(Source: The New York Times)
My Wife’s Abortion Was Hard, But Others May Soon Have It Much Harder
One Texas couple shares their story about why today’s historic Supreme Court abortion case matters.
Anton Schlesinger and his wife Nicole drove to the abortion clinic in their hometown of Dallas. It was a sweltering day in June 2013. Four protesters waved their “Abortion Is Murder” posters at the car as they pulled into the parking lot. “It’s not fair for them to pass judgment on us,” Anton said, trying his best to reassure, as Nicole wrapped her arms around her stomach. They got out of the car and tightly held each other’s hands as they brushed past the sign-wavers and into the building.
Anton opened the waiting-room door to find the space packed with dozens of patients. Most of the women had men sitting beside them. As Nicole and Anton made their way to the last open seats, he tried not to look too long at any one person. Accidental eye contact would’ve been too much, so he trained his eyes on the small televisions dotting the quiet room, wondering about the other men there.
Is that her dad?, he thought, glancing at one pair who were significantly different in age. I wonder what their story is, he pondered, darting his eyes toward another young couple. His gaze fell back on his wife, the only woman in the room who was visibly pregnant.
Anton never thought he’d be sitting in an abortion clinic with a wife nearly 22 weeks into her pregnancy.
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 700,000 legal induced abortions were performed in the U.S. in 2012. But it’s rare to hear women speak about their experiences and almost unheard of for men talk about it.
“It’s a real taboo subject. People don’t want to be judged,” Anton says. “Guys need to talk about it a lot more. Abortions happen to women but men don’t realize it affects them, too. It’s their wives, their daughters, their sisters. It’s something that affects us all.”
Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, an historic case challenging a 2013 ruling from a lower Texas court that could impose new requirements that would effectively leave just 10 abortion clinics in Texas.
It’s the first abortion case the Supreme Court has heard in a decade and will set a precedent that determines whether or not other states can enact their own stricter abortion regulations. This week, more than 100 women submitted briefs to the court to oppose the Texas law.
Anton says he and Nicole first decided to tell their own story publicly a few months after their abortion. Until now, that meant Nicole stepping forward. Before he’d gone through the situation himself, Anton had never heard another man’s abortion story. Now he’s ready to share his.
Anton and Nicole’s families joke that Nicole was the first girl he ever met. Their parents were friends in Dallas, and soon after Anton was born, a 3-year-old Nicole met and held the tiny newborn. A photo of the moment still exists. The pair lost touch, but reconnected nearly three decades later, in 2011. Anton, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, came home to Dallas for Mother’s Day. One night, while out for drinks with some old friends at a bar, he saw Nicole walk in the door.
They recognized each other immediately, and she sat down next to him to catch up. They ended up talking late into the night about their lives, which had taken them away from Dallas. They’d both moved to New York then Los Angeles. Nicole had recently returned to their hometown after a divorce and was teaching pilates for a living. Anton was smitten.
He told his mom about running into Nicole, and their instant connection. She told him he’d slept in Nicole’s hand-me-down crib as a baby. The next day, he flew back to L.A.
He and Nicole began talking, and then dating, and then visiting one another. Soon enough, Anton moved back to Texas. A year after their fateful run-in, he proposed. Three months after that, they were married. A few months after that, over dinner, Nicole told Anton she wanted to start trying to conceive.
Nicole got pregnant right away.
The first trimester went smoothly. They began referring to the fetus as Tutu, a gender-neutral nickname Nicole made up. Nicole didn’t have morning sickness, only the occasional headache and extreme food cravings. “I was constantly hungry,” says Nicole. “I remember telling Anton so many times to drive like a monster on fire to the Mexican restaurant.”
She signed up for an email newsletter that said how big the fetus was week-to-week. They’d mark each update with a walk around the lake to talk about what they wanted their family to be like. They had a room in the house that would become a nursery, but they held off picking out furniture until they found out the gender. Anton pored through an advice book for expectant dads.
