Good morning. My name is Mary Vargas. I am a lawyer and a mother, and like most Americans I would lay down my life for my children. Like many women I never thought I would choose to end a pregnancy, but that was before David. As I make plans to visit the grave of my son on the anniversary of his death next week, I know that the choice a woman makes is not always what she would have anticipated before an abstract tragic reality became her own story.
As a lawyer, I represent people who are seeking dignity and equality. I represent both individuals with disabilities who experience discrimination and women who are denied insurance coverage for abortion care—because both in the end are about dignity and fundamental human rights. Because of my experiences, both personal and professional, I believe in a woman’s right to choose.
When I was 22 weeks pregnant with my very much wanted second son whom we had already named David, he was diagnosed with a fatal form of Potters’ Syndrome. His kidneys had stopped working and atrophied. As a result, his lungs could not develop. We prayed that we could hold him, regardless of disability, but our options were unspeakable.
We could terminate the pregnancy, if we could find doctors and nurses willing to provide care, and if we could pay for it out of pocket, since my husband’s insurance was restricted from covering abortion care. Or we could wait. We could allow our son to suffer without comfort, to feel his bones being crushed and broken in the absence of amniotic fluid, until he died in utero, or at delivery, suffocating to death in the absence of developed lungs. Two specialists confirmed that he had no chance at life.
We struggled with the moral questions, the ethical questions, the religious questions, the practical questions, and how to explain to our living child that his brother would not be coming home. We questioned the meaning and value of mercy.
We “chose” to end the pregnancy – not for us, but because choosing mercy was the only thing we could do for our unborn son. I would have liked to have held him. Yet, I know our decision was the right one for our child. I know because of this experience that many times the choice to terminate a pregnancy is made because a woman value’s life: because she or her unborn child, or both is dying, or because they are suffering towards no purpose.
It wasn’t a choice I would wish on my worst enemy, but I’m grateful the choice was mine.
As a lawyer, I carry in my heart the words of a client who described what it felt like to lose her child. Late in her pregnancy, despite the best prenatal care, she faced a devastating medical diagnosis that her baby was missing a main part of its brain and would likely not survive or only survive in a vegetative state. She considered her unborn child’s suffering, and made the difficult decision to end her pregnancy. She described feeling as if she would literally go insane with grief at the loss. In this devastating time, she discovered that her ability to make the choice to terminate her pregnancy—a choice which she and her husband and her faith leader believed moral and right—was restricted by her state government and her insurance carrier.
Not only did she have to go through the hell of ending her very much wanted and loved pregnancy, but she had to do it across the country far from her home and loved ones because care was not available in her state. And she had to obtain legal counsel, and spend more than a year appealing to her insurance company before they would finally agree to cover the more than $17,000 she had to pay out of pocket for the abortion care she needed.
In the end, what I know to be true both as a professional and as a mother, is that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that can never be understood at a distance. It is because of these real life experiences with abortion, that I am appalled by the legislative efforts that deny the complexity of abortion, and the freedoms at stake. Neither the Smith Bill nor the Pitts Bill is a simple codification of existing restrictions on abortion (of which there are, already, many).
This legislation is a deliberately crafted framework designed to remove abortion as an option for women, regardless of their circumstances. These bills would put women’s lives and health at risk, and prevent women like me from exercising their own faith and morality. This cannot be who we are as Americans.
The National Abortion Federation (NAF) is the professional association of abortion providers in North America. Our mission is to ensure safe, legal, and accessible abortion care to promote health and justice for women. Our members include health care professionals at clinics, doctors' offices, and hospitals, who together care for more than half the women in North America who choose abortion each year. For more information, visit our website at www.prochoice.org.