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'I’m angry that the government has taken the choice away from me': How the Roe v. Wade overturn impacts career women

Protests Continue Across Country In Wake Of Supreme Court Decision Overturning Roe v. Wade
Tasos Katopodis
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In all of the conversations following the overturn of Roe V Wade, there’s a group that’s been largely left out of the discussion: career women planning to have children at an older age.

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion that was upheld for almost 50 years no longer exists and leaving abortion access decisions up to the states.

In all the conversations about access to reproductive health care following the decision, a local listener felt something was missing: The decision's impact on people considering having children, or having more children, later in life.

For many women, including this listener, waiting to have kids until you’re established in your career is common. However, the older you are, the higher the risk for complications for both the mother and unborn child are. The CDC finds that pregnancy complications are in the top 10 leading causes of death for women between 20 and 45 years old. These factors may make abortion the right medical choice to preserve the life or mental health of the mother.

Because of the overturn of Roe and new uncertainty in how much freedom doctors may have if something goes wrong, some people are putting aside their plans of having children, or having more. This was the case for this woman, who wishes to remain anonymous.

"There's a lot of people, women in particular in my field, I'm a scientist and career women in general who wait to have children until we're older. Because we want to establish our careers first in order to have a stable place where we are in our lives when we're having children," she says.

This group of women often fall into the "advanced maternal age" or "geriatric pregnancies," where both them and their children are at a higher risk of many complications. "And those people are now not being served because of the Dobbs decision," she notes.

This woman is a scientist and professor at a university, and has three young children. Her oldest son was born in Europe and the other two kids were born in Wisconsin.

"It's really unusual in my field for women to have kids while on the tenure track... but given the political situation now I'm glad I didn't wait," she says.

On average, a woman in any field in academia or science takes approximately five to 9 years to get a PhD, then spends three to five years as a post-doctoral researcher, followed by a tenure track job for about seven years.

"You count up those years ... you're looking at 19, 20 years. So you graduate from college at age 21-22, so you add 20 years and you're looking at 41, 42 years-old [to start having a family]," she explains.

She notes that she was working for another woman who also was a mother when she was working abroad, which was another rare situation. And that circumstance helped her to feel comfortable making the decision to start a family during that point in her career.

In the country where she gave birth, she got 14 weeks paid leave, with the option to take a year at two-thirds salary. She got a monthly check after the baby was born to cover extra expenses incurred by having a child, and also had the option of a midwife to come to their apartment everyday for free for two weeks after leaving the hospital to make sure the baby and mother were healthy. Compared to her birthing experiences back in Wisconsin, she says it's clear how differently mothers and families are supported abroad compared to the United States.

Women who are waiting to have children being largely left out of the conversations surrounding the overturn to her is indicative of the stigma around who is associated with seeking abortions. The common narrative is that they're young, irresponsible, weren't thinking of the consequences and making rash decisions. "I don' think that that's necessarily true and that's not what the data necessarily shows," she notes. "And particularly, I think it's important to recognize that there are women — like women in my field — we are planners."

"We are not making unplanned decisions, we are not making rash decisions. There are people out there who do have medically indicated abortions who were planning to have children, who really wanted those children. And we're an example of that — women in science, women who are career women," she adds.

Once she heard the news about the overturn of Roe, she says that she and her husband decided they would not have another child. "We looked at each other and we were kind of like, 'I don't think we're gonna do four.' Every pregnancy was a little bit harder... with the third it was more complicated," she notes.

With the ruling, doctors in Wisconsin now don't have as much freedom to choose how to treat the mother, she notes. And if something goes wrong, "I want to know that my doctors are able to make the right choice to save the life of me. I already have three other kids, I don't want them to grow up without a mom, but I don't feel comfortable in this state anymore that the doctor will be able to make the decision they need to make on the spur of the moment when they have to consider instead, 'Well is this legal? Is my career on the line?'"

I don't feel comfortable in this state anymore that the doctor will be able to make the decision they need to make on the spur of the moment when they have to consider instead, 'Well is this legal? Is my career on the line?'

While she says not having another child was the logical choice, there is of course still the emotional impact.

"That's hard for every mom I think when you know you've had your last child, but the fact that the government has kind of dictated that this is my last child, that makes me kind of angry. I think that’s a fair statement. I’m angry that the government has taken the choice away from me, because as a scientist I can’t make a different choice, logically," she says.

She wants people to know that this ruling impacts everyone — regardless of your age or gender.

"This matters to all of us because pregnancy and childbirth, they're still a really risky undertaking," she says. "And everyone does it and so it doesn't feel that risky, but it is. So this decision just makes it that much more risky to undergo."

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Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
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