In the Shadow of Mother’s Day

Below is a guest blog entry in honor of Mother’s Day by obstetrician-gynecologist Nancy Stanwood:

I am fortunate to have met many wonderful mothers. These women understand what it means to raise a child well. They make daily sacrifices to keep their children physically and emotionally healthy and happy. As a new mother myself, I find their commitment inspiring.

What I know about these mothers, though, won’t be celebrated on Mother’s Day. They came to me to have abortions.

I am an obstetrician-gynecologist, and in my 13 years of delivering babies and providing abortions, I have ended pregnancies for many women with children at home. These mothers account for the majority of U.S. abortions. Six out of every ten women who have abortions in this country each year already have at least one child.

In my experience, these mothers have abortions to meet their responsibilities for their children at home.

They provide for their families in every way, giving love, time, money, energy, and nurturing. These mothers tell me that if they had another baby, they would not be able to care fully for each child. They know what it takes to be a good mother, and they know when they are not ready for a new baby.

Take my patient Catherine. She came to me for an abortion because her three-year-old son had cancer. His care was consuming her. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to attend to him and mother a new baby. Another patient, Dawn, already had a son when she became pregnant. She was also taking care of her mother, who was elderly and unwell. With her resources as a caregiver at the limit, Dawn chose to have abortion rather than short-change her mother and son.

In another case I handled, Louis and Mikela had two children with developmental disabilities due to the genetic syndrome Fragile X. They were managing the demands involved in parenting children with the syndrome, but then Mikela became pregnant again. Genetic tests showed that the baby would have Fragile X, too. Mikela and Louis wanted to give their children what they needed. They could support two children with special needs, but not three. Mikela had an abortion.

Catherine, Dawn, and Mikela had abortions because they knew what it takes to be a good mother. Like the other mothers for whom I have performed abortions, they refused to put their kids at risk of not getting enough food, attention, affection, or any of the other necessities for becoming a healthy, productive adult.

I became a mother seven months ago. By giving birth, I feel I made a solemn promise. I will be responsible for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of this beautiful little creature for the next 18 years and beyond. I will put her needs first, I will always think about her welfare, I will make sacrifices for her.

This is the promise we celebrate on Mother’s Day. Many women keep this promise by having abortions.

Unless the law gets in their way. I practice in a state where the government trusts women to do what is best for their families without question. But in many states, mandatory waiting periods and other requirements make it difficult and sometimes impossible for women to end the pregnancies they are not ready for. Such restrictions are an insult to these mothers.

The Catherines, Dawns, and Mikelas of this country deserve better—on Mother’s Day and every day. They must be allowed to put their children first, whether they are mothers in my state or any other.

To defend the rights of mothers nationwide, 129 members of Congress have sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act. This bill recognizes that every woman has the right to decide if and when to have a baby, to determine whether she is ready to promise a child love and care. I support this legislation as a doctor, a citizen, and a mother.—Nancy Stanwood, MD, MPH