I didn’t plan to have an abortion, but I would have died without one.
My desire to be a mother was deep. In 2017, after battling infertility, my husband and I were overjoyed to welcome our son. Understanding our slim chances of conceiving again, we decided to try for another baby.
One day in 2019, I felt excruciating pain. I was rushed to the hospital.
When I started bleeding, the doctor kindly told me, “Dallas, you need to prepare for the worst case scenario, a miscarriage.”
“But the worst case scenario would be a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, right?” i remember saying
Then I knew how to cry, not celebrate. If this pregnancy was ectopic, I knew it was not viable.
I was in and out of consciousness. She didn’t know that death was so close, but I remember that the feeling of being alive began to fade. I was transferred for emergency surgery.
As I lay on the operating table, I weakly tried to make jokes to lighten the mood, but I could barely breathe due to the pressure around my ribs. A nurse explained that this was due to severe internal bleeding.
I remember the terror. I felt my consciousness deteriorate. I felt desperate to hug my son again. We had just celebrated his first birthday. I didn’t want to leave it.
With great compassion, my surgeon told me that she would take care of me, that I would see my son again, and that one day I might even have another baby.
The surgery you performed, an abortion, saved my life.
Without access to this abortion, I would not be alive, my son would no longer have a mother, and my daughter would not have been born..
We know that abortion is health care.
We are two physicians, one who works in the ER, one who works in women’s health, who see circumstances like those in Dallas, as well as myriad challenges pregnant patients face every day. Every story is different, and every patient deserves the right to make the right decision for them.
As an obstetrician-gynecologist, it is a privilege to care for pregnant people; there is delirious joy, but also moments of vulnerability and pain. I have looked into a mother’s eyes as she explained that her baby’s heart had stopped beating. I have sat with a mother when her blood pressure spiked so high that giving birth to her little baby was the only option. I have watched ultrasounds knowing that soon a parent will hear the worst news of her life and will have to make the most difficult decision imaginable.
As an ER physician, I have seen life-saving abortions: from miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies, to a mother whose heart stopped and required an immediate C-section to save her own life.
However, as doctors, we have both learned that pregnancy is rarely black and white. Perhaps it is a wanted pregnancy accompanied by a life-limiting fetal diagnosis. Perhaps it is an accidental pregnancy that is not “happy news” but a death sentence. Or a pregnancy for a person whose life trauma has left her facing extreme challenges or without resources. They owe no one an explanation for their decision to terminate. We provide medical care to all pregnant patients and we do so without judgment. Abortion, like other medical options, should be between patient and doctor.
We assume that maternal mortality is rare, even though around the world, approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths occur in countries where resources such as abortion and contraception are not available. The death of a parent during pregnancy or childbirth leaves families with a huge void where that person should be.
The health of pregnant people should be assessed. Their lives must be valued. Last week, the basic human right of bodily autonomy was taken from half the population in one of the world’s largest nations.
“Barriers to abortion do not reduce the number of procedures. Instead, the restrictions drive women and girls into life-threatening situations:” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director General of the World Health Organization.
It is estimated that 30 people die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions in developed regions. Up to 61 per cent of Canadian women have had at least one unplanned pregnancy, and at least one per cent of all pregnancies result in a planned abortion.
In Canada, we see barriers to abortion access for people in rural and remote communities. For rural residents, financial and geographic barriers can be exacerbated by a lack of support from employers and a lack of childcare services.
We cannot take it for granted that we live in a country that values and respects the lives of pregnant people. We must remain vigilant and insist that our elected leaders not only support but defend reproductive health rights. We must destigmatize abortion and provide training for doctors, nurse practitioners and rural midwives.
We must ensure that our children’s school curricula include comprehensive and inclusive education on sexuality, reproductive health and contraception. We must empower girls to expect their health and lives to be valued. We must teach boys and men that the fight for gender equality is not just for women. Because the right to abortion is a human right.
As mothers and physicians, we know that abortion is medical care.
Dallas Curow is a commercial and portrait photographer based in Edmonton. Dr. Stephanie Cooper is an OB/GYN and Maternal-Fetal Physician in Calgary. Dr. Shazma Mithani is an Emergency Physician who works with adult and pediatric patients in Edmonton and is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Alberta.