Arizona’s new 20-week abortion ban goes into effect Thursday, with very real effects for families expecting babies with fatal fetal defects. The Arizona Republic reports on volunteer services rising to the challenge of helping parents cope with the trauma of watching infants die within minutes, hours, or days of birth.
House Bill 2036, which measures a fetus’ gestational age from the first day of the woman’s last period, prevents abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy, making it the most extreme ban in the nation. Most fetal abnormalities are detected during this period, but the ban forbids abortions even when the doctor discovers a fatal defect. The woman must then carry to term a baby who will almost certainly die as soon as it is born.
MISS Foundation and Embrace are non-profits specifically working to develop birth plans for such families, provide counseling, and prepare funeral services. The Legislature has allocated no funding for these services, which are expected to kick into high demand once the abortion ban goes into effect.
About 100 pregnancies are terminated after 20 weeks in Arizona each year. According to Joanne Cacciatore, the CEO of MISS Foundation, one or two families a month currently seek their help preparing for a fatal birth. But they expect their resources to be stretched past maximum capacity soon. Cacciatore said:
This law may have intended to do good, but it can really adversely affect non-profit organizations that desperately want to help people but maybe can’t help the number of people who now come to us. We are already stretched very, very thin. I don’t know where this money would come from. […] They’re finding us on their own. I don’t know what will happen when the Legislature opens this up.
One family highlighted in the Republic’s report is working with Embrace to prepare for the birth of their daughter, who is missing most of her skull and brain. Julia Gonzales, a devout Catholic, refused to get an abortion but is now terrified of what her baby will look like:
I didn’t even have the idea in my mind to stop the pregnancy. And then two weeks after they told us, we saw her. She was a girl. But we never expected it would be this bad. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t stop the pregnancy…I’m so scared about seeing her. When I remember her, I don’t want to remember her looking like that.
The Gonzales family’s tragedy is just a hint of what is to come for the unknown number of women whose options have been eliminated by the Arizona Legislature.