by Tamara Stein, If/When/How Suffolk Law Executive Board Member

When I found out I was pregnant at the very beginning of my second year of law school, I was ecstatic. My husband and I had planned to try to have a child at the beginning of what would be our last “summer” ever, as we both headed into our final year of graduate school. The weeks of pregnancy were aligned perfectly with my weeks of school, and every academic measurement of time was a reminder of the biological progress I was making. With each one moment of excitement, though, there were moments of fear. The self-proclaimed realist in me knew how expansive pregnancy complications and losses are, and statistically, just how likely it would be that an extra line on a pregnancy test would never amount to an actual child. I felt that if I realistically reminded myself of what could happen, nothing would surprise me, and thus nothing would then be able to break me. 

Picture of blog post author, If/when/how's Suffolk Law Chapter Member Tamara Stein
Tamara Stein

Approximately 10-20% of pregnancies that have been confirmed by testing result in a miscarriage by 13 weeks gestational age. Estimates are as high as 31% to 50% when including individuals who miscarry before knowing they are pregnant. I thought if I reminded myself of the likelihood of it occurring, I would be prepared for if (or when) it did occur. Unfortunately, at my initial appointment, the embryo that should have been nine weeks measured significantly smaller than that, and the weeks that followed were ones that, though I had tried to prepare myself, I could have never anticipated finding myself in as a law student. I could never have imagined sitting in Criminal Procedure, scared to death that I would start bleeding at any moment. I could never have imagined having to cancel interviews, meetings with professors, and extracurricular activities because I kept having to go back to my doctor’s office. I could never have imagined that as finals loomed, counting the weeks into the semester would leave such an eerie pit in my stomach, as they now represented what progress could have been, and not just the mundane excitement of counting down until the end of the semester.

After my miscarriage, much of my anger and sadness mostly came from a place of feeling as if my body did not do what I wanted it to do, and that all agency that I felt I had over my body seemed to disappear overnight. As someone who has worked in the reproductive justice space and came to law school to further that career, I knew anecdotally how vital reproductive autonomy and accessible healthcare were. It wasn’t until my miscarriage, that I experienced firsthand what it means to have access to this kind of health care, and how intersectional abortion policies, prenatal policies, maternal healthcare policies, and reproductive healthcare policies overall truly are. Within 24 hours of being told I had a non-viable pregnancy, I was able to consult with my team of doctors, given a variety of choices that could result in immediate or prolonged termination of the pregnancy, described ample details on the medical pros and cons of each option I could chose, schedule the procedure that my doctor and I decided would be the best choice for me personally, go to the hospital and have said care, and be charged with a minimal $20 copayment for the procedure, given my excellent insurance coverage. I did not have to walk past barricades of anti-abortion harassers yelling at me as I went in to receive a medically necessary procedure. The immediate and affordable health care I received, during what was one of the most traumatic days of my life, is simply not the reality for so many. 

I know that I hold privilege as a white, able-bodied, cisgender, upper-class woman, and it helped me get the care that I needed when I needed it. I also know that is not the reality for so many. Bans and restrictions disproportionately impact communities that have survived systemic oppression and people who hold multiple marginalized identities. 

The rights to maintain bodily autonomy, to decide to have a child, to access reproductive healthcare, to consult with medical professionals on a healthy and personal course of action, and to ultimately decide not to have a child, for whatever reason, are ones that I fear my one-day children will never have. Politicians have been working for decades to make abortion as difficult as possible to get, and it is nearly impossible to navigate the web of restrictions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2021, the United States saw the highest number of abortion restrictions enacted in a single year. These restrictions are all created with the same goal in mind: to stop folks from accessing abortion care. 

A month ago, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case challenging Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. And in the last weeks of 2021, the Supreme Court allowed a Texas law, S.B. 8, to take effect, denying Texans their human rights. S.B. 8 effectively prohibits abortion after six weeks and creates a private right of action that allows “any person” to sue anyone who helps a person access abortion care, including abortion providers, abortion funds, family members, or friends. Both laws directly contradict Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which guarantee the right to abortion and prohibit states from barring it before the point of viability.

While the Supreme Court has considered other abortion cases involving state regulations, this is the first case that the court has taken in which a state is directly asking to overturn the constitutional right to abortion. Other states’ restrictions, such as Georgia’s infamous 2019 bill that would ban abortion after only six weeks of pregnancy and call for the imprisonment of certain people who have had miscarriages, are being held in limbo as lower courts wait and see what the highest court will rule regarding Texas and Mississippi. Under fetal harm legislation, people have been charged with crimes related to pregnancy loss in cases when they have experienced physical trauma, declined medical advice, or used drugs in pregnancy. People experiencing pregnancy loss in Georgia could be targeted and criminalized, and in Texas, a neighbor who suspected someone of having an abortion could allow them to bring a civil lawsuit and subject them to legal investigation. A medical and legal environment in which pregnant people may be criminalized for pregnancy loss and miscarriages can also leave some reluctant to seek needed care for fear of retaliation, which creates a culture of confusion and lack of necessary health care. Some patients may have limited treatment options available in cases of pregnancy loss due to previously mentioned restrictions on abortion. We have the resources and medications, like abortion pills, for people to self-manage their abortions safely. However, people who end their own pregnancies, those who help them, or those suspected of self-managing may be targeted, reported, prosecuted, or even jailed. People of color, people who have survived systemic oppression, are more likely to be targeted. 

Over the last few weeks, when friends and family have asked what they can do to help, my husband and I have asked that folks donate to an organization that promotes reproductive justice, whether it be your local health clinics or abortion funds down in Mississippi. My hope is that when, and if, I can bring a child into this world, they are brought up in a country that prioritizes compassion, expands (not limits) healthcare, and trusts folks to be the decision-makers of their own bodies and futures.

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