This past July, I was happily pregnant and eagerly expecting the arrival of our second child. For nearly eight months, I had been loving my baby in utero and explaining to our 2 1/2 -year old son that he was going to become a big brother. Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine I would need to have an abortion - and certainly not late term.
At my 28-week sonogram, the ventricles in our baby's brain measured a little elevated, and I was sent for further testing. Two weeks later, I had an MRI, and my worst nightmare was realized - we learned the baby was missing a main piece of its brain. The part that connects the right and left hemispheres literally wasn't there. Additionally, the surface of the brain was malformed and severely underdeveloped. Despite all my prenatal care and testing, this was not detected until I was 7 1/2 months along. And no amount of surgery or physical therapy could change this horrific diagnosis.
We learned that our baby would have had ongoing seizures and would lack the physical coordination to suck, swallow, feed, walk, talk or know its environment - if it survived being born. The sonogram already showed the baby was not swallowing. And in hindsight, I believe the constant movements of the baby were the result of spasms caused by the brain abnormalities.
If we had carried our baby to term, we would have needed a resuscitation order in place before the birth, as our child would have been incapable of living without significant medical assistance.
We did not want our child's existence to depend solely on feeding tubes and machines. We did not want to bring a child into this world who would only be here in a vegetative state, never knowing his or her big brother or parents. For this child, for our son and for our family, my husband and I made the heartbreaking decision to terminate. We did the most loving, humane act a parent could do - put an end to our baby's suffering.
I was too far along in my pregnancy to obtain care in Maryland, so my husband and I had to travel to Colorado to one of a handful of facilities in the U.S. that provide later abortion care. Our upfront medical expenses totaled $17,500, and that doesn't include the additional costs we incurred for our cross-country travel. Although I was told that my insurance does cover abortion, I am still waiting to hear whether my insurance carrier will reimburse me for any of my care.
As I listen to the debate regarding abortion coverage in the proposed health care system, I can't help but ask: What about circumstances like mine? How can families - especially federal employees - facing such a terrible prognosis be omitted from insurance coverage for abortion? The majority of private health insurance plans cover abortion; however, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program prohibits coverage of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. This policy forces federal employees and their dependents in my situation to pay out of pocket for abortion care.
To be forced to carry to term because of lack of financial coverage is beyond cruel. The week between learning the devastating diagnosis and when I terminated was agonizing. Each movement of my baby - movement that for months had brought me such joy and reassurance - was an excruciating reminder of what was never going to be. To force women to endure this for several more weeks and give birth because of lack of medical coverage is outrageous.
To say I am angered by those who are trying to prevent abortion coverage in the health care system is an understatement. I applaud our leaders, including Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, who are fighting to ensure women like me have access to the reproductive health care we need. Although the Senate defeated the Nelson-Hatch Amendment to the health care reform bill this week, the House's version of the bill still contains an amendment that could restrict women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market - even if they use their own money to purchase coverage.
I am writing today for all the women who are too fearful or made to feel ashamed to put a face on abortion. I'm writing today for all the women who, like me just five months ago, never imagined they would need the help of an abortion. And, I'm writing today on behalf of my child, who I know is in a much better place and no longer suffering.
Dana Weinstein lives with her husband and son in Potomac. Her e-mail is dana firstname.lastname@example.org.