The Ohio State legislature passed a bill earlier this week that would outlaw all abortions after a heartbeat was detected, and it does not allow exceptions for rape or incest. If Ohio governor John Kasich signs this bill into law, it would effectively make abortion illegal in his state, since most women don't even know they're pregnant at six weeks. And it would also have unintended consequences that should give even the staunchest pro-lifer a pause: it would make life much harder, and possibly kill, some women who are having miscarriages.
Dr. Tamara Mann Tweel is one of those women whose lives could have been put in jeopardy by a heartbeat law. What happened to her in Ohio in 2012 is bad enough: Her doctors were in unanimous agreement that her fetus would not survive outside the womb because its organs were outside its body. But because the baby still had a heartbeat, the procedure she needed to have for her own health was categorized as an "optional abortion," and it was very nearly not covered by insurance. She had to wait 24 hours and sign an "informed consent" form before she could have her D&C (dilation and curettage, a process that clears out the uterine lining). Having to go through this extra step when she was already crushed is something she describes as "unusually cruel and totally absurd."
If you think that women like Dr. Mann Tweel would be allowed to have therapeutic abortions, even with a heartbeat law — the story of Savita Halappanavar is instructive. She lived in Ireland, where abortion is technically allowed for the life of the mother, though it's otherwise illegal. But because her baby still had a heartbeat, she was denied the care she needed, and her life was lost, too.
Dr. Mann Tweel, who is the director of strategic development at Hillel International's Office of Innovation and an instructor in the Freedom and Citizenship program at Columbia University (and a mom of two), was kind enough to answer my questions even though it's such a hard thing to talk about.
The saddest part of this story, in a way, is that Dr. Mann Tweel already spoke about her experience to Ohio legislators considering an earlier version of this heartbeat bill — she testified before the Health and Aging Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives in 2014. And they were unmoved. As she put it: At times she felt "that they were willing to sacrifice me, to sacrifice women like me, for what they claimed was a significant moral gain."
If you live in Ohio and you do not want this cruel bill passed, call Governor John Kasich at (614) 466-3555. If you can't get through, email him here. If you live outside of Ohio and want to help, donate to Planned Parenthood's Action Fundor to the ACLU.
Jessica Grose: What was the medical diagnosis your baby received and how far along was the pregnancy when you got this diagnosis?
Tamara Mann Tweel: At my 13-week sonogram, I found out that something was terribly wrong with my baby. The doctor pointed at the image and explained that the organs were outside the body, the hands and feet were misshapen, the neck was abnormal, and one of the limbs was either missing or stunted.
I left that room terrified and desperately sad. I wanted to have a baby. I wanted to have this baby. Later that day, I received a phone call from my OBGYN, who told me that he had looked at the images, shown them to the doctors in his practice, and that there was unanimous agreement that my fetus was not compatible with life. It would not survive outside the womb. I should have it removed immediately. Waiting was not an option. I was told that any delay would seriously increase my health risks, as the fetus could die in the womb and cause a life-threatening infection.