Rachel Hudson and her husband had their first serious discussion about leaving the country in the days following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion foreshadowing the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
They’d tossed the idea around previously with each passing headline: attacks on voting rights, book banning, gun violence, housing price inequities. But the 37-year-old Northglenn resident said the notion of having a Constitutional right stripped away — thereby allowing the government to legislate control over her body — was almost insurmountable.
“I feel safe in Colorado and very grateful to live here,” Hudson said. “But if those protections fall here, I’m ready to go… I try not to let myself dwell. But I am not sticking my head in the sand. Unless that sand is in Costa Rica, and we’ve moved to escape the insanity happening in the States.”
The U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago, meaning women of reproductive age don’t know life before the landmark ruling guaranteed the right to an abortion. If the court overturns Roe this month as expected, abortion will remain legal in Colorado after lawmakers enshrined the right in state law in April.
Polling has shown the majority of Coloradans, like the majority of all Americans, support abortion rights, and voters in this state have rejected bans or limits on abortion five times since 2008.
But knowing the procedure will be outlawed immediately in large swaths of the country if Roe falls — and could be banned nationwide by a future Republican-controlled Congress — weighs heavily on the Colorado women who are tired of toggling between rage and exhaustion over the threat to their bodily rights.
Dr. Sarah Nagle-Yang, a reproductive psychiatrist with Women’s Behavioral Health and Wellness on the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, cares for women with mental health conditions centered around their reproductive health, from pregnant people to those struggling with menopause.
Lately, she’s hearing from women anxious about losing the full scope of their reproductive health options on top of so many other crises: a baby formula shortage, women balancing work and family during the pandemic, mothers with children too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19 who are dealing with health anxiety, and on and on and on.
“There’s been this ongoing period of so much uncertainty and fear and stress for so many people and, in particular, women and, in particular, women of reproductive age,” Nagle-Yang said. “There is this anxiety about what is going to happen with the right to a legal, safe abortion — a concern that our society is choosing not to trust women to make decisions about their own health and life and when they’ll have a child. It’s just such a huge concern.”
The Denver Post spoke to five Colorado women about the mental health strain they’re feeling as the anticipated reversal of Roe v. Wade looms — as well as some women who are elated by the prospect.
“Trapped in my body”
Isabel Aries’ beloved nephew was two weeks old when she found out she was pregnant.
“Having my nephew around cemented that I did not want to have a baby because I love him so much and just am not in a stage in my life where I could take on what my sister and her husband are doing,” Aries said.
Aries got an abortion in October. She said the proximity to a potential federal ban made her feel like Indiana Jones snatching his hat out from under a rapidly descending doorway.
The 23-year-old Denverite said there’s not an ounce of regret in her about getting an abortion.
“My apartment has lead water in it,” she said. “I was working three jobs and didn’t have savings to provide for a child. Plus, I help provide child care to my sister and her husband, and that helps my family.”
But Aries is in therapy working through the anguish she experienced harboring an unwanted pregnancy.
“Even when I had my abortion appointment booked, just the sensation of feeling trapped in my body and that there was an intrusion in my body — it was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Aries said. “Not enough people understand what happens when you’re pregnant and absolutely do not want to be. It’s horrible.”
Now, Aries fears getting pregnant again. She’s considering what long-term forms of birth control might be an option for her after an IUD didn’t work well with her body, she said.
“I’m angry!” Aries said. “It feels hopeless. I’m thinking about what I need to do to make sure that I don’t ever get pregnant again. I could always change my mind, so I don’t want to do anything permanent yet. But being pregnant was horrible physically and mentally.”
Aries praises therapy, her supportive family and her new kitten, Poppy, for easing the sinking feelings she has around her reproductive health.
“Poppy is exactly the level of caretaker that I’m able to be right now, and she is perfect.”
A new Underground Railroad
Hudson is a new mom to a 5-month-old daughter.
Baby giggles get Hudson through difficult days — days in which she says she barely recognizes her country.
“I am an American, but this isn’t the America I signed up for,” Hudson said.
In 2020, Hudson had an ectopic pregnancy — a non-viable pregnancy that happens when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus’s main cavity. If left untreated, an ectopic pregnancy can cause life-threatening bleeding.
Hudson had her non-viable pregnancy ended through medication.
If Roe falls, she fears what could happen to women like her who needed to end a pregnancy to save their life.
The optimistic side of Hudson wants to believe this moment in history is rock bottom and will spur greater change in protecting women’s right to bodily autonomy. If she starts to spiral, Hudson worries this is a harbinger of a future in which her daughter experiences fewer rights than her mother was afforded.
“If she is unable to make decisions about her own health, this is not the country for her,” Hudson said.
While she waits to see which fate awaits her daughter, Hudson is hopeful Colorado will hold its doors open to women seeking abortions.
“I support a new version of the Underground Railroad and am happy to take in women and families who need the help,” Hudson said.
“Reverting back to an old time”
Erika Marks’ seizures returned in the days following the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.
Prior to that, she’d gone nearly six months without one. Her seizures, she said, are trigged, in part, by stress. Her anxiety catapulted at the thought of a Roe v. Wade reversal.
“It feels like we’re reverting back to an old time,” Marks said.
Marks, a Denver mother to 10- and 12-year-old girls, had an abortion when she was 16.
