To protect abortion rights, we need to start talking about miscarriage

Women who have miscarried know first-hand that a pre-term fetus is not a baby, we must use our voices and our standing as mothers to protect abortion access
A demonstrator holds a "Pro-women pro-choice" sign at a Stop Abortion Bans Rally in St Paul, Minnesota. May 22, 2019. Photo: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

The sound of a miscarriage is silence. 

Women who will detail every push of their twelve-hour labor to a stranger in an elevator often won’t tell their closest friends they’ve had a miscarriage. We won’t even admit we’re expecting until we’re 16 or 20 weeks along, lest we be forced to come back and tell people we lost the pregnancy.

So women and our partners grieve — or not — alone. Our silence harms not just us, but, crucially, it allows people who want to control our bodies to flood the zone with gross mischaracterizations of our biology and our lived experiences.

Many of us said nothing when Rep. Paul Ryan defended imposing his Christian values on women seeking abortion by rhapsodizing about seeing a “bean” on his wife’s ultrasound. We allowed Justice Anthony Kennedy to make laws based on his gut instinct that “it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”  

And most recently, our silence caused us to cede the field to Texas Republicans, who passed a six-week abortion ban, exploiting a quirk of obstetric terminology and the taboo on discussing menstruation to obscure the reality that this includes about two weeks pre-ovulation, when a woman is definitely not pregnant. If we talked openly about our cycles — if it wasn’t too vulgar to mention our own biology in polite company — we’d point out that pregnancy is only detectable two weeks after fertilization, when you are four weeks along, according to Texas math, leaving just fourteen days in which to access abortion care. 

In our defense, it wasn’t so long ago that a Michigan politician was barred from the state house floor for daring to use the word “vagina.”

The fact of the matter is that there are millions of women who know what it’s like to be pregnant one day and not pregnant the next, even if we’ve never needed an abortion. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, approximately one in four pregnancies ends in a spontaneous abortion, AKA a miscarriage that takes place before the 20th week of pregnancy. This means that most women will experience a miscarriage at some point during their reproductive lives.

Those of us with large families are intimately familiar with this reality. We know what it’s like to get pregnant, and we know what it’s like to get un-pregnant. That’s a cohort which likely includes Mrs. Ryan, Mrs. Romney, and Mrs. Paxton, and every other political wife taking care of several kids while her husband works diligently to destroy women’s rights.

Those of us who have been at this a while are not scared teenagers who can be manipulated by descriptions of tiny fingernails. We know that childbirth is, quite frankly, gory, so we’re not about to get squicked out when a protestor shoves a bloody photograph in our faces. And we understand that a pre-term fetus is not a child, because we have quietly gone about our business after those miscarriages that we were never supposed to talk about. 


Every woman’s miscarriage experience is different — just like every woman’s pregnancy and abortion experience is different. For some women, the sadness and loss will be profound. But the vast majority of us didn’t hold funerals for those “beans” when they fell out of our bodies, although we might have to if those vile fetal remains laws keep getting passed. We didn’t name them. We don’t count them among our children, not least because the societal expectation is that we’re not to mention them at all. 

We are fine, just like the 95 percent of women who do not regret their choice to have an abortion and experience none of the residual sadness Justice Kennedy imagined for us.

Now the Supreme Court has functionally gutted Roe v. Wade by allowing Texas’s abortion ban to take effect. Texas’s legislators put a $10,000 bounty on pregnant women’s bodies, and the highest court in the land feigned confusion as to whether allowing random citizens to enforce the law with civil suits would chill the right to abortion access. Spoiler Alert: It did. And on December 1, the Court will hear a case out of Mississippi which explicitly invites the justices to overturn both Roe and Casey, allowing the state to ban abortion at 15 weeks. It is vanishingly unlikely that abortion will be legal in all 50 states a year from now.

Meanwhile, women are braving massive online harassment for sharing their abortion stories publicly in a desperate attempt to counter the paternalistic narrative that abortion harms women. They are swimming against a tsunami of misinformation about fetal development and the physical and emotional effects of abortion, not to mention divulging personal details of their own medical history. It’s far past time for those of us who have had spontaneous abortions to use whatever moral authority we have as mothers to stand with them.

As unfair as this is, being a parent of three or more children gives you a certain street cred — it’s hard to call someone a brazen hussy if she’s loading her kids in the car for Little League. In 2013, Nancy Pelosi famously shut down a reporter trying to goad her into answering a gotcha question on abortion:

“I want to tell you something. As a mother of five children — my oldest child is six years old the day I brought my fifth child home from the hospital — as a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this,” she said sternly. “I don’t think it should have anything to do with politics and that’s where you’re taking it, and I’m not going there.”


It’s time for mothers, whether they have needed abortions or not, to talk about the realities of getting un-pregnant. No one wants to talk about their miscarriage — it’s tender, and personal, and no one else’s business. But there are unhinged misogynists and theocrats out there trying to control our bodies (and someday our children’’s bodies) by screaming that ending a pregnancy is a tragedy that causes long-lasting trauma. They will slut shame any woman who dares to say otherwise, and they will make offensively callow arguments that Roe is now obsolete because today it’s easy to access childcare and balance parenting and a career. Yes, this is something the Mississippi Attorney General said this week, in the midst of an acute childcare crisis.

Someone has to tell the truth here, because the anti-choice brigade will lie their faces off without batting an eyelash.

So, I’ll start.

In the summer of 2004, I was five weeks pregnant, which means I was seven weeks pregnant, according to the state of Texas, and thus would have been unable to access abortion care under the state’s draconian new law. I didn’t feel pregnant, but we were “trying,” and on day 28 when the test was positive, I high fived my husband and went back to taking care of our older kids. When the spotting started three weeks later, I called my OBGYN, who advised me to take it easy and call if there were any problems.

There weren’t. I cried in the kitchen while I was making dinner, and that was it. My husband was very sweet to me that night, but then again, he always is. Three weeks or one week later — there’s that pesky math again! — I was pregnant again. 

Of course, every miscarriage is unique. Many women will grieve the loss of a wanted pregnancy, particularly if they have struggled with infertility. And the physical toll of miscarriage is much greater later on in pregnancy. 

Still, especially those of us with large families fundamentally understand that a pre-viable fetus is not a child. We know that a “bean” is not a baby. We know that sometimes you’re pregnant on a Tuesday, and not pregnant on a Wednesday, and that’s just a part of life. 

Just like abortion. 

It is incumbent upon us to say so right now, in this moment when a bunch of religious fanatics have finally seized the federal judiciary and are about to make it fully illegal for women to control their own bodies.

Use your voice, Mom. Stand up for yourself and for your kids and their futures. Silence is no longer an option.