Pregnancy is no temporary burden

After an easy pregnancy with my first child, I was still left with hip joint pain that didn’t subside until nearly two years after he was born, and only then after a more than $1,000 course of physical therapy that wasn’t covered by insurance. My second pregnancy was more challenging—I got gestational diabetes, which means that for the rest of my life, I’m at higher risk of developing Type II diabetes. Getting medical care for permanent or semipermanent effects like these and others is no guarantee, especially for low-income women, those without health insurance, or those who simply lack the time and resources to hunt down the specialists who can help. While other countries like France ensure women are supported in managing the lingering effects of pregnancy—offering postnatal pelvic floor therapy as standard care, for example—in the U.S. many of us are given a single postpartum check-up at six weeks and sent on our way, despite recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for doctors to provide more follow-up care.

Even for those of us who can seek out and afford follow-up care after pregnancy, medical sexism and racism mean Black women and other women of color face an uphill battle getting doctors to take our health complaints seriously, meaning we can go without treatment until it’s too late. The risks are exacerbated since people who give birth in the U.S. have almost no time to recover before returning to work, thanks to the country’s lack of mandated paid parental leave. In fact, 1 in 4 mothers returns to work just two weeks after giving birth, putting them at risk of both long-term physical effects and mental health issues like postpartum depression.

Still, as far as pregnancy impacts go, I recognize that comparatively, I got off lightly: My own mother very nearly died after giving birth to me, and in just the last few years I’ve seen close friends struggle with painful and sometimes life-threatening complications both during pregnancy and after giving birth. All this against the backdrop of a country with some of the most abysmal maternal mortality rates in the world, both for Black women like us and for pregnant people across every race and ethnicity. But those are all risks we chose for the sake of bringing very much wanted children into the world. The notion that those risks should be forced upon someone for the sake of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, that people’s bodies should be pressed into service even at the risk of permanent damage or death is incredibly violent, no matter how anti-abortion advocates and justices try to normalize it.

And the lasting burdens of pregnancy aren’t just physical, they’re economic. Being pregnant is a task, one that requires significant investments of time and money that many people simply do not have. The doctors appointments alone, which start out being only once a month but ramp up to weekly by the end of a pregnancy, can eat up hours of time in travel, sitting in waiting rooms, and finally meeting with doctors. And for anything other than a perfectly standard and healthy pregnancy, the required time investment multiplies. While my first pregnancy was uneventful, my second came with complications, which meant that on top of the regular OB-GYN appointments, I was subject to additional testing and monitoring, so I was regularly missing hours of work at a time. Before all is said and done, pregnant people can easily spend upwards of 20 to 40 hours in less than a year dealing with pregnancy and childbirth-related medical care, and that’s not accounting for a postpartum hospital stay of two days or more and the recommended recovery period of six to eight weeks. While I was able to use paid sick leave and vacation days for all the appointments during both my pregnancies, there’s no U.S. law requiring employers to offer either, let alone paid leave to recover from childbirth.

People working low-wage jobs without flexibility, paid sick time, or paid leave—jobs where Black women are overrepresented— feel these burdens disproportionately, as every hour spent on prenatal care may be an hour of lost wages, or could even get them fired. And while anti-abortion advocates argue those challenges are temporary, in reality the consequences of lost wages and job loss can be catastrophic and long-lasting, from psychological distress to long-term earnings reductions, and difficulty reentering the workforce.

What’s more, all that medical care costs huge amounts of money. Even with insurance, families end up paying upwards of $3,000 out of pocket for prenatal care and childbirth-related expenses. Those without insurance can end up staring down costs of up to $30,000. The resulting medical debt can keep people from seeking and obtaining health care they need later in life, and working to pay it down long-term means that some go without food and other basic necessities. And because most women who seek abortions already have children, the high costs of pregnancy can also make it more difficult to provide for any children they already have—unless Coney Barrett proposes they give those kids up for adoption too.

Coney Barrett’s cavalier attitude toward forced birth willfully ignores all those consequences to make a bad faith argument that the sole burden of pregnancy lies “narrowly” in the “the state requiring the woman to go 15, 16 weeks more” to complete a pregnancy rather than getting an abortion at 23 weeks of gestation. In reality, states poised to ban abortion are prepared to force those who can become pregnant to put their lives at risk and endure permanent physical changes and lifelong financial consequences to bear children against their will, whether they give them up for adoption or not.

Notably, at least one Supreme Court associate justice took note of the real stakes of the argument before the court: “When does the life of a woman and putting her at risk enter the calculus?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. For anti-abortion advocates and the Supreme Court’s conservatives, the answer appears to be never.

Prism is a BIPOC-led non-profit news outlet that centers the people, places, and issues currently underreported by national media. We’re committed to producing the kind of journalism that treats Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other invisibilized groups as the experts on our own lived experiences, our resilience, and our fights for justice. Sign up for our email list to get our stories in your inbox, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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