We live in a country in which a woman has a right to choose abortion. The movement to legalize abortion and keep it legal calls itself “pro-choice.” Ah, well and good, many might say. So what happens when a woman, exercising her right to choose, chooses not to have an abortion?
In the case of Susan Ali, whose sonogram in the middle of her pregnancy informed her that her daughter would be born severely handicapped if she survived at all, the answer to that question was: All hell breaks loose. As this story in the Washington Post magazine reports, Susan’s doctor, her minister, and, most of all, her engineer-husband, Saqib, began a relentless campaign of verbal pressure for her to terminate the pregnancy. Saqib’s behavior was the weirdest of all, as he badgered her wife relentlessly and even considered keeping her incommunicado in their home until she changed her mind and consented to the abortion.
Mind you, the couple’s unborn daughter, Leila Daine, was severely disabled. She had a condition called holoprosencephaly in which the brain fails to divide itself into two distinct halves. Usually a fetus with this condition dies in the womb, and if the baby makes it to birth, it usually dies shortly afterwards. A tiny few people born with this condition survive to adulthood, and they are usually either mildly or severely handicapped. Doctors said that Susan’s life would likely not be at risk if she bore Leila to term, but they counseled a termination of the pregnancy.
Susan, however, decided that she wanted to bear Leila and, if the baby was doomed, comfort her until her life came to a natural end. Part of the reason was that she came from a conservative Christian family and she was opposed to abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk.
Her choice, right? Not as far as Saqib was concerned. As Post magazine writer Reshma Memon Yaqub reports:
“He followed Susan around the house, urging her to consider every outcome.
“Susan begged him to leave her alone, she says. She needed time to think and absorb, to simply be with the situation. She escaped into the shower of their spacious, cream-colored bathroom, but he stood outside it, spouting information about HPE that he wanted her to process. When she tried to take a nap under her down-filled comforter, he waited by the queen-size bed as long as he could stand it — usually a half-hour — before waking her up to describe yet another scenario that needed to be charted.
“He talked at her while she ate dinner, she says, and while they strolled around their neighborhood. If he found her watching television, he turned it off to talk some more. In the car, he wanted her to listen to him, not to music. Whenever he left the house, he’d immediately call her from his cell phone.
“‘Saqib was stalking me,’ Susan says now. ‘He was purposely keeping himself in a frenzied state and trying to get me that way, too.’…
“One day, when Saqib had gone into work, Susan’s elderly great-aunt and uncle came over for lunch. Before leaving the house, Saqib had insisted that Susan call back one of the many doctors they were consulting. He wanted her to hear again that having this baby was not a good idea.
“Susan tried to call, but couldn’t get through, and turned her attention to her visiting relatives. When Saqib called at midday to check if Susan had called the doctor, he was upset to learn that she had not kept trying. He immediately drove home and insisted that she leave her guests, get in the car with him and go to the doctor’s office without an appointment. Feeling besieged, Susan went with him. They waited in the doctor’s office for three hours but never got to see him….
“Saqib was livid. It finally dawned on him, he says, that Susan was never going to agree to an abortion. The doctors’ warnings didn’t matter. The assurances of her minister didn’t matter. His wishes didn’t matter.”
Finally one of the doctors Saqib consulted told him the bad news: that he couldn’t force his wife to have an abortion. The doctor did suggest that he sequester Susan in their house for a few days and not let her get in touch with the Christian relatives he thought were unduly influencing her. When he got home to put the plan into effect, he found her packing her suitcase in tears in order to move to her parents in order to get away from Saqib’s “constant hounding,” as she put it.
At that point, Saqib gave in and decided to support his wife through whatever decision she made about the pregnancy. Susan chose to bear the baby. Little Leila was born last November scarcely able to breathe and with a rapidly failing heartbeat. Susan cradled her in her arms, and doctors gave the newborn sedatives to quell any pain she might be feeling. In a little over an hour, Leila was dead.
Saqib still isn’t very happy about all of this, though, and his new plan is to try to make sure that Susan never gets pregnant again.
“Saqib says he knows he can’t control the outcome of a pregnancy. But what he can try to control is the onset of one. ‘Before there’s a pregnancy, Susan and I are equals, and we make decisions together,’ he explains. ‘After a pregnancy, when a baby is born, we would be equals and make decisions together. But it’s clear to me that during a pregnancy, I am not an equal parent with full rights. So those nine months are very disempowering. And I won’t go through that again.'”
No, Saqib, when your wife is pregnant, you’re not an “equal parent with full rights”–that was what Roe vs. Wade was all about, remember?
As I read this story, I kept asking myself: Which one of these two people is strong and brave? Which one is a whining, oversized baby (not to mention overbearing, perfection-obsessed control freak) himself?
Here is how the story ends:
“Saqib placed the portrait [of Leila, taken during her life’s last few minutes] on the mantel above the fireplace, right next to the tiny, wood-framed sonogram picture that once mocked him. Now, he says, when he walks past the mantel, he sees his daughter looking back at him, smiling. And he wonders, he says, ‘what she would have thought of me as her father.'”
That you’re not much of a father–that’s what I think she would have thought.