“You’re a murderer!” the man screams at me as I press the lock button on my key fob.
He continues to scream at me as I walk through the parking lot. Murderer, murderer, murderer, over and over. I smile. I can’t help it.
Maybe he missed the family stickers on the side of my minivan, I think. Star Wars characters, four of them. Or maybe he overlooked the huge magnet for my son’s elementary school.
But then, maybe he didn’t. Because being a mom doesn’t mean I’m not doing what he thinks I’m doing. Being a mom doesn’t mean I’m not there to have an abortion.
Most Saturdays I’m in Mom Mode, taking my kids to birthday parties or bike riding in Freedom Park. But every few weeks, I kiss them goodbye and head to what my husband calls “Mommy’s work.” My kids are too young to understand that where I’m going is an abortion clinic, the busiest and most fervently protested clinic in the Charlotte area. I’m there to be a clinic escort, a friendly and welcoming face to patients who are exiting their cars to the sound of people screaming that they’re going to Hell.
For hours I stand outside, in all weather, and listen to people – mostly men – on the other side of the clinic’s property line alternately begging women to come outside and accept their help, and calling them jezebels and condemning them to hellfire.
As a clinic escort, I’m not supposed to engage the protestors. I’m there for the patients only. But every day that I do this, every day that I listen to the people on the other side of the bushes lie about wanting to help women, I struggle to stifle the urge to scream: What about Amanda?
Amanda is a friend of mine who lives in Oklahoma. More than a decade ago, her son Max was diagnosed in utero with severe birth defects that would require several major surgeries. Amanda is ardently pro-choice, and Max’s diagnosis came within the legal limit for an abortion.
And remember, this was Oklahoma. The state with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. Surely a state like Oklahoma, which so deeply values the life of all children and mothers, would bend over backward to help a child like Max.
Sorry if I got your hopes up.
Max was born in 2004, Amanda wrote recently, “long before the [Affordable Care Act] could have stood between his pre-existing conditions and the insurance companies.
“We wrecked our credit, sold any assets we could, and nearly lost our home trying to get him the care he needed.
“Max died uninsured. The state high risk pool wouldn’t even cover him.”
By the standards of the people who protest outside the clinic, Amanda did everything right. She chose life. But what was her reward? A state that refused to help, an uninsured child with major medical issues, financial ruin.
And it’s the “pro-life” politicians exalted by clinic protestors who want to take us back to those days.
Though the ACA is far from perfect today – ever-increasing premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance still can’t guarantee a family won’t be snowed under a mountain of medical debt – it does provide many measures of comfort and security to families whose children have difficult medical issues.
Subscribers no longer have a monetary cap on the amount of care they can receive. They can’t be kicked off an insurance plan for getting a devastating diagnosis, and they aren’t required to pay a higher premium. Before the ACA, insurance plans could drop or limit coverage for a subscriber who participated in a clinical trial (a common occurrence for patients with cancer and other serious illnesses) – now they can’t.
And most importantly, a child with a pre-existing condition, like Max, can’t be denied coverage.
So I simply don’t understand when people who claim to be “pro-life” want to take these things away. When they want to turn over decisions to individual states such as what essential health services should be covered, and whether the ban on lifetime caps should be reversed. When they want to gut Medicaid and put insurance coverage for maternity and post-natal care in jeopardy.
I want to yell at them: What should Amanda have done? What would you have advised her to do?
What should any of these women do?
I ask these politicians that call themselves pro-life: You ask women to save their babies, but want to take away their means of getting medical care for those babies? When almost half of the births in the U.S. (and 60 percent of the births in South Carolina) are paid for by Medicaid, the same Medicaid you want to defund, it still seems rational to you to tout your respect for the unborn?
I have some personal experience with this, too – because I was uninsured when I was pregnant with my second child.
When I was pregnant in 2011-12, before the ACA went into effect, I was covered by a high-deductible individual health insurance plan. Back then, maternity care on this type of plan was only covered if you purchased an expensive rider. The rider was only available before you got pregnant, of course, which meant that if you had a surprise pregnancy, oops, none of your maternity care was covered. Prenatal, labor and delivery, postnatal – none of it.
When I chose our plan, I chose not to get the rider. It was incredibly expensive, roughly the same cost as the plan itself, and I wasn’t sure if or when I was going to need it.
Over the next few months, thanks in large part to a tax refund, we were able to cobble together $4,500 to pay for care at a local birth center. Unlike most of the mothers delivering there, I wasn’t really in it for the beautiful, magical, unmedicated experience of birthing in a room that resembled an Uptown Marriott. I was there because I didn’t have any other options that wouldn’t have bankrupted my family. My oldest child was born in a hospital, and I would have been perfectly happy having a second hospital birth.
I spent my entire pregnancy in a perpetual state of low-level panic. Literally any ailment that could be related to my pregnancy wouldn’t be covered by my insurance. I had had cholestasis, pregnancy-related liver disease, with my oldest – a disease that has a 90 percent chance of recurring in future pregnancies. Would I get it again? Or something worse? How would I pay for any of this?
In the end, I was extremely lucky. My pregnancy and birth were unremarkable, and I needed no medical interventions whatsoever. My midwife was wonderful, and the birth center experience was positive. But nine months of stress took its toll on my heart and mind, and I’ve never been able to shake the anxiety I felt during that time. It’s only grown.
And in a bit of a twist, I did end up needing maternity care – over a year after giving birth, when I developed mastitis. A quick trip to the doctor and a prescription for antibiotics cleared up the incredibly painful infection, but a few months later I was hit with a bill for the full amount of the doctor visit – $170.
The insurance company’s justification? Mastitis is maternity-related, and I didn’t have the maternity rider.
Back at the abortion clinic, I look at the women going inside. I hear the shouts of the people behind the bushes. I think about Amanda’s pregnancy, and my own. I think of the choices we had, and the choices that were taken from us.
Max deserved better.
We all do.
*Rachel Reed lives in the Charlotte, NC area. She is writing under a pseudonym to retain professional privacy.