A woman with short, reddish brown hair, wearing a black face mask, holds a handmade sign that says "Our Rights Are Not Up for Debate" during a protest outside the home of U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on May 11.
Abortion-rights advocates stage a protest outside the home of U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on May 11 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
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Hearing the underwater mechanical thumping of an ultrasound machine monitoring a fetal heartbeat felt miraculous. And terrifying.

I was sleeping on the floor of an apartment with no furniture and going to the food bank at my parents’ church to have enough to eat. And I was going to be a father. I had so little knowledge of what that was going to entail that I wasn’t particularly worried about it. I was a kid about to have a kid.

But there was no whooshing thumping sound at the next OBGYN appointment. The fetus was there on the monitor. The heartbeat was gone. That’s how we knew there had been a miscarriage.

Two intensely difficult things followed: some number of days living with the knowledge she was carrying around a dead fetus inside her, and the eventual appointment with a doctor at Maine Medical Center.

My heart sank somewhere near the bottom of my stomach when we got that referral. I recognized the name.

When I was 14 or 15 years old, I’d been among a small faction of evangelical Christians and Catholics who’d picketed outside this doctor’s suburban office and on the sidewalk outside the hospital entrance with signs that said “Abortion is Murder” and “Don’t Kill Your Baby,” or which simply featured poster-sized pictures of aborted fetuses.

With some distance, I’d definitely started to question what my parents and their church had handed down as the “absolute word of God” when it came to the subservient “role of women,” the inherent sinfulness of people attracted to the same sex and various other societal and political pronouncements based on loose and selective interpretations of portions of Bible verses. 

But I was about to meet face-to-face with someone I’d known, by name, as a monstrous baby killer. 

The interaction ended up being as professional as one could expect. He was kind. He performed the procedure. He answered all of our questions. Everything you’d hope for from a doctor caring for a patient. 

That appointment was a long time ago. Safe and legal access to abortion had been the law of the land since Roe v. Wade was decided, before I was born. 

Since then, I’ve mostly avoided the topic. It was partly reluctance as a cis man to be out there offering up my opinions on the reproductive rights and bodily autonomy of women. It was partly reluctance to admit that I’d so fundamentally changed my mind about something that both sides of the issue tend to see in very black and white terms.

Mostly, I was tip-toeing around something that eclipses every other issue for many of my extended family members. And I risk alienating them by writing this. 

While my siblings range from Trump supporters to moderate/never-Trump Republican to progressive, those who have shared their views on abortion remain strongly opposed to it, just as we were raised.

With the U.S. Capitol looming in the background, hundreds gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court May 3 following news that justices were poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to ban abortion without exceptions. (Matt DeRienzo/Public Integrity)

But we were also raised with propaganda from the John Birch Society. We went to a conservative evangelical Christian therapist who said in one session that most family problems stem from a wife not obeying her husband. We were raised in a church and home where tax cuts and kicking people off welfare and opposing immigration and dismantling programs aimed at ending racial inequity were God’s will. Where you were turned away when seeking refuge from an abusive husband because you must submit in your marriage. Where teachings about the evil of homosexuality conflicted with a sibling being gay. 

Long after I actually read books about history and science and experienced a diversity of human relationships and experiences and realized how wrong and warped all of this was, I guess I still maintained an empathy for those who followed this brand of organized religion. How could I not? I understood, because I’d been there.

I lost that empathy a few years ago when my child told me they wanted to stop seeing my mother because she told them God only recognizes two genders. I finally stopped talking to my mother after she suggested I was responsible for the murder of babies because I was not actively advancing the anti-abortion cause.

One can be spiritual, religious, a Christian, agnostic or an atheist and respect those with different beliefs but have zero tolerance or patience for this stuff. It’s not based on the teachings of Christ. It’s an organized, abusive, manipulative misinformation campaign. It predates the Trump era by generations but is similarly rooted in feeding men’s power and greed. Before this religious faction was pushing misinformation about the science of vaccines, it was building an entire political movement around misinformation about the science of abortion.

Safe and legal access to reproductive health care has been of life-changing importance to so many women I know, so many women you know, and countless number of people we don’t know but whose fundamental humanity and equality is as important as our own.

Today, I read about what is happening in places such as Texas, and what is about to happen across more than half the country, just as a start, and I think back to my own experience.

First of all, I don’t even know how well-equipped doctors would be to safely perform the procedure we needed depending on where we lived. It was treatment for a miscarriage, but it was an abortion procedure, performed by a doctor who specialized in providing abortions.

And if a doctor — or, say, a cop — started asking questions about whether she’d miscarried on purpose, my rage, even as a naive and brainwashed young man, would have been nuclear. 


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Matt DeRienzo

Matt DeRienzo is editor-in-chief of the Center for Public Integrity. Previously, he was vice president...