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University of Michigan doctor reflects on her abortion

5/3/05 Elaine Pomeranz, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine.
Marcia Ledford/UM Photo Services, Marcia L. Led
5/3/05 Elaine Pomeranz, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine.

Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, people of childbearing ability across the United States have had their reproductive care options taken away, severely limited, or jeopardized. The Supreme Court decision has sparked outrage for some and joy for others. The change can also bring back memories of times when abortion care access was limited, or completely nonexistent.

In 1992, after years of waiting for the right time and struggling with fertility, Dr. Elaine Pomeranz found out she was pregnant. She had just started her career as a pediatrician at Michigan Medicine, and everything seemed to be falling into place.

I was 36 at the time, I had genetic testing and everything was fine. I knew I was having a girl at that point and I was really excited. But, you know, as a physician, as a pediatrician, I've seen that things don't always work out,” Pomeranz said.

At 26 weeks pregnant, Dr. Pomeranz went in for an ultrasound, ecstatic to see her baby girl for the first time. The results changed things forever. After looking at the ultrasound, it was evident the fetus Dr. Pomeranz was carrying had hydrocephalus, also known as fluid in the brain. The fetus’s cranium was almost entirely filled with fluid. If left alone, the fluid would continue building up. It was then that Dr. Pomeranz had to lay her expectations to rest and evaluate the best way to move forward for herself and her family.

“The pediatric neurosurgeons were kind enough to consult and said, ‘Let's follow this for a couple of weeks and see if the brain is growing or not.’ And so we lived in that limbo for a couple of weeks, and it wasn't happening,” Pomeranz said. “At that point, we realized that she wouldn't have a life. She wouldn't have a thought. She wouldn't have the ability to think or smile.”

Once finding out the true nature of her daughter’s condition, Dr. Pomeranz had to make a decision. She could either carry the fetus to term and take her chances, which would also put her at risk of premature delivery due to the fetus’s growing head, or she could opt for an abortion. Ultimately, she decided to spare her daughter a life that would most likely be painful and short, seeking a surgical end to the pregnancy.

“I've taken care of babies like that, and they end up needing all kinds of surgeries and they suffer. They cry. But the ones who are so badly, severely afflicted as my fetus was, I wouldn't have gone to term, first of all,” Pomeranz said. “So on top of everything else, she would have been premature. So therefore, there are all kinds of other complications.”

Although Roe v. Wade was the law of the land at the time, she was too late to receive an abortion in Michigan, being late in her third term. A colleague put her in touch with Kansas physician Dr. George Tiller, one of the few providers willing to perform late-term abortions to people with medically compromised pregnancies. There, she was able to have a safe procedure while ensuring that her daughter didn’t have to suffer any pain.

I felt safe. I felt that my idea of a daughter was safe, that this fetus was safe, that nobody was going to hurt her,” Pomeranz said. “The rest was just hard for me, going to be hard for me, but not for her anymore.”

The decision to have an abortion wasn’t easy by any means, but Dr. Pomeranz was confident that it was the best decision for both herself and her daughter. She knew that she wanted more for her daughter than a life of constant surgeries and resuscitation. Afterwards, Dr. Pomeranz went on to have two healthy sons and a long career in medicine. According to her, having an abortion made all of those things possible.

If she were resuscitated, if other people made that decision for us, she would have been in and out of the hospital all the time,” Pomeranz said. “I would not have been able to keep my job. I mean, I would have been at home with her. The other thing is, depending on how long she lived, I don't think I would have had my children that I have now.”

As someone who chose to terminate a wanted pregnancy at a time when abortion care was still limited, Dr. Pomeranz has firsthand experience with the kind of issues that are being debated in legislatures across the country. After making that difficult decision for herself and her family, she says that exceptions for rape and incest simply aren’t enough. When it comes to pregnancy, Dr. Pomeranz believes that access to safe abortion care is crucial.

“You can have a crisis at any point in a pregnancy,” Pomeranz said. “I don't know anybody who would say, ‘Oh, I changed my mind in my third term, let's abort this baby.’ No, that's not the situation. I just don't think you should make sweeping decisions for other people about this most personal part of their lives. It's not an easy black and white decision.”

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Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.
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