Routt County weighs in on abortion debate
Editor’s note: To protect her identity in discussing a controversial and sensitive topic, Steamboat Pilot & Today has changed the name of the woman discussing her abortion.
Julieth has no words to describe how she felt when she looked down at the pregnancy test and saw two pink lines, signaling a positive result.
Terror, shock and distraught feelings all came to mind, but ultimately, Julieth only remembers the tears that flowed and the pounding sensation that pulsated through her chest as she realized what it meant to be 15 years old and pregnant in a Latin American country that outlawed abortion in all circumstances except in very rare cases of physical harm to the mother or fetus, or proven rape.
“I wasn’t ready,” Julieth remembers.
After approaching her mother with the news, she walked to a nearby pharmacy, quietly pulled out the positive pregnancy test and begged the pharmacist for help, knowing that if anyone saw the interaction, she and the pharmacist both risked a hefty fine or jail time.
The pharmacist then handed her eight pills — four to take orally, and four to insert intravaginaly. Days later, Julieth began bleeding and experiencing what she described as “the most extreme, horrible pain I’ve ever had.”
She spent days weighing out the fears of being caught having an illegal abortion with needing a hospital visit, and ultimately walked into the nearest hospital and explained the situation.
The doctors discovered the fetus was stuck in her body, which caused excessive bleeding and pain.
The reality facing the U.S.
Julieth, who now lives in Steamboat Springs, said she is worried that her story will become reality for many if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, a ruling in 1973 that made it possible for women to seek abortions without undue burden.
Justices heard arguments last week from Mississippi attorneys representing a state law that would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
While justices will not rule on the case until 2023, legal experts expect the court’s four conservative justices — who have a majority — to uphold the law, effectively striking down Roe v. Wade and allowing states to create their own laws on abortion.
Neta Meltzer, director of strategic communications for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said such a decision will most heavily impact low-income women, women of color and transgender people, all of whom already face discrimination and barriers to accessing health care.
“For those who have the means, the options will be to travel to states who do allow abortion,” Meltzer said. “For those who do not have that option, there will be people who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will.”
Even if a parent chooses to put their child up for adoption, Meltzer said carrying a pregnancy for nine months can drastically impact a person’s life, especially if the pregnancy brings any extra medical complications.
“I don’t think the importance of access to abortion can really be overstated,” Meltzer said. “It’s something that allows an individual to control their own life, and I think that’s really what’s at stake here.”
Ultimately, Meltzer said overturning Roe v. Wade will only emphasize issues that already exist in the U.S. health care system, where those with means have access to procedures and life-saving medication, and those without means do not.
“Access to abortions should not depend on your zip code, and that’s unfortunately what were going to see happening,” Meltzer said. “Many people would say that the goal is to control women’s bodies and control women’s reproductive rights.”
The right to life
The Rev. Ernest Bayer at Holy Name Catholic Church believes the abortion debate comes down to where life begins, and when a fetus becomes a baby.
“According to our theology, which is based on scripture, the child becomes a human being at the moment of conception,” Bayer said. “I realize that some may see that as extreme, but I’m not sure where we draw the line otherwise.”
Bayer said he believes every person should be granted access to life. Once a baby is born, Bayer said he believes in helping the child through life and until it reaches natural death, a perspective he called “pro-life all-around.”
In discussing when a fetus becomes a baby, Bayer pointed to instances in which pregnant women were killed in car crashes and the defendant in the crash was charged with the murder of two people, which he said points to the fact that some pick and choose when a fetus is a living being and when it is nothing more than a clump of cells.
“We consider them human beings who are vulnerable and should be treated with dignity and respect,” Bayer said. “If a baby really is a human being, then it should be called murder.”
Bayer said he hopes the Supreme Court lets each state choose its own path in how to handle abortion, adding that he would see any restriction as a victory.
“The Supreme Court is just trying to look at that and say that maybe it’s up to Mississippi to decide,” Bayer said. “That’s a way of then saying that any other state that has an issue can decide for themselves.”
A state’s right to choose
Pete Wood, chair of the Routt County Republicans, also hoped the Supreme Court kicked the issue back to the states.
Wood said abortion has been a litmus test for potential Supreme Court justices over the past several decades, and allowing states to make their own decisions would help depoliticize the court, which is supposed to be free of partisanship.
“States and state citizens can decide what is morally best for them, regarding abortion,” Wood said. “I think it will help repair a lot of the damage that’s been done to the Supreme Court in terms of selecting judges going forward.”
Wood declined to share his personal thoughts about abortion, but felt that communities should provide support to mothers who are not prepared to raise a child but are looking to adopt.
“I think adoption is an alternative that is too often overlooked,” Wood said. “We have a lot of very special children out there who look for a loving home, and I think that’s an option that’s not considered enough.”
While he acknowledged adoption can be a difficult process, he believed more community support for expectant mothers can reduce the need for abortion.
“I just think that abortion is a very knee-jerk, immediate and obviously terminal decision that could really impact the mother later down the road,” Wood said.
Should the government dictate a woman’s body?
Julieth believed the reason her abortion was so dangerous was because abortion was not only illegal, but heavily stigmatized in her home country.
“I decided to (have an abortion) because I was thinking of my future and the future I would’ve given to that creature,” she said. “I was just 15 years old.”
Ultimately, Julieth feels like the Supreme Court outlawing abortion would not actually stop women from seeking the procedure, it would just drive them to dangerous, illegal means.
“People die from having bad procedures,” Julieth said. “That’s the thing, people are going to go anyways, people are going to go take the risk of doing it, and I’m afraid of that.”
Jennifer Bock, a Steamboat-based attorney and organizer of the Women’s March on Steamboat Springs, said states making the decision for women takes control away from those who are most heavily impacted by the issue.
“Essentially if the Supreme Court says its all up to the states, that’s really disappointing, because it’s a fundamental right for women,” Bock said. “They wouldn’t find that there’s any constitutional right to an abortion, so states could regulate it however they choose.”
Bock said the issue is incredibly personal and should be up to a woman, without any interference.
“Leave the choice with the woman,” Bock said. “Don’t put it in the hands of government, or religion or even a doctor.”
What will Colorado do?
Three Democratic lawmakers — Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver, Rep. Meg Froelich of Greenwood Village and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar of Pueblo — announced Wednesday they plan to offer a Reproductive Health Equity Act in the 2022 legislative session.
Routt County Democrats Chair Catherine Carson said she is hopeful that the state will codify abortion rights as soon as they can.
“We need to make sure that Colorado is a legal and safe place for anyone seeking access to the right to reproductive care,” Carson said. “That should be a right throughout our country.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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