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The young woman wants her story told. But she doesn't want to be identified in the newspaper. Who can blame her?

She and her husband talked about the public's need to understand real-life complications of the over-simplified abortion issue. But they also discussed their need for privacy in their pain.

You know how people are anymore, especially on this issue. You don't need hate mail or threats on top of losing your baby. You don't need to be subpoenaed to testify in a federal lawsuit.

I said that, sure, I'd tell the story without the young woman's name.

She is 30 now. She was 28 when it happened, when she was in the 16th week of pregnancy with her first child.

She was doing everything right and was excited about the developing life within her. As the book dictated, she went in during her 16th week of pregnancy for the recommended "quad test."

It showed an abnormality.

She was told such findings were common and often amounted to nothing, but that she would have to be referred for firmer findings to a specialist.

She went for that appointment at the earliest opportunity, in her 17th week.

That's when she got the news. Her baby suffered from anencephaly, by which the brain, skull and scalp don't form properly.

Her child would have no sensory perception. Either the fetus would die, or the baby would die during birth, or survive maybe hours, or survive at the very most only a few days. The condition was, as the medical journals put it, "life-incompatible."

She made the decision to terminate the doomed pregnancy.

That meant she had to be referred again. And abortion-restrictive laws required her to undergo another ultrasound and endure other hurdles, such as reading informational materials about options to abortion.

Then, on the sixth day of the 18th week of her pregnancy, the first opportunity, she underwent the procedure.

Under a bill just passed by the Legislature, what she did will become illegal, provided the new statute doesn't get enjoined in its entirety on constitutional grounds.

The latest anti-choice initiative at this legislative session presumes to ban abortions--except in cases of rape or incest or medical complication for the mother--after 18 weeks.

It has no provision providing any exception in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.

"It's the heartlessness of that, the absolute lack of compassion," the young woman told me.

"Heartlessness is exactly the word for it," freshman state Rep. Megan Godfrey of Springdale told me when I related the story. "Stories like this one are not uncommon."

Godfrey has talked tearfully of her own miscarriage, and just as tearfully of women in the condition I describe--beset by great tragedy and loss and, now, given no consideration at all by a club of mostly men in the state Legislature. All they get is tragedy-compounding meanness.

This is not about the basic abortion debate. I'm not engaging in that here.

This is about a woman being told she must carry a doomed pregnancy. This is about a heartbroken woman's right to humanity.

State Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway, the prime sponsor of the bill, told me the issue was sure-enough abortion generally. He said "defenders of Planned Parenthood and the culture of death" always bring up some issue like this one--occurring only once in 5,000 pregnancies, he said.

Two things on that: One in 5,000 pregnancies amounts to a lot of grieving mothers. And meanness applied rarely is no less mean to the relative few to whom it's applied.

Rapert said he feels great sympathy for mothers in the circumstance I describe. He said that, in the fetal-heartbeat bill a few years ago, he included a "fatal fetal anomaly" exception.

"But it didn't change anything, because that's just an excuse," he said. "It's never enough for them."

Still, why not do the compassionate thing for women in the described circumstance? "No one asked me to," Rapert replied.

I asked Godfrey about Rapert's position. She said, "Telling the stories of grieving mothers is not a tactic to me. It's the way I choose to operate with empathy and compassion, now as an elected official, and before as a grieving mother myself who walked alongside these women who have real pain and stories worth hearing."

Two things are always possible. One is that Rapert is correct that, in some cases, pro-choice people pick out these rare horrors to argue for abortion generally without addressing abortion generally. The other is that, even if so, there ought to be an exception in the law for the circumstance described here.

I'm not arguing for abortion choice today. I might do that another day.

I'm arguing today for one traumatized woman in 5,000, if Rapert's statistics are right.

Rapert ought to recall the bill, add an amendment for fetal abnormality and call everyone's bluff.

That way we could help some people while we argue about abortion generally.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 03/14/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Her right to humanity

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