before you have kids, so you can work on your marriage. I replied, saying, due to my age, maybe we would try sooner.

We had our first child when I was almost 39. We got pregnant the first cycle we tried, and found out I was pregnant on our first anniversary. He was fine and healthy.

We started trying again when he was 2 years old. It took us almost half a year to get pregnant this time. Everything seemed fine; I went in for a routine amniocentesis due to my age. A week later we got the call, that our second child had trisomy 21. I just started crying. I called my husband at work, he could barely understand me and came home right away.

Our OB offered us a more specialized ultrasound, but I declined. I knew that whether he had heart, intestinal, or other organ problems, we wouldn’t be able to tell how affected he would be mentally. Being a pediatrician, I had taken care of children with trisomy 21 who did well with it. I had also taken care of some who spent months in the ICU, or were so disabled they couldn’t walk or feed themselves. And we wouldn’t know from the ultrasound which he would be. We also thought about our parents—we each had a parent who got cancer before they were 60, and died from it. So we thought what would it be like if we died when our son with a trisomy was 18 or 20 years old. We thought about all the cuts being made to Medicaid and other health and educational services for special needs children.

That night I think I slept about 4 hours. Every time I woke up, crying, I realized I was thinking thoughts like: should we have a funeral or memorial service. Or, he deserves a good name too because he’s important. By morning, I realized I had come to terms with my thoughts and wanted to have an abortion. My husband had decided earlier than I had, and waited for me to make up my mind. I called my OB, but she thought I had decided too fast and said to wait another day or two to be sure.

At the time, I was active duty, a Commander (05 rank). So I called our medical benefits to get authorization like I would another procedure. They had to tell me that they couldn’t cover any abortion unless my life was in danger. I could hear the sorrow in their voice when they told me.

My OB suggested doing it like in the old days: visit a high-risk OB, off the books, pay cash, and get an injection in the baby’s heart. Then it could be labeled fetal demise, and my health care would cover it.

I decided this was too risky, and I might be charged with insurance fraud, since I had already called them about getting an abortion due to the diagnosis. So we just went to our regular hospital, with my regular OB practice, and I was induced. It was sad, but we got to hold our baby and say goodbye.

My husband’s insurance wouldn’t cover me because I had my own through my work. Except that mine wouldn’t cover this one procedure.

I wrote to the hospital, OB, and the anesthesiologist who did the epidural, to see if they would reduce the charges to the contract rate for my husband’s insurance, what they would have gotten paid if I had been covered. They were helpful, and the bill was reduced by almost half. But it was still over $3000, 17 years ago. It would be much more now.

It is such a hard thing, when you are facing a crisis pregnancy, to have politicians tell you they know your medical needs better than your own doctor, and that they won’t pay for an abortion you need. You are facing heartache and grief, the loss of your hopes, and an elected official essentially says “Nope, sorry, I’m right and you’re wrong.”

It is like being kicked and stomped on, after you have been beaten up. It is heartless, cruel, and unnecessary. Abortion is normal medical care, whether or not someone else’s religion agrees or not.

I have since testified at our state legislature three times, about what it is like to find out your wanted baby is dying and nothing can be done to help them. (We also had another baby who had trisomy 18 and was in heart failure at 12 weeks). I have written a piece for This I Believe, and an article for Rewire.

There is so much disagreement on the issue of abortion between different religions, and between different groups within the same religion. I am firmly convinced it is not the Supreme Court’s place to decide which interpretation of the Bible is right, or whether the Bible is the sacred text our country should use. That is why we have the First Amendment, so everyone can follow their own religion, or have no religion at all if that is their preference.