Letter to the Editor: More to consider with proposed abortion ban

To the Editor:

My name is Emily Garrett. I was born and raised in Waukon. I count myself blessed to have been raised in such a warm Iowa community.

I have since moved away to pursue a medical degree and to train as an obstetrician and gynecologist. I have delivered babies to happy couples, troubled teenagers, sexual assault victims and even grieving mothers after the intrauterine death of their child. In fact, as I type this I am working 80 hours per week at night, while eight months pregnant with my first child, delivering babies and helping mothers have safe pregnancies and healthy newborns.

This is not meant as a complaint, but rather an illustration of the time and emotional and physical energy I’ve invested in caring for women. I hope someday to return to my home state to take care of Iowa women during and outside of their pregnancies.

I am writing with concern regarding the proposed state-wide 20-week abortion ban and the potential emotional and physical harm that may result. To give a little perspective, less than 10 percent of abortions (a.k.a. elective pregnancy terminations) take place after the first trimester (14 weeks gestation). Only about one percent take place after 20 weeks.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy this late is very often the result of findings noted on a routine anatomy scan which is typically performed between 19 to 21 weeks gestation. These are often highly desired pregnancies that are affected by genetic abnormalities, abnormal fetal organ formation or maternal infections. We know that many of these babies will live a short, painful life if they make even it to delivery.

Other women who end their pregnancy after 20 weeks do so because of poor availability or inability to pay for the procedure in a timely fashion (as the use of federally-funded Medicaid for abortions is prohibited by the Hyde amendment).

Still more women choose to end their pregnancy after 20 weeks due to maternal health concerns. Women may develop preeclampsia, a disease specific to pregnancy that can cause permanent organ damage or death and for which the only definitive treatment is ending the pregnancy. Others may suffer worsening of pre-existing conditions like kidney or heart disease that are exacerbated by the physiologic changes of pregnancy.

It is my understanding that the proposed legislation allows for an exception for the life and health of the mother.  However, as restrictions on abortion tighten, fewer and fewer physicians are being trained in the procedures required to assist these women in their time of need.

Imagine with me for a moment that you are a 36-year-old woman 20 weeks pregnant with your first baby that you tried for years to conceive. You’ve been planning for this baby for so long.  You’ve been sharing the joy of your pregnancy with excited friends and family members. You and your partner are giddy with excitement to see your baby on the anatomy ultrasound. You can’t wait to find out the gender and begin planning for your little boy or girl.

The ultrasound technician is suspiciously quiet throughout the scan and afterward the doctor comes into the room to talk. She says your baby girl has a condition called anencephaly and that it will likely not survive long after delivery. You and your partner are devastated. You learn you have three options.

The first option is to carry this baby for another five months, knowing after you labor and deliver her you will watch your baby die. The second option is (before 24 weeks) to have a physician inject the baby with a solution to make the heart stop and then undergo a potentially 24-plus hour long induction before having a vaginal delivery or even undergoing a C section if labor cannot be induced. The final option (assuming there is a physician available and trained to perform it) is to undergo a traditional outpatient “abortion” procedure.

Now, ask yourself if you think anyone other than you and your partner should make this decision or judge you for the choice you make.

I realize this is a morbid discussion. It would be much more convenient to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks if we could say it was in the name of saving healthy babies or that if these women were more responsible they would’ve avoided this predicament.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality. So, before you make up your mind regarding this proposed ban, please take into account what this could mean for your friend, your neighbor or your sister in what could quite possibly be the worst moment of their lives.

I urge you to contact your state representatives to voice your concerns.

Thank you for reading,
Emily Garrett, MD
Philadelphia, PA
2005 graduate of
Waukon High School

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