What was lost, what was gained: Women share abortion stories with Supreme Court

Kate Banfield and Tammy Romo-Alcala have never met. But more than 25 years ago, the two women found themselves in the same position: freshmen at university, pregnant and afraid of derailing everything they had worked for.

The two women, one day each remembers vividly, walked into an abortion clinic in Dallas.

It’s what happened when they left, and in the weeks and decades that followed, that puts them worlds away from the biggest abortion case heard by the Supreme Court in a quarter century.

Banfield, who graduated from college and is now a mother of three, said she had no regrets. “I knew I had done what was right for me,” she said.

Romo-Alcala, who dropped out of school and had two children before having a hysterectomy at 28, said she should have had the baby. “Women need to know that your life doesn’t continue to be the same,” she said.

Tammy Romo-Alcala at a pro-life rally. Romo-Alcala, who had an abortion in her freshman year of college, told the Supreme Court in an amicus brief that she regretted the decision. (Family photo)

The landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe vs. Wade, was built around an anonymous woman. No one knew ‘Jane Roe’ was really Norma McCorvey (now an abortion opponent) until a ruling was made in 1973. More than 40 years later, as the High Court prepares to rule a decision in a case challenging Texas’ strict abortion regulations. , the judges heard from more than 200 women in briefs from friends of the court who publicly disclosed their private abortion experiences, along with their names.

Some of the women, including Banfield, had not shared their stories beyond their immediate family and friends. Others, like Romo-Alcala, were open before lawyers and lawyers encouraged them to be.

There’s no way to know if the judges will read their words as they weigh the issues in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt . But academics who study the Supreme Court say there has been a dramatic increase in the number of amicus curiae briefs filed with the High Court – an increase of more than 800% since the 1950s – and that judges are increasingly citing them in their opinions.

“As to whether they ultimately matter, nobody knows,” said Allison Orr Larsen, a law professor at the College of William and Mary whose research focuses on the Supreme Court. “What is known is that judges are using amicus briefs with increasing regularity.”

In fact, Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, who is considered a key vote in the Texas case, cited an amicus brief in another major abortion decision, in 2007. Kennedy wrote to the period: “Although we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems irreproachable to conclude that some women come to regret their choice to abort the infantile life that they created and maintained. See Sandra Cano et al. »

Taken together, the stories contained in memoirs on both sides of Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt present an intimate portrait of abortion in America that reflects a broader social movement to remove the secrecy and stigma surrounding the procedure, with hashtags such as #ShoutYourAbortion.

South Texas’ only abortion clinic, located in the border town of McAllen, has become a battleground for abortion activists on both sides. (Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

They also talk about the strategies of lawyers who may not agree on much except that it’s time to talk about what was once unsaid.

“A woman’s abortion experience is often a deep, dark and painful secret,” reads an excerpt from “3,348 Women Hurt by Abortion.” “The information provided to this Court by [these women] is crucial.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is acting as the clinic’s attorney in the case, echoed the importance of hearing from those who understand firsthand what’s at stake.

“It always makes a difference when the reality of our constitutional protections comes to life,” Northup said, pointing to the court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. “Whenever you hear of a Supreme Court case, it’s not just about principle. It’s about people and what it means for their lives.

At the Heart of the Texas Case: How Far Can States Restrict Abortion Clinics? Restrictions that lawmakers say protect women’s health, but abortion providers say make it difficult for women to exercise their constitutional right to the procedure? Abortion providers say full implementation of the 2013 law in Texas would leave a state of nearly 28 million people with as few as 10 clinics.

Northup said it wasn’t hard to find women willing to share their abortion stories. A memorandum for the applicants is signed by more than 100 lawyers. In another, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis (D), Ohio State Representative Teresa Fedor (D) and other elected officials describe their experiences. In yet another, women range from educators to doctors to a minister.

In a brief filed by the nonprofit Advocates for Youth, 26 women are named, including Debra Hauser, president of the DC-based organization. She begins her story like this:

“In 1995, at age 35, I found myself alone, pregnant and caring for my six-month-old son. My husband went to work one day and didn’t come back.

It ends thus: “To this day, I am certain that choosing an abortion was the most responsible, moral and loving action that I could have taken – for myself and for my son.

Hauser said she wasn’t always forthcoming with her story. That changed in 2011, when a younger colleague brought up her own abortion at a meeting, and Hauser replied, “You know, we’re not that different. I too had an abortion.

Now the group has collected around 1,000 stories and plans to publish a graphic novel and produce a second piece based on some of them as part of its 1 in 3 campaign, named after the commonly quoted statistic that 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion. at age 45 (this number was based on the 2008 abortion rate, which has since declined.)

Hauser is one of many mothers in the memoirs who describe choosing an abortion over making the lives of their existing children more difficult. Others tell of realized dreams and successful career paths that would have otherwise gone off the rails.

But there are also dozens of women who tell of their continued grief, as well as the complications resulting from the procedure, including the hysterectomies that prevented them from having children.

Jacquie Stalnaker was a recent 1988 college graduate, new to the district and engaged, when she found out she was pregnant. After her abortion at a Bethesda clinic, where she begged the doctor to stop mid-procedure, she walked out to find her fiancé gone and her life changed.

“Half my life I mourned a child I never met,” said Stalnaker, 50, from Alabama. She named the child Lilly Gabrielle and said she later miscarried and was never able to get pregnant again. “Now I’m in my third year of menopause, and that hope is gone.”

Stalnaker said she didn’t tell her parents about her abortion for 15 years, even after she hemorrhaged and ended up in the hospital. She now works as a pro-life lobbyist and wants the public and Supreme Court justices to know what’s at stake. “They need to understand that this is real, and it hurts and damages women, and sometimes women don’t. can’t get over it,” Stalnaker said.

Tammy Romo-Alcala was the first person in her family to go to college. So she left no choice to her boyfriend when she found out she was pregnant in 1991. They later got married and had two children together, but they didn’t talk about l abortion in Dallas before 2012. When they finally did, Romo-Alcala said, they cried for two hours.

“If I had known what I was getting into at the time, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Romo-Alcala, now 44 and a high school registrar. She said she struggled with depression and a drinking problem, and painful scar tissue led to her having a hysterectomy at 28.

This year, she will finally graduate from college, stepping onto the same stage as her senior. Talking about her experience, she says, helped her heal.

“For so long I thought I was the only one,” she said. “Now the reality is that there are a lot of women who feel the same way I do, and we need to talk about that.”

Kate Banfield had told her husband and three children, ages 14, 16 and 18, about her abortion in Dallas nearly 30 years ago. But before she could agree to participate in the Supreme Court case, she had another person to talk to: her father. Early one morning, she typed an email to him describing how, in 1987, as her freshman year at Stanford University was coming to an end, she found out she was pregnant. How more than anything, she wanted to be a mother one day but knew she wasn’t ready then. How she uttered the ’10 power’ rowing phrase – used to nudge rowers to find a new depth of strength – as she walked with a friend with her arms tied past a man shouting in her face and in a clinic that performed the procedure.

“I didn’t tell you and mom because I knew what I was going to do and didn’t want any of you trying to influence me otherwise,” Banfield wrote in that email. “I grew up that summer. I learned to trust myself. »

Banfield, 48, who met her husband at Stanford and has dedicated her career to working with children, said she was unsure how her father would react. But within hours he responded. He told her he stood by her decision – both the one she made at 19 and the one she was making now.

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