My abortion story contains no abortion — but it should have

Hundreds of bills have been introduced this year that aim to make safe and legal abortion nearly impossible. They’re rooted in the same twisted logic I found myself up against 32 years ago.

In 1986, I sat in my military doctor’s office, eyes fixed on a distressing photo in a medical textbook — a newborn baby, purple-blue, lying on a metal tray. The baby’s brain was missing. “Your baby’s condition is not compatible with life,” the doctor said. He told me I could either continue the pregnancy or have an abortion.

I burst into tears.

At the time, I was a 24-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. My husband and I were thrilled I was pregnant. All signs pointed to a healthy baby girl, and by the 20-week mark, I was purchasing tiny nightgowns and decorating the nursery with pink lace.

But after my appointment, I told my husband our baby wouldn’t survive. He left for the bar and pretty much stayed there for the rest of my pregnancy.

Two more doctors confirmed that my baby would die, no matter which course I chose.

One physician explained that North Carolina prohibited abortions after 20 weeks except at a hospital, under narrow circumstances. I could travel out-of-state for the procedure, but driving eight hours, paying $1,500 when our monthly wages were just $1,800, and caring for my four-year-old son would make it impossible.

I prayed, willing the reality to change. I couldn’t bear the thought of my baby being born to a short, painful life. I knew that I had to terminate the pregnancy.

At the military hospital, with a broken heart, I signed the consent form. I knew I was making the best choice for my family.

Then the doctor entered the room and told me he couldn’t move forward. The procedure was against military policy. I was shattered. I couldn’t believe that the freedom I had fought for in the Army didn’t extend to my own body.

I was forced to continue the pregnancy. For months, I felt my baby move and grow. I was haunted by the prospect of her pain. I yearned for what most parents want—to spare my child from prolonged suffering.

On Feb. 2, 1987, I gave birth to my daughter, Megan, in the care of a kind nurse who inspired me to later join the profession myself.

I tried to compress a lifetime’s worth of love into the eight hours and 50 minutes we shared.

The span of Megan’s short life was mine to witness. The pain of her death was mine to experience. The choice to end my pregnancy and avoid four more months of pain should have been mine to make.

For the past 20 years, I’ve had the heavy privilege of consoling grieving parents. I’ve cried with mothers as they said their goodbyes.

Nobody should ever have to face this situation. If these extremist lawmakers continue to define our policy, many more will.

Bans in states like Alabama must end. I felt the terrible impact of a ban — one that still denies abortion care at military treatment facilities. No matter when, where, or why a pregnant person seeks an abortion, the choice should be theirs, and they should feel safe in making it.

Megan taught me 32 years ago to trust others without judgment and respect the choices people make for themselves and those they love.

Politicians must do the same.