The morning before the appointment where they’d get their first sonogram that, at 19-and-a-half weeks, would reveal the gender, the couple was giddy. When they got into the examination room, Anton took photos and recorded videos of Nicole on his phone.
The technician pulled up the sonogram and told them they’d be having a boy. But then, suddenly, the mood in the room changed.
“I remember it being really quiet,” Anton says. “The technician eventually said, ‘The femur is measuring really short.’ I’m like, ‘Our boy’s just going to be a point guard. It’s fine!’ But the technician wasn’t really responding to my attempts at making light of the situation.”
The doctor came in and looked at the black-and-white image moving on the small screen. She reiterated that things weren’t measuring correctly and recommended that they see a specialist at the hospital. Nicole left the appointment crying.
Twenty-four hours later, they met with the fetal care specialist. “Ah man, it was tough,” Anton says. “We went in for another sonogram. The doctor was nice, but her delivery was ice-cold. She said, ‘Things aren’t measuring correctly— the femur, the arms, the head, the heart. There’s a constellation of abnormalities.’ My whole confidence got really bleak. All of the sudden, the conversation turned to, ‘You need to start considering what your options are.’ It took a moment for what that meant to sink in.”
“The doctor brought up terminating the pregnancy,” Nicole says. “But she recommended that we first have an amniocentesis,” a process by which amniotic fluid is extracted from the uterus for testing. “She made it clear that the amnio would help us understand what was causing the abnormalities. Regardless, the abnormalities existed one way or another. It was a 10-day turnaround for the results, which was a horribly long time to wait.”
As they made their way out of the exam room, Anton led Nicole to a group of seats in the hospital waiting room. “We sat down, just completely deflated, and we had a real heart-to-heart talk,” he says.
They don’t remember who first broached the topic of terminating the pregnancy. “I think that we were feeling the same thing,” Nicole says. “We said ‘If there’s no chance for this baby to have any happiness in life, then we have to terminate the pregnancy. We can’t bring a child into this world only to suffer.’ It was a very clear-headed moment. There weren’t tears then. It was a huge gift that we were on the same page.”
On the way home, they called their parents to tell them the news and asked everyone to gather at their house. When Anton’s mom got out of the car, she was sobbing, barely able to walk up the stairs to get inside. Once everyone sat down, they told their parents they’d decided to wait until the amnio results were back, just so they had as much information as they could.
“There were two situations in front of us, and both of them were horrible,” says Nicole. “One was that we brought a child into the world who would never have a normal life and would probably only live a few months. And then there was this other possibility, which I think we all felt very, very grateful for, that we could terminate the pregnancy. Our parents were all very supportive.”
For the next 10 days, they waited. Nicole’s expanding stomach was already attracting questions and well wishes, so she chose not to leave the house—it was too painful to deal with comments from her pilates clients and strangers at the grocery store. Anton continued going to work at his marketing firm, unable to concentrate on even the smallest task. “Everything else seemed superficial and not important,” he says.
In the midst of that waiting period, Anton had to go to Austin on a work trip. When he got to the airport, he decided to confide in his colleague, who was also a friend. “As we were waiting to board the airplane, it was on my mind so much. I had to tell somebody,” he says. “He just said, ‘Oh my gosh, I cant believe it,’ which was comforting. He was just there for me.” It was the only non-family member he told.
When Anton returned home, they got a call from their doctor telling them that all of the tests they’d run didn’t indicate any chromosomal abnormalities. So Nicole received an MRI and a second sonogram. With both sets of parents in the exam room, they found out that, in the short amount of time since their last checkup, the fetus’s condition had worsened. Now there was fluid coming into the lungs and the rear cerebellum was absent. It was unclear how much longer the fetus would survive, and if the baby was carried to term, how long he would live.
“We’d made our decision the first time we saw the fetal specialist, but we hadn’t committed,” Anton says. “At this appointment, after the MRI, we were confident, ready to move forward and make appointments with the abortion clinic.”