My Body, My Choice

After last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade, I invited Associate Medical Director for Women’s Health Kim Cardoso, CNM, NP, to share her thoughts with the staff of LifeLong. Like many others, I strongly disagree with a judicial decision that takes away the rights of women to make their own healthcare decisions. — David B. Vliet, CEO

By Kim Cardoso, CNM, NP, Associate Medical Director, Women’s Health

When I heard the Supreme Court’s decision to take away the right to choose the outcome of a pregnancy, I was on my way to visit Estonia for the first time. Now, for me, this trip to explore my family’s quest for freedom and the court’s devastating decision to lift a constitutional right to healthcare will be linked forever.

In 1944, as Russia seized Estonia, my family, along with 80,000 Estonians, fled. Unwilling to live under another oppressive occupation, a third of the population left everything in the name of freedom. They walked for days, carrying what they could, escaping without knowing where they would land.

When my 20-year-old grandmother checked into a German refugee camp, she was asked if she wanted to be repatriated to Estonia. The processing form documents her response: “Only when my country is free.” This assertion was no surprise from the one who, after seven years and one baby in the camp, immigrated to the United States. The one who wore a T-shirt that said, “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE HOUSE… AND THE SENATE.” The one, when asked why she had eight children (before 1973), replied, laughing, “They were all condom accidents.”

So much is poignant about this trip, my first to our homeland, and now the Supreme Court decision sears a timestamp in my personal roots journey. I will forever be able to flip back through these new memories and say, here, after all my family did to move forward, here is where we went backwards. Here is where the dream of freedom started to unravel.

Before I let my mind race about what this means for my work as a midwife caring for people having — or trying not to have — families, I process what it means to reverse nearly 50 years of reproductive rights. Last week’s decision takes away our constitutional right to choose a basic healthcare service. Already now or within weeks, abortion will be a criminal act in 13 states, with more expected to follow. 

Entire regions of the U.S. will be without access, meaning people with money and privilege will need to travel to terminate a pregnancy, and everyone else will be forced to carry an unwanted or life-threating pregnancy to term, resulting in greater financial insecurity and threatening the  health and safety of their families. Worse, the judicial reasoning behind this decision puts other constitutionally protected freedoms at risk, including who we can marry, what kind of sex we can have, and whether we have access to contraception.

In a few days, I will see where the Estonian flag was first flown after 48 years of Russian occupation. I will not let this regression of freedom, no matter how deeply threatening, steal the moment. I will move forward. I will hone my coping skills, spend more time laughing and in the garden. I will work to be a sanctuary for our patients, those who need it most. I will hold the image of my three-year-old mother standing on the bow, passing the Statue of Liberty on the approach to Ellis Island, a new world ahead. 

For my grandmother who sacrificed literally everything, my mother who assimilated into the promise of freedom, and my children on the brink of adulthood, I am heartbroken, and I am mad. I am also moved to action. I will march, and for sure, like my grandmother, I will get new T-shirts for myself and my daughter. They will say: “MY BODY, MY CHOICE.”

I hope that you, too, can find ways to support yourselves and others in our ever-changing world and in our hard and essential work at LifeLong. Let’s join together to protect the freedoms of choice and healthcare rights all of us and our future generations deserve.

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