Anusha Viswanathan’s first pregnancy was carefully planned and — at first — joyful.
After 12 weeks there were “minor hiccups”. Every test came back “slightly out of range.” She and her husband, both medical professionals, poured over medical journals trying to explain their meaning.
“We decided that this is a one-time thing. It certainly couldn’t be that all the possible things could go wrong in one pregnancy,” Viswanathan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in the Philadelphia area, said during a reproductive rights rally Wednesday on the Capitol steps. “Despiteall on that ordinary morning, we went to the hospital for our 20-week prenatal check-up.
But the couple was shaken when the ultrasound technician fell silent.
“We collapsed when the obstetrician was brought into the room to tell us that our extremely growth-restricted pregnancy was not looking good,” she said. “I needed amniocentesis, genetic testing, counseling — all of that now. Because there was a clock in Harrisburg that ticked, ticked, while my husband sobbed, and I lay motionless on the table, ticking as we clasped hands until they were white and numb.’
Time did strange things when the couple found themselves in limbo, “lost in a fog of uncertainty” where they could only “hurry up and wait, as the saying goes,” Viswanathan said. Their newly chosen apartment – chosen for its child-friendly layout – was “now soulful”. A box of pastries came to their home – “mountain cakes”. Viswanathan ate them exclusively for days, “the sadness and the sweetness mixing seamlessly on my tongue,” she described.
Or through “fate or chance”, Viswanathan became involved in dealing with a septic baby in the neonatal intensive care unit. With intravenous access almost impossible to find when they removed the infected drip, the parents eventually refused help “with broken hearts, compassion and love.”
She can still see her parents, the parallels now, how they suffered for their circumstances and Viswanathan suffered for her own. And then time ran out for Viswanathan and her husband, “for that horrible exam we never wanted, for the pregnancy we desperately wanted.”
The obstetrician who consulted her during the abortion was “consistently kind and competent”. She told Viswanathan that the decision was “right”. On the day of the procedure, the anesthesiologist looked at her chart and said, “I’m sorry,” she said.
After the abortion, Viswanathan and her husband went home to grieve.
“Bye-bye, my first pregnancy was guarded by nail-biting next two, carefully monitored through knowledge and observation,” Viswanathan said.
Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, who has been open about her miscarriages, broke down in tears as Viswanathan spoke — both knowing that while abortions are legal in Pennsylvania up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, there’s no guarantee that’s the way to go.
Just a day before Democratic lawmakers, doctors and reproductive rights advocates gathered on the steps of the Capitol to support the legality and availability of abortion, thousands of abortion advocates took part in Pennsylvania March for Life.
Republican lawmakers joined in celebrating the overturning of Roe v. Wade and touted a proposed constitutional changes which — if approved by voters — would amend the state Constitution to declare that “there is no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right related to abortion.
The measure was included in a five-point package of amendments Senate Bill 106, which passed the General Assembly in July. The governor cannot veto a constitutional amendment that must be passed by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions of the legislature.
Amendment package, the trial is currently ongoing filed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, could go to voters as early as May 2023 if it is passed again in the next legislative session.
The language for the abortion amendment came from a account introduced by Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, a former nurse, last year, who, along with Republicans and Democrats who supported the proposal, said the existing law would not change immediately. They also argued that the ballot question gives voters the final say on abortion access in Pennsylvania.
But on Tuesday, rally participants argued that the proposed constitutional amendment could have been fatal consequencesciting potential implications for access to contraception, in vitro fertilization, ectopic pregnancy treatment, miscarriage, and bodily autonomy in Pennsylvania.
“You can say whatever you want about our Republican friends, but they know how to read a poll. They know public opinion is not on their side in this case,” said Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, citing a recent survey a demonstration of support among Pennsylvanians for legalizing abortion in all or some circumstances.
Marianne Stein, legislative staffer for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while the issue would not automatically ban abortion in Pennsylvania, “its purpose is to allow the legislature to pass tighter restrictions on abortion.”
Jessica Clemens, an OB-GYN in Pennsylvania, said some lawmakers don’t understand that every OB-GYN performs abortions, saying they are necessary for some obstetric emergencies.
Clemens described cases where pregnant women bleed because they are about to miscarry. Clemens was performing a dilation and evacuation procedure, a type of abortion. If that pregnant person still has a fetus in the uterus with a heartbeat and receives a D&E, “that’s considered a termination of pregnancy,” she explained.
“The same thing happens when I am called to the emergency room to see a young person with an ectopic pregnancy. This person may be very excited that she is pregnant. However, with an ultrasound, she finds out that the pain she is experiencing is because her pregnancy is in the fallopian tube,” Clemens said. “On this ultrasound, there may be signs that this tube has ruptured and her abdomen is filling with blood. This will be considered a termination of pregnancy.’
Those patients, Clemens said, don’t have time to drive for hours in a car, ride in an ambulance or fly in a helicopter for care. They have moments, she said.
“I come across trauma cases to deliver my patient [operating room] operate on her to save her life,” Clemens said. “Hopefully I can save her fallopian tube, but it’s probably damaged. I could at least save her life.’