Reproductive Choice: A two-sided coin

January 22, 2013Carole 3 Comments »

For the last twenty years, I have been fairly obsessed with human fertility, both personally and professionally. Since 1995, I have been engaged in a profession that is clearly pro-life in that it seeks to solve the problem of human infertility, one patient at a time. I am also pro-choice. Those views are not opposites but two sides of the same coin.

During a second post-doc, my research study required me to ride the city bus to the abortion clinic in downtown Pittsburgh to get placental tissue samples. Every week I collected placental tissue from first trimester aborted fetuses. I was culturing the placental cells to study the mechanism behind parvovirus B19 infection during human pregnancy, one cause of miscarriage, especially in the first trimester. The point of the research was to better understand how parvovirus B19 infected the child through the placenta in order eventually to come up with better treatments for women at risk of losing their pregnancies. Ironically, in an effort to preserve future pregnancies, I had to use the remnants of aborted pregnancies.

Every week, sometimes twice a week, I had to walk past the anti-abortion protesters outside the door who screamed at me not to go in to the clinic to get an abortion. (Did they really think I was having two abortions a week(?!)- obviously there was a need for some remedial human reproduction classes on that sidewalk.) Once inside the building, I had to negotiate my way past a metal detector and armed guard because the clinic had been sent death threats and other clinics had been bombed. Imagine running a gauntlet like that to get any other kind of medical care?

I dreaded my weekly trip to the clinic because of the sidewalk harassment but then it got worse. Usually, I was given a plastic basin containing only placental tissue pieces that I would then transfer to a sterile collection cup and take back. The fetal remains had been removed. But not always. The first time I was handed a basin containing not only placental tissue, but also fetal remains, I almost vomited. I had this incredibly strong visceral and highly emotional response at seeing the tiny fetal remnants in the basin. I had two small children of my own by that time. Those fetal remains made me immensely sad for what could have been under other circumstances.

I thought a lot about that moment in the weeks to follow and at the apparent disconnect between what I had been doing in the lab (both as a researcher and then embryologist) to help women desperate to be pregnant and what was happening at the abortion clinic with women who were just as desperate not to be pregnant. If I could create a perfect world, I would create one in which both abortion and infertility treatment was completely unnecessary because only people who wanted to get pregnant would get pregnant and those who wanted to get pregnant could get pregnant easily when they were ready for the responsibilities of parenthood.

Reproductive Choice is a coin with two heads. On one side is the choice to become pregnant and the other side is the choice to prevent pregnancy or end a pregnancy. Women must have a choice about if, how and when they become mothers. I celebrate the fact that the Roe vs. Wade decision, which became law forty years ago today,  still exists to keep abortion both legal and safe in the US. I trust women to decide when they are ready to be mothers. Who ultimately benefits the most from allowing women to have this choice about if, how and when they become mothers? The child- who is wanted by its mother.  Those beliefs push me to work for better infertility treatments, healthier pregnancies and the right to safe and legal abortion.

This post is part of the Blog for Choice Day  2013.

© 2013, Carole. All rights reserved.

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