Having already given birth twice, Anne Smith had few concerns going into her third pregnancy. The news that it had failed blindsided her.
“Hearing that my baby had stopped growing and had no heartbeat was devastating,” she said. “I truly felt angry with God for the first time in my life.”
Adding to Smith’s suffering was the fact that her body refused to give up the fetus.
“Going about every day,” the Highland resident said, “knowing that I was throwing up and completely miserable for my baby inside of me that had already died was excruciating.”
For her own sake, as well as that of her husband and children, she had the fetus removed.
The decision was difficult, but one she was grateful she felt free to make on her own. Smith is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposes most “elective abortions” but allows for them when the fetus is, as in Smith’s case, no longer viable. And at the time — before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade — there was no question of its legality.
“Before I thought that abortion wasn’t something that I needed to get involved in or have an opinion on because it didn’t involve me,” she said. “Boy, was I wrong.”
The fact that Smith uses the term “abortion” to describe her experience may surprise those who associate the term with the termination of a healthy pregnancy, but she is hardly alone.
Indeed, a call by The Salt Lake Tribune for Latter-day Saint women’s abortion stories yielded five other responses like Smith’s — women who identified as having an abortion after undergoing medical procedures to remove the aftermath of a failed pregnancy.
According to Maryland OB-GYN Diane Horvath, they’re not necessarily wrong to do so.
In medical terms, pregnancies that end in miscarriages are known as “spontaneous abortions,” while an “induced abortion” refers to the termination of a healthy, viable pregnancy.
“Either way,” Horvath said, “the medical term is ‘abortion.’”
Terminology isn’t the only form of overlap. As Smith’s experience demonstrates, spontaneous abortions don’t always resolve on their own. When this happens, they require medical procedures similar to those performed during induced abortions to remove fetal tissue the body has failed to pass naturally.
According to Horvath, state laws “usually” do a pretty good job distinguishing between these two procedures.
Usually — but not always, partly due to the many cases that don’t fit neatly into either category.
Emily Miller knows firsthand the pain and confusion that can come with finding oneself in this in-between place.
A Latter-day Saint living in Idaho, she was 19 weeks pregnant when she discovered that her and her husband’s “hoped-for, waited-for, prayed-for baby” had a form of dwarfism that later was confirmed to be lethal.
Miller held onto the pregnancy for as long as she could, unable to bring herself to choose a death date for her son named Daniel. Only when Daniel’s development began to put her own life at risk did she go in for a cesarean section.
“He was born alive and given oxygen,” Miller wrote in a Facebook post she shared with The Salt Lake Tribune, “and he was held and loved by his parents.”
In the brief window before his lungs gave out, Daniel received a blessing from both his father and grandfather.
“I held him and kissed his forehead,” she wrote in the same post, “and told him his mama loved him for his 32 minutes on earth.”
The fact that some — including, according to Horvath, some within the medical community — would categorize her experience as an abortion feels tragically wrong to Miller.
“Whatever a person’s stance is on abortion,” Miller said in an interview, “it should be easy to see” that her situation was “fundamentally very different” than one involving the termination of a healthy pregnancy, “and shouldn’t be conflated in our language or laws.”
Painful and ‘sacred’
In contrast, Julie Michaud, another Latter-day Saint woman who terminated her pregnancy due to her own health complications, is adamant that she received an abortion.
Like Miller, Michaud wanted to continue the pregnancy but had to have an early cesarean section after complications threatened her life.
Michaud’s doctor cried with her and her husband, Adam, as she signed forms acknowledging the early delivery “would end in the death of our sweet baby Eliza.”
Still, the Ogden woman begged the doctors to do everything they could to try to save her daughter.
The odds were slim. On top of being so premature, Eliza was small for her age, measuring closer in size to a 21-week-old fetus. Nonetheless, the doctors heeded Michaud’s wishes, whisking the newborn off to the neonatal intensive care unit as soon as the procedure was over.
In the end, Eliza survived for seven months before succumbing to complications brought on by her early entrance — a period Michaud describes as both deeply painful and “sacred.”
Given the intent to save Eliza, Horvath said she leaned more toward classifying Michaud’s procedure as a birth but acknowledged that was a somewhat subjective label.
Ultimately, Horvath said, the fact that a case like Michaud’s is so difficult to categorize is evidence that there is “no way” for states operating in a post-Roe world to write laws “that carve out exceptions that are going to respect everybody’s experiences.”
Michaud echoed this sentiment when reflecting on the abortion debate generally.
“‘Abortion’ is such a trigger word,” Michaud said. “You’re either for abortion or against it. But what I found is that it’s not black and white. It’s 3 trillion shades of gray.”