On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States eliminated constitutional protection for reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. Like a lot of Texans, I spent the weekend in a state of shock, worrying about the next blow to our essential liberties.
Within a few weeks, trigger laws in the state will ban all abortion from the moment of conception except to save the life of the pregnant person or “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” The law also defines life as beginning at conception.
Meanwhile, a concurrent opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas listed several other cases that he feels the court should revisit, including Griswold v. Connecticut, which guarantees married couples the right to purchase birth control. Though the recent decision itself states that birth control access remains unchanged, conservative institutions have waged war on access for years.
In Houston, at least one major hospital system, St. Lukes’, makes patients sign a form saying they understand the hospital will not provide birth control even for non-contraceptive reasons, and businesses with a heavy conservative Christian culture successfully lobbied the Supreme Court to deny employees access to birth control. It would be naïve to think Texas Republicans will stop with banning abortion when they have already seen outstanding success in toppling other forms of reproductive choice.
All of this is makes me so sick to my stomach because I realize that if these decisions and policies were in place 14 years ago, my wife and I would never have been able to have a child. Republican “pro-life” policies would have made it literally impossible.
My wife and I started dating in 2000. Just days after we got together, she had to go into the hospital for the first of three laparoscopic surgeries to treat her endometriosis. The condition causes uterine tissue to grow in places it is not supposed to, such as the ovaries. Experts consider it one of the most painful conditions to have, and it can also affect fertility. It turns out ovaries dislike having invasive tissue growth or lasers aimed at them.
This was before the Affordable Care Act, and the protections that Republicans continuously try to roll back weren’t in place. For the next nine years, my wife played a horrible game of Russian roulette with her own reproductive system. Hormonal birth control was by far the most effective method of staving off the endometriosis and managing the pain, but many of the office jobs that she worked had insurance plans that considered birth control elective.
One year it would be covered, and the next it would not. Our choices often came down to paying for birth control out of pocket or paying the light bill.
The surgeries themselves fell under the same categorization. Insurance companies deemed all three of them elective, even when we would get a letter of medical necessity from her doctor. We ended up going hat in hand to her parents to beg them to pay for one of them because otherwise she would have to live in agony while her own body destroyed her reproductive system.
We married in 2005, and because of her health issues, we started trying to have a baby immediately before the endometriosis took the option out of our hands. Obviously, she went off birth control, leading to another flare up and surgery. By then, one of her ovaries was basically non-functional. After six months of trying, we started fertility treatments. Again, all of this fell under elective coverage, and we were in a race against the clock before she might need a fourth surgery.
By this point, we were so exhausted and despondent. It wasn’t enough that my wife’s body had turned against her. The constant, unending dysfunction of the American medical system built on a conservative capitalist model drained out any sense of control over the process. It was sorry after sorry as every system looked away from us.
Thanks to a combination of luck and good insurance at my wife’s latest job, we got one shot at in-vitro fertilization (IVF). For us, it resulted in a single embryo which thankfully implanted. Nine months later, our child was born, and the birthing process basically power cycled my wife’s reproductive system, and she has not had another flare up.
It’s a story with a happy ending, but it was also nine years of needless misery and near-poverty. My wife is now a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit, and not a month goes by where she doesn’t hear an IVF story. For a decade, it seemed like it was getting better, but we could never have started that journey in 2022, thanks to the cruelties of current Republican politics.
The GOP has gradually, but effectively, chipped away at birth control access since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. They never let an opportunity pass to deny it to people, whether it’s exempting companies from including it in insurance plans because of religious objections or steadily shutting down organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide it for low cost. No matter how many times we say that birth control is an essential medicine that protects fertility, the conservative powers that be turn a deaf ear.
Now that personhood at conception is nigh, IVF may also become impossible. While we had a single embryo that was implanted, it’s very common for there to be multiples. These extras can either be frozen, donated, or discarded. This wasn’t a problem before, but now it’s possible that such embryos could lead to a murder charge.
For the moment, fertility clinics are reassuring patients that IVF is still legal, but the status of these embryos is a legal gray area that will one day have to be addressed. In a state where Republicans were happy to outsource anti-abortion activity to random citizen bounty hunters, it’s reasonable to assume a zealot might accuse a clinic or a couple of abortion when they decide they don’t want to have six children from their frozen embryos.
This all comes from Republican politics, a thing that is either profoundly ignorant of reproductive facts or uninterested in them. Their quest to end all abortion does not consider what that even means. They put these laws in place with little to no regard for the messy business of reproductive medicine. Birth control is waved away as people skirting responsibility and the embryos of IVF are treated as an afterthought. It’s like if they ever stop to consider the minutiae of the problem, they’ll be forced to acknowledge that everything is more complicated and painful than 40 years of accusing liberals of being baby killers. They might have to see that what they want medical care in the country to look like isn’t very pro-life at all.
The world Republicans are crafting is one of pain and heartbreak. It blocks medical treatments on cruel whims and sets back fertility treatments by 30 years. It replaces this with cold indifference and a lot of nothing. My kid barely got born when the fight against personhood and birth control was in decline. These days, I don’t think that birth would ever happen.