This op-ed first appeared in The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., on April 4.
By Ingrid Andersson
I recently attended the premier of the documentary "Playing Dr." by Owen Road Productions. The film focuses on the 20-week abortion ban passed in Wisconsin in 2015. Apparently, few Wisconsinites have heard of this ban. Abortion at 20 weeks is rare.
The law is based on the "junk science" assertion that fetuses at 20 weeks feel pain. I don't know whether or not fetuses feel pain. I am told there is reputable science that suggests plants feel pain. Pain appears to be a ubiquitous self-protective mechanism throughout Earth's plant and animal families.
But everyone knows pain is subjective. How can the potential and brief pain of a 20-week abortion be placed over a raped girl's pain? Or over a devastated couple's pain when they hear, at their 20-week ultrasound appointment, that their fetus is developing abnormally and will certainly die? Nobody talks about the very probable eventual pain of a growing little body wracked with nonviable deformities. These are the realities behind 20-week ultrasounds.
As if that pain were not enough, Wisconsin offers no option to a pregnant woman after 20 weeks, even in the case of lethal fetal anomalies, except to continue pregnancy for weeks on end, until her body goes into the pain of labor and gives birth to a baby already dead or dying.
What is "pro-life" about that? Who, exactly, is blocking women from basic humane and preventive health care — and why? What is moral about forced pregnancy and motherhood, under any circumstance?
There is a long and documented history of maternal suffering and mortality prior to safe and legal abortion, whether due to the relentless burdens and terror of unwanted pregnancy, or to the dangers of unsafe abortion methods. We should be celebrating safe and legal abortion for what it is: Pro-life!
Yet the word "abortion" triggers a strong negative reaction — sometimes murderous — in Americans. It is a conditioned cultural reflex. The reaction is triggered in spite of little or no understanding of abortion in real practice or real lives. In women who choose abortion, the reaction can induce guilt and shame. In providers of abortion, it induces fear for personal and family safety. Women like myself, who grew up grateful for reasonable access to abortion (in an era when Roe v. Wade stood intact as a brilliant and revered piece of judicial writing) tend to stay silent on the subject, to avoid personal or professional repercussions.
I believe the pro-choice majority must hold accountable the individuals who program American minds against abortion. They are in our capitols, media, pulpits, mosques and special interest groups. By separating abortion from dogma, maybe we can make progress against critical threats to life.
While Wisconsin is one of the most restrictive states for abortion, it is one of the most liberal for gun possession and industrial polluters. As Garrison Keillor puts it, "It would appear that the Republicans believe the right to life ends 15 minutes after birth."
I believe we who have had abortions can reframe abortion discourse in America by telling our real abortion stories. We can reclaim the language of morality and our right to sustainable life. We can begin our stories with the words of the late Anne Gaylor, a great Wisconsin truth-teller and co-founder of FFRF and the Women's Medical Fund: "Abortion is a blessing."
FFRF Life Member Ingrid Andersson is a nurse-midwife with Community Midwives in Madison, Wis. She is on the board of Women's Medical Fund, Inc., an organization founded in 1972 to help fund abortions in Wisconsin, and a member of the Madison and Dane County Fetal and Infant Mortality Review team. Ingrid wrote this article after one of her prenatal clients discovered, during her 21-week ultrasound, that the fetus had multiple lethal anomalies. Ingrid dedicates this article to that woman, as well as to her own 80-year-old mother, Karolina Johnson, a survivor of Chicago mafia abortions during the pre-Roe era.