Few women who have abortions tell their stories publicly. Janie Schulman told hers to the Supreme Court. Schulman, a partner at Morrison and Foerster, shared her experience in a recent amicus brief filed on behalf of 113 attorneys who had abortions. The brief, which features Schulman’s name on the first page, is an attempt to prove to the court that Texas’ draconian antiabortion laws violate the Constitution. It details the many ways that abortions have helped women escape poverty and abuse, then rise to the heights of the legal profession. Its signers hope their stories will help the justices understand that abortion rights are—in the words of the court itself—critical to “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.”
I spoke with Schulman about her contribution to the brief, which details her own late-term abortion, as well as her hope for the future of reproductive rights in America. Our interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Stern: Why did you volunteer your name and story for the brief?
Schulman: Antiabortion activists engage in a lot of advocacy, lobbying, and attacks. They’ve helped attach a stigma to abortion that has made it difficult to get out the story of women for whom abortion was life-preserving or life-altering in a positive way.
I think it’s time that people hear these stories so that they know that abortion is not a decision we regret. Our abortions were vital to our continued physical health, mental health, families, and careers. People need to know that we’re not a bunch of irresponsible, feckless murderers. We’re women you know and love, women you see on the street every day, women you work with. We come from all walks of life. We’re educated. We’re blue collar. We’re every ethnicity and religion. It’s important for the world to see that, to see that our abortions aren’t some dirty little secret that needs to be hidden.
Why did you get an abortion?
My husband and I had a child in 1997. We tried for another, but over the next few years, I had three miscarriages in the first trimester. The fourth time I got pregnant, we made it past the first trimester. Around the second trimester, I had an amniocentesis and passed with flying colors. At that point, I finally let myself believe that this one was really going to make it.
Then, at 20 weeks, I went in for the “happy ultrasound,” when you see the first picture of the fetus. The doctor told me the fetus was suffering from hydrops. He sent us immediately to a prenatal cardiologist. As we were walking out the door, he told us, “Don’t be too optimistic.”
The next doctor confirmed that the fetus was extremely malformed and already had congestive heart failure. I got a second opinion from two women doctors, who told me there was a 10 percent chance the fetus would be born alive—and if he was, he’d have a 1 percent chance of seeing his first birthday. That would be a year of surgery, tubes, and ventilators. A year of horror. And after that, he would die.
I asked the doctors what they would do in my situation. I still remember the look in their eyes. One of them said, “you don’t know what this would do to you and your family—and the baby—if you went forward.” They advised that I abort.
Then I went to the University of California–Los Angeles medical library and read everything I could about the fetus’ condition. At the end, I decided it would be selfish to continue with the pregnancy. I’d be doing it for me, not the baby, who’d be doomed to a life of suffering. I couldn’t do that to him.
Suddenly I realized that I was about to become the poster child for late-term abortion.
Did you struggle to find a doctor willing to perform the procedure?
Yes. I went to my obstetrician’s office, but she told me she wasn’t allowed to terminate the pregnancy because it was too far along—between 21 and 22 weeks. So I asked if I could get it done at the hospital, but she said no, the hospital would just induce labor. Eventually, I had to go to a clinic in Los Angeles, which was one of the few places in the world that specializes in late-term abortions.
That limitation ended up really affecting me, because shortly after I got home from the procedure, I hemorrhaged. The clinic was an hour’s drive away, so I ended up at the nearest ER—at a Catholic hospital. I discovered that a Catholic hospital isn’t the best place to go when you’ve just had a late-term abortion. The obstetrician taking care of me said he knew the doctor who terminated my pregnancy, and said, “I don’t much like what he does for a living.” The whole experience became that much more unpleasant because of the stigma attached to abortion.
Did the stigma prevent you from talking about your abortion?
I was never uncomfortable talking about it, but I didn’t hire an airplane with a banner. For a long time, I would say I lost the baby. It took a while to use the word abortion. Now I can say it much more freely.
Why are you more comfortable talking about it now?
I’m further removed from it—I’m older and wiser. Also, I have an 18-year-old daughter, and it’s important to me that she understands that there’s nothing wrong or immoral about abortion. I want both my kids to know that this is an important right that needs to be defended.
You mentioned that you have two children now. Did you have another child after your abortion?
Yes, my son. He’s a freshman in high school. You know, I look at him now, and I see this science geek, the kind of kid who might discover the cure for cancer one day, or the cure for what doomed my pregnancy. [Pauses] Obviously, one person doesn’t replace another. But when I look at my son, and I see this inquisitive, empathetic, sweet human being—well, it convinces me that he was meant to be.