LETTER: A miscarriage of justice
Duym writes about nearly losing her mother to a miscarriage in 1953.
When I was a toddler in 1953, we lived on a farm near Pettibone, North Dakota, 50 miles from Jamestown, the hospital, and her obstetrician. Mom was pregnant with her second child. One morning she told me, she woke up feeling light-headed, tried to sit up and felt faint, couldn’t get out of bed or stand up. Daddy had come back in after seeing the cows but hadn’t yet left for the field. He carried her to the car after picking up a sitter for me and drove her the 50 miles to the hospital. I remember her saying, “The doctor told your daddy he had come in just the nick of time.” Fifteen minutes was all she had left, the doctor said. Mom’s pregnancy was ectopic, which had ruptured so that she was bleeding internally; by the time they reached the hospital, she had lost so much blood, she was near death.
She told me this story about her miscarriage often enough that I remember these details. Thinking about it now, I realize this was not a spontaneous miscarriage. To save her life, the physician had to not only stop the bleeding and transfuse her; he had to remove the fetus that would never have been viable. He would, according to current terminology, have had to perform an abortion. In 1953, abortion was illegal, but fortunately, that did not interfere with his understanding of the urgent need to save her life.
When abortion became a topic of conversation, Mom was firmly pro-life, and would have been shocked that anyone would consider her miscarriage to be an abortion. Indeed she gave God the credit for getting her to the hospital in time.
Now however, the people who call themselves “pro-life” are calling for legislation that would prohibit any abortion, for whatever reason, up to and including saving the life of the mother. If her physician had been forced to request permission from the hospital ethicist or second-guess the need for this procedure for fear of losing his license or worse, ending up in jail, would my mother have survived? If she had died, I would have grown up without my mom, and my two wonderful younger sisters would never have been born. The effect on my dad, I can’t imagine. That would have been a different kind of miscarriage—of justice.
There are still families living on farms and in rural areas a distance from the nearest hospital.
There are still pregnancies that go horribly and dangerously wrong.
Those who call themselves “pro-choice” imply that all abortions are optional; those who call themselves “pro-life” imply that failing to save the life of a dying woman whose fetus would have died anyway is somehow justified by divine law. Those who propose legislation that interferes with a physician’s ability to practice good medicine, starting with “do no harm,” should consider the real effects of laws that would affect families like ours.
Surely no one wants the future Mother’s Day memory to be short: “My mom died from an ectopic pregnancy when I was too young to remember.”
Virginia Kolberg Duym lives in Worthington, Ohio.
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