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Idaho physicians must have greater discretion over when abortion exceptions are warranted

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Idaho physicians must have greater discretion over when abortion exceptions are warranted

Sep 19, 2023 | 6:05 am ET
By Jillaine St.Michel
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Idaho physicians must have greater discretion over when abortion exceptions are warranted
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Because of these cruel laws, my Idaho doctors could not provide me with an abortion – something they could easily have done before Roe v. Wade was overturned – in my own community supported by family and friends, writes guest columnist Jillaine St.Michel. (Getty Images)

I have always considered myself pro-choice on the issue of abortion for all circumstances, but I never had to think about what that really meant until my husband and I were faced with that choice for me and our family last November.   

Up until that point, it was a theoretical right, and one I so mistakenly took for granted — the right to bodily autonomy, the right to make health care and personal family decisions without government intrusion. I no longer take these human rights for granted. 

We live in Idaho – one of the 14 U.S. states that has banned abortion care since the constitutional right to access abortion was overturned last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

When my husband Brandon and I needed it most, we didn’t have a choice in the state where we live. Instead, we were made to feel as if we were sneaking around and doing something wrong for trying to access essential health care – abortion care – during the most challenging moment in our lives. 

I was exactly halfway into my second pregnancy, and up until that point, we were so ecstatic to be expecting again – a baby we’d been praying for. We kept talking about and imagining the joy it would be to bring our new baby home to meet our 2-year-old daughter. 

But at my 20-week ultrasound, a day that is supposed to be full of excitement and awe, we received devastating news. Our baby, a second daughter, had many severe and insurmountable skeletal and organ issues. Fetal specialists told us that it was extremely unlikely she could survive because all her major organ systems had significant development issues. 

We were blindsided and heart-broken, and yet somehow clear-minded. We chose to do what we believed was best for our unborn daughter as well as for our family, because that is what you do as parents. And we saw the choice we ultimately made as an act of love for her. 

We respect and honor that other parents have chosen – and will continue to choose – the only other option our doctor suggested to us — to let the pregnancy take its natural course and provide specialist or palliative care as needed.

And that is the point. Individuals and their families – no matter where they happen to live – must be able to make the best choice for them. They need to be free to choose their own act of love. I believe now more than ever that anyone’s reason for seeking an abortion is valid. Who are we to say it isn’t? 

What we didn’t know when we made our decision was that in addition to being so difficult emotionally, it would be made so much worse by the abortion bans recently enacted in Idaho. Because of these cruel laws, my Idaho doctors could not provide me with an abortion – something they could easily have done before Roe v. Wade was overturned – in my own community supported by family and friends. 

We had to spend the following days cold-calling countless clinics in nearby states where abortion is still legal, but found out that because of all the other new abortion bans in states across the country, many clinics had closed, most had no open appointments for several weeks, and still others considered my pregnancy, at 20 weeks, too far along for me to receive care. 

The thought of waiting out this pregnancy, possibly for weeks, or however long, while trying to get through the day working as a chiropractor and still being active and present for our toddler was more than I could handle. All I could think about was whether the daughter I was carrying was already suffering; my anxiety and sadness were overwhelming. 

We both felt hopeless and heartbroken until we reached a Seattle clinic with a last-minute cancellation. Although relieved, there was so much we had to do to get there in the haze of our grief. There were flights to make, hotels to book, a car to rent and medical care our health insurance would not cover because we were going out of state to access and receive it.  One of the most tragic – and degrading – parts of our situation was knowing that people in my home state of Idaho believe this is acceptable, denying me bodily autonomy.  

We will always be grateful to the clinic and team in Seattle for offering us professional, compassionate care.

I am a person of faith and for months after my abortion, I kept telling Brandon there had to be something positive that would come out of this experience. Several months later, I learned that the Center for Reproductive Rights was putting together a challenge to Idaho’s abortion laws, and I knew immediately that moving forward as a plaintiff in the case was something I had to do. I’m proud to be one of the many women and doctors challenging and broadening these laws. Physicians in Idaho must have greater discretion over when abortion exceptions are warranted, and the decision should be the patient’s in consultation with their doctors. 

I feel good about speaking out even as I am still grappling with abortion stigma and the fear of sharing my experience with friends, coworkers and neighbors. I worry about what they will say or if they will treat me differently. 

But I am speaking out now so that other Idaho women who will need to make a difficult decision about their body and what’s best for their family will have the right to make it, whichever way they choose. So that abortion, an essential and often life-saving health care procedure in pregnancy, is accessible in Idaho and no one else has to flee to another state for care. And I’m doing this so that my daughters will know that their mother, and all other women, are deserving of this essential human right.

This is another act of love. One that is my choice.