“When I think about how different things would have been had I been forced to have that child, it breaks my heart,” Marks said. “My entire life has been challenging enough, financially and health-wise, without that burden. So many women will have their lives put on hold and in danger if Roe v. Wade is reversed.”
A child, she said, should not be “punishment” for sexual activity.
“They should be wanted and supported,” Marks said.
Marks was born to a teen mom and saw the struggles her mother endured. She didn’t want that life for herself.
She never regretted her abortion, she said, and had children when she felt ready.
After the birth of Marks’ second daughter at 25, she had a tubal litigation — a form of permanent birth control.
One doctor refused to perform the procedure, she said, arguing that her husband was OK with it now, but what if they got divorced and her next husband wanted to have kids? Marks said it was appalling to be denied medical care in deference to an imaginary man.
“No matter what a woman chooses, she will be negatively judged for it,” Marks said. “Stay-at-home mom? Lazy gold digger. Working mom? Selfish and neglectful. Had an abortion? Irresponsible for having sex. Child-free? Tearing apart the fabric of society. Single mom? Should’ve tried harder to make it work. Partner is abusive? Should just leave and live in a women’s shelter. And so it goes.”
For some, feelings of joy and relief
For some Colorado women, though, the leaked draft decision has brought unbridled joy.
Elizabeth Timpe, 34, of Windsor has been waiting for this moment — the end of Roe v. Wade — her whole life. The pandemic was hard on Timpe’s mental health and brought on panic attacks and anxiety, but she said she now has renewed hope for the unborn.
She quoted the Denver Catholic Archdiocese Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s testimony against the bill that guaranteed the right to an abortion in Colorado when he said that abortion makes the government God and denies babies the right to life.
“Pro-life issues are at the forefront of my mind and is pretty much one of the only things I think about on a daily basis,” Timpe said.
Timpe hopes to see the Colorado legislation “that denies the most vulnerable the right to life” reversed as well.
Mary Jo Koltuniuk, 64, of Golden said she felt fantastic and relieved when she heard about the leaked draft decision, adding that it was a start in the right direction.
“The unborn woman has just as many rights as any other woman,” Koltuniuk said.
Koltuniuk repeated a false claim that women who have had an abortion are more inclined to mental health issues afterward such as depression or anxiety.
According to the Turnaway Study, the largest study to examine women’s experiences with abortion and unwanted pregnancy in the nation, women who have an abortion are not more likely than those denied the procedure to have depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation. The study found 95% of women reported that having an abortion was the right decision for them more than five years after the procedure.
Kelly Kinsella responded to the leaked draft opinion by getting on a second form of birth control — a pill in addition to her IUD — for fear of becoming pregnant.
The 35-year-old Denverite feels “hopeless and full of fury.”
Kinsella has suffered from severe endometriosis — a gynecological condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing pain and, possibly, infertility — since she was a teen.
Doctors told Kinsella if she were to get pregnant, she had a high likelihood of having an ectopic pregnancy and would need an abortion to survive.
“I know now that should I choose to move and Roe vs. Wade would fall, then I could only move to states that would allow me to survive should I get pregnant,” Kinsella said. “I am a second-class citizen and who I am is not as important due to me being a woman.”
Kinsella said she’s had the same ovary reconstructed twice, but no doctor would remove it on the off-chance she decided to have kids down the line. The bureaucracies, costs and condescension of navigating the health care system as a woman have been maddening, Kinsella said.
If Roe gets reversed, Kinsella worries about what rights might be next on the chopping block. Interracial marriage? Gay marriage?
“What’s next?” Kinsella said. “The sky is the limit.”
Kinsella said she’s been fighting for women’s rights — her rights — for so long that she feels overwhelmed.
“I had a male friend ask me why are women not burning down the streets right now,” Kinsella said. “We’re exhausted. I am so fatigued. I don’t think there’s a single person that isn’t fighting for something at this point and that may be why people don’t have the energy.”
“Hope and optimism”
State Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the Reproductive Health Equity Act that enshrined the right to an abortion in Colorado law, was fresh off a plane from Mexico one day last week — and she was fired up.
Gonzales joined a group of legislators from across the country through the State Innovation Exchange program to travel to Mexico and learn about that nation’s grassroots efforts to expand abortion access.
The anger Gonzales feels over the leaked opinion rivals her pride in solidifying legal abortion access in Colorado. While she fears dark days may be ahead with a Roe reversal in the wings, her energy to keep fighting was restored upon listening to feminist activists in Mexico talk about combatting the stigma of abortion.
Filling Gonzales’ cup back up after a legislative session spent working to preserve abortion access was pivotal in protecting her mental health.
“The Mexican model of organizing is the fact that the way you combat stigma and shame is by talking about your story, your experience and giving the power of accompaniment so that nobody has to go through this process alone,” Gonzales said. “It was really powerful, and it gives me a whole bunch of hope and optimism as to what the movement is going to look like here in the U.S.”
During the long, heated debates at the state Capitol around the Reproductive Health Equity Act, Gonzales said the rhetoric grew ugly, sexist and demeaning.
“In order to get through the debate, I numbed myself out to the pain that that rhetoric inflicted because I knew I didn’t have to do this alone,” Gonzales said. “That my colleagues, a whole coalition and the voters of the state were with us. That is how we’re going to get through this. I’m hopeful that folks who are angry about the impending decision take heart because there is a lot of work to do. Get involved and jump in.”
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