The way the law is written in our state I am guilty of criminal abortion.

I await the handcuffs.

First, we need to define abortion.

The definition of abortion in Idaho statute says “the use of any means to intentionally terminate the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman with knowledge that the termination by those means will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of the unborn child…” (18-604.1)

I know people have strong feelings about abortion, (killing babies) and these words are meant to address this. But laws are made of words. Our intentions are not ink on paper.

I treated a young woman early in my career who had successfully hidden her pregnancy until very late. It was unplanned, she was unmarried and ashamed. She had worn an overcoat into the summer.

When I examined her the size of her uterus was inconsistent with her due date, so I recommended an ultrasound. The scan revealed she was carrying a 38-week fetus with anencephaly.

Sometimes in the development of the fetus the nervous system does not do what it should. If the folds required to close off the skull don’t happen, the brain does not develop. My patient had a baby without a brain that had grown to full term size inside her. She had nurtured this fetus with her body, in shame, hiding it, but not “terminating it”. Now I needed to treat her, my patient.

Because of the conditions, I recommended she deliver, that is, “terminate her pregnancy”. Conditions were ripe. I ruptured her membranes and four hours later, her baby was delivered.

I knew, and I told my patient, the mother, the baby would not live. Some anencephalic babies do survive for a while. This baby never took a breath.

So, in this specific case, I used a “means” (rupturing the membranes) “to intentionally terminate…a pregnancy that would cause the death of an unborn child.” I am guilty of criminal abortion by Idaho statutes.

I could tell you of another patient I induced at 32 weeks gestation when we discovered her fetus to be anencephalic. This time I used drugs to get her uterus contracting. She had a family. She was Catholic. It was a decision she made with open eyes and open heart.

Many would oppose this decision. Some would even consider this criminal. Idaho does, according to the laws our elected representatives have written. I want you to consider this.

That baby did not take a breath either. But I accepted her decision and ordered the drugs and used “means” to cause the death of the unborn child. It was surviving inside her. But she wanted the pregnancy to come to an end. She did not want to keep sustaining this fetus.

I am guilty of criminal abortion.

Some want to have this moral and practical decision of terminating a pregnancy bend on the esoteric question of when “life” begins. I’m sorry, but we all must accept that all pregnancies will end. And some fetuses will not live. If the action of a caregiver leads to the end of a life, we all should mourn, as both these mothers and families did. But do you, someone not involved in this painful process have any right to tell the protagonists how they should choose?

I guess most Idahoans think that. The Idaho legislature has done everything they can to make abortion illegal.

I think the intent of these proclamations really is proper. All children should be nurtured, wanted, loved. We should all be doing all we can to make that ideal a reality. So, if that is our intent, do our words, do our actions reflect that?

I await your handcuffs.

In the meantime, I will keep treating my patients. We all need care.

Dan Schmidt is a family physician who lives in Moscow. Dr. Schmidt, a Democrat, served in the Idaho state senate from 2010 to 2016.

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