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Why we fight 20-week abortion bans

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This story from Judy Nicastro, former Seattle City Councilwoman, is a powerful example of why we fight dangerous and cruel 20-week abortion bans, both in states and in Congress. Stories like hers are why we stand up every day for women's reproductive rights.

"He would never be off of those machines."

As an elected official I supported abortion rights. As a mother I never thought I would face the excruciating decision to have a second trimester abortion.

I believe that parenthood starts before conception. Parenting begins the moment we decided that we want to have a child. We make decisions about whether or not we are ready to have children, whether we can afford children, whether they are going to be in a safe environment. That is why I am pro-choice which also means pro-life. My husband, and I both knew that we wanted children, and after I served on the Seattle City Council the time seemed right. But then we hit fertility problems.

Working with specialists we conceived our son. When he was two, after a second round of treatments, we conceived again. I was elated the day I found out I was pregnant with twins. On week eleven of the pregnancy, we learned that we were having a boy and a girl. Delighted, we started to plan for adding two children to our family of three.

Nine weeks later, at my twenty week appointment we got the first hint that something was wrong. The woman doing the ultrasound hesitated and looked concerned. The next day, the doctor called to say that the technician had a hard time seeing the heart of the male fetus. "It is probably just the position," she reassured me. I wasn't reassured. It was Friday; I scheduled with a specialist for the upcoming Monday.

My husband and I went to what we thought would be an hour long appointment. After two eternal hours the ultrasound technician brought in the doctor. "It looks as if the boy has a herniated diaphragm," they told us. "All the organs are in his chest and not developing." I began sobbing. What did that mean? Would the organs move? Was my baby "fixable"? The clinic staff were reluctant to tell us how bad it was. They needed an MRI, which would show more details.

My world stopped. I loved being pregnant with twins and trying to figure out which one was where in my uterus. They were both active and sometimes it felt like a party in there with all eight limbs moving. I adored those moments. I was in love with my babies. The thought of losing one of them was incomprehensible.

We went in for the MRI. Afterwards the doctor confirmed the worst suspicions of the clinic staff: the organs were pushed up into his chest and not developing. She hinted at having an abortion. At week twenty two, she was the first. We live in Washington, where a second trimester abortion is legal until week twenty four.

After ten days of tests and meetings with numerous doctors we had all the facts. We also were in week twenty three of my pregnancy. At week twenty three a baby is very real to the mother. I had felt him moving, had seen his little face, body and heart beat on numerous ultrasounds. He was my boy, my second son.

My husband is more conservative than I am. He also is a Catholic. I am an old school liberal and have always been pro-choice. But from the start, and through this whole ordeal, we were in complete agreement. We were in agreement that we desperately wanted this child and would do whatever we could to save him. If our boy's hernia was fixable and he would be able to have a good quality of life with some assistance and therapy, we would do everything possible to save his life. We also were in complete agreement that our prime responsibility as parents is not only to cause our children no needless pain and suffering but to prevent it.

Once we had all the data, we met with three people, a nurse, surgeon and pediatric specialist, who would tell us if the hernia was fixable and what life would be like if he survived. The surgeon began. He said the tear in the diaphragm was so bad that the organs had not developed. Only one lung chamber had formed, and it was at 20%. If he was to survive past birth he would be on oxygen for the duration of his life, which would be brief. He would be on a variety of life support equipment. The thought of giving birth, hearing our baby scream from the cold, gasp for air, and die was our nightmare. Or to have him linger for a few days and die--even worse.

The pediatrician could tell that we were looking for candid information. Finally he said, "I am going to tell you exactly how his life would be if he survived." As he spoke we both cried. He ended with, "You say you want to cause no suffering. If so, you need to terminate immediately." The two other people in the room shook their heads in agreement. I burst out sobbing, but in a sense his words were a comfort and a kindness. He said what we already knew. But we needed to hear it from professionals who knew we were good parents who want what best for our children.

The next day, I felt my son's budding life end as they put a needle through my belly into the tiny developing heart. They could barely find it for all the other organs pressed against it. As horrible as that moment was (it will live with me forever), I am grateful that we were able to do the pro-life thing. If you care about a life then you want to cause no pain and suffering to that life. That is what we did. We made sure that our life, our son did not suffer to death. He died is a warm loving place, my uterus.

To prevent that suffering, we took a risk, the risk that my body would expel him and we would lose our little daughter as well. But that didn't happen. She continued to grow and develop until she was ready for this world. Our beautiful healthy girl was born and we love her to pieces. My little boy partially dissolved into me and I believe his soul is in his sister.

I had a second trimester abortion. Second trimester abortions are needed because it is during that time, often after 20 weeks, when the baby has developed enough to determine if it is healthy. Parents should be the ones to make that decision. Roe v. Wade may never be overturned in my life time, but the chipping away of abortion rights is occurring at an astounding pace. I share our story in hopes that by putting a face to second trimester abortions just maybe we can have responsible and compassionate laws for women and their children.
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