I’m going to be publishing a series of context pieces over the next couple of weeks to put the consequences of these bills into focus aside from the keyword talking points. This piece addresses the caveat often included in bills referencing health of the mother.
Let’s be really clear here: Pregnancy is dangerous.
In the US, we like to think that complications and serious long-term consequences are reserved for soap opera scripts, but let’s be clear – America has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and it’s substantially worse if you’re not white.
In some parts of the world, 1 in 5 women still die in childbirth. There is never a time where you can claim that pregnancy by itself is not a threat to a woman’s health. Almost any underlying health concern is going to be exacerbated by the stress of growing another human being.
To get anecdotal here, for a moment, I have several white, middle-class-or-above friends who had severe complications from what were considered routine and relatively low-risk pregnancies.
- Friend A had a C-section where they botched the placenta removal. She got sepsis, and ended up in the ICU for a week.
- Friend B suffered a bout of extreme high blood pressure at a routine prenatal appointment, got thrown into an ambulance and driven to the closest NICU-equipped hospital, and ended up with facial paralysis for six months. Her son was just under 30 weeks.
- Friend C had a placenta that didn’t properly disengage after delivery, and had an emergency D&C.
- Friend D suffered an ectopic pregnancy, and required two rounds of methotrexate (a chemotherapy drug sometimes used to end a pregnancy) before it was confirmed that she wouldn’t require emergency surgery and possibly lose any chance of future childbearing.
They’re all white, were healthy going in, and had family situations where they got both lots of after-support and had good insurance.
I have another friend who is black, a single mother by choice, and a medical professional. We had serious discussions about whether she should try to reschedule her induction because maternal mortality rates are worse for black women on the weekends. Talk about conversations that should never have to take place.
I had 3 c-sections, and I have permanent nerve damage from those as as well as underlying pain that will likely never resolve. I had a will written or revised every time I got pregnant, as well as updating my medical directive, because of the potential for negative outcomes.
Many women happily make the choice to take these risks, for a variety of personal reasons. But again, the point is that it should be their choice. Pregnancy is not a one-off that you just bounce back from after the fact. It permanently scars your body, both visibly and in terms of increased risks later in life.