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Darcy Grabenstein
Life Member, Hadassah Greater Philadelphia

I See It As ‘Row v. Wade’ — and We’re Drowning

Photo courtesy of Hadassah
Photo courtesy of Hadassah
Photo courtesy of Hadassah

I am nauseated. And it’s not from morning sickness. I am sickened because the highest court in America is taking away a woman’s most basic right.

Flashback to April 2004. I boarded a chartered bus in the parking lot of Shir Ami in Newtown, PA. The bus was filled with women — among them Bea Tannenbaum, decades older than most of us and a revered mentor in Newtown Hadassah — headed to Washington, DC for the March for Women’s Lives.

Now, ironically, it’s 18 years later — chai ­— and women in the U.S. find themselves fighting the same old battles as the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z”l, herself a life member of Hadassah, may have had some reservations about Roe v. Wade, but she is known for her fierce defense of women’s rights. For her, abortion was about equality. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes:

Writing in dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart, a case in which the court upheld a federal restriction on abortion, Justice Ginsburg plainly stated: “[L]egal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.”

I can cite all the court cases and legal opinions ad nauseum, but it’s the heartbreaking personal story of one young woman, the daughter of a friend, which makes the strongest argument why abortion rights are so vitally important.

Melissa Kaplan writes: “…as we wait to see what the Supreme Court says about Roe v. Wade, I want to share my own story in case it helps just one person.

“In March of 2020, my husband and I learned we were expecting a very much wanted baby due December 29, 2020. In June of 2020, after going to the ER thinking I was just being a paranoid mom to be, we learned that though our baby should have been 12 weeks and one day based on our last ultrasound, the baby was measuring only 10 weeks and had no heartbeat. I scrambled to find someone to do a D&E in the coming days as I was crippled with pain and devastation.

“I was ultimately able to find the world’s most amazing compassionate doctor who added me to his busy schedule so I could have the surgery two days later. The week after the surgery, the results of our genetic testing came back, and we learned that the baby we lost was a boy, and that he had trisomy 13, also called Patau syndrome.

“So, at what would have been 13.5 weeks of gestation, which is seven and a half weeks weeks AFTER the six-week period that women are permitted to obtain abortions under Texas’ current law, we got the devastating news that our son had a chromosomal condition associated with severe intellectual disability and physical abnormalities such as heart defects, brain or spinal cord abnormalities, and numerous other life-threatening medical problems. As a result, many infants with trisomy 13 die within their first days or weeks of life. Only five percent to 10 percent of children with this condition live past their first year. Again, I emphasize that we got this news at 13 weeks, which is still relatively early, as many people do not learn about severe life-threatening illnesses and abnormalities until their 20-week anatomy scan or even later in their pregnancies.

“While we were devastated, I took solace in the fact that our baby would not have to suffer, and I was thankful we did not have to make the awful gut-wrenching decision of what to do. But thankfully, we live in a state where the decision as to what to do would have been OURS, had it come to that. As parents who wanted that baby so very badly, I cannot imagine NOT being able to make our own decision as to what was best for us, and our family. Would I have had to carry a baby without a heartbeat to term? Would someone else have decided that my baby should have been forced to suffer in the womb and in the short days of his life, and that I should have had to go through the trauma of giving birth knowing this and what was to come? What would have been the psychological impact on me of doing that? Would I have had to assign a name on a death certificate to a baby who lost his heartbeat at 12 weeks? These are questions I did not have to ask, and decisions I did not have to make, but that I now think about as the Supreme Court considers overturning Roe v. Wade.”

While Melissa’s story is a painful one (although I’m happy to say she and her husband now have a healthy baby boy), it is low-income women and women of color who will be most impacted by a ban on abortion. Maternal and infant mortality rates are higher among Black women than the general population. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. For low-income women, carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term results in perpetuating a cycle of poverty. What’s more, global studies have shown a correlation between unplanned pregnancies and domestic violence.

According to the British Medical Association publication BMJ, denying women legal access to abortion will have devastating health outcomes that are likely to widen existing healthcare inequalities. The BMJ cites these statistics:

  • Researchers estimate that a total ban could increase pregnancy related deaths by 21% overall and by 33% for Black women. The mortality rate associated with childbirth in the U.S. is 14 times higher than that of legal induced abortion.
  • Maternal mortality rates in the state of Mississippi, which seeks to overturn Roe, are higher than the national average in the U.S., which already has the highest rate of any wealthy nation. Black women in Mississippi are almost three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. This does not even account for those who will be forced to seek out an unsafe abortion, a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity worldwide.

Hadassah has always been at the intersection of women’s and health issues. That’s one reason I’m so proud to be a member of Hadassah: It takes a stand on issues, such as reproductive rights, that are important to me. Religious arguments based on Jewish law aside, in its policy statement Hadassah wisely looks at the bigger picture: “Hadassah affirms support for women’s access to contraception as an essential component of their preventive health and recognizes the role that reproductive freedom plays in women’s empowerment, economic equity and security.”

I’ll close with a poem I wrote after a bill was signed into law in Arizona last month, making abortion illegal after 15 weeks:

Row vs. Wade

When it comes to women’s rights
to chart their own course
we are drowning in denial
of self-determination

Our bodies, our vessels
are headed upstream
against a flood of tyranny
directed against decency

Arizona has joined the zone
tying a stone that drags us down
to the depths of despair
revoking the right to choose

So much for
a woman’s prerogative
as life-altering legislation
is floated by white men

We must grab the oars
of reason
and paddle our way back
to rational thinking

For if we do not
we simply will be
treading water and waiting
for the water to break yet again.

 

About the Author
Darcy Grabenstein, a third-generation Life Member of Hadassah Greater Philadelphia, is Senior Manager of Content Strategy for Informa Pharma Intelligence. In a previous life, she was Associate Editor of Heritage Florida Jewish News in Orlando. When she’s not pursuing her passion of Israeli dance, she’s writing poetry, meeting copywriting deadlines for her freelance clients, trying to keep up with several book club reading lists, getting into good trouble with Bend the Arc: Jewish Action South Jersey, and volunteering at Temple Har Zion in Mt. Holly, NJ. She is a native Floridian and a Florida Gators fan.
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