What goes into the decision to terminate a pregnancy?

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:38 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The U.S. Supreme court is poised any day now to make a ruling on a key Mississippi abortion case that could strike down Roe v. Wade, upending the 50-year legal precedent and quickly leading many states across the country to restrict or outlaw access to abortions. Vermont in November could become the first state in the country to explicitly protect reproductive liberty in its constitution. Setting aside the legal and political discussions, reporter Christina Guessfered investigated the prevalence of abortions in Vermont.

Terminating a pregnancy is a major medical event. The experience is incredibly intimate. And while every person’s story is unique, it usually starts with someone making one of the most difficult decisions they’ve ever made, forever changing the trajectory of their life. A Northeast Kingdom woman we met had to do just that 11 years ago.

Tucked into West Glover, life-long Vermonter Kelsey Crelin calls these woods home. During a short stint working in Los Angeles in 2011, Crelin recognized the telltale signs that she was pregnant. The then-26-year-old and her then-boyfriend planned to move back to Vermont and raise the child there. “We were going to have a family,” Crelin said.

But after five-and-a-half months of feeling the baby grow in her belly, the foundation Crelin built for her future family was profoundly shaken. “That is when the doctor found that the child had Dandy-Walker syndrome, which means the cerebellum wasn’t developing, so the spinal cord and the brain weren’t connecting. There’s a lack of consciousness, they’re not able to communicate, they’re not able to have memories,” Crelin explained.

The debilitating genetic anomaly was a devastating discovery for the soon-to-be mother. “You still have that residual sense of failure almost,” Crelin said.

Her doctor explained that the child’s lifespan would be short, caring for it would be a full-time job, and their life would be extremely challenging.

“I would have taken it on if I felt like the child would have had a quality of life, honestly. I felt like it would have been cruel to bring that person into the world,” Crelin said.

She weighed her options and with help from her doctor decided on a second-trimester abortion. “Which was an induced labor. So, I gave birth to the baby. They set you up with grief counseling and they encourage you to hold your baby. At six months, they’re developed, you know, they’re just little people. It was so surreal,” Crelin said.

Grappling with loss and guilt, Crelin says it took time -- and an abundance of support -- to accept her plight.

Dr. Lauren MacAfee, an OB/GYN at UVM Medical Center, has witnessed similar stories firsthand. “The way that our society has really seen and portrayed and understood abortion has made it really hard for us to humanize it,” she said.

MacAfee’s passion is supporting patients -- often stigmatized within the medical community -- who are seeking an abortion. Her priority is guiding patients through the process with respect and empathy, ensuring that the ultimate decision is theirs and theirs alone. “I try to handle this as understanding where patients are coming from, what information they need to help them make their decision, and then help them walk that path together. We want to make sure that you get access to the medical care that you need and are seeking in a non-judgmental and compassionate way,” MacAfee said.

For more than a decade, MacAfee has also carried her expertise into Planned Parenthood. The organization now has seven locations across Vermont after several closed during the pandemic.. They are in Barre, Brattleboro, Burlington, Rutland, St. Johnsbury, White River Junction, and Williston. Five of those clinics offer abortion services.

So far this year, Vermont’s Planned Parenthood providers have performed 440 abortions. Seven of the individuals who underwent the procedure traveled far from places like Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and West Virginia -- some states that have established so-called “trigger laws” that will ban all abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood data shows those numbers have stayed steady in recent years:

  • 2021 -- 1,015 abortions with 24 patients from out-of-area
  • 2020 -- 1,149 abortions with 14 from out-of-area.
  • 2019 -- 1,089 abortions with 15 out-of-area.

Now 37 and having healed from the heartbreak, Kelsey Crelin spends her days working several jobs to pay for the dream house she’s raising from the ground up a proud owner of two dogs. Her life 11 years later is not better or worse than the one that could have been -- just different -- and with no regrets.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions or misunderstandings about abortion and termination of pregnancy, both from the medical perspective and the emotional perspective?

Kelsey Crelin: Abortion is never plan “A.” Nobody wants to get an abortion. It’s so invasive mentally and physically, and I think that is one of the things that gets completely lost in the conversation.

On the Channel 3 News Thursday, Christina Guessferd looks into legal implications with constitutional law expert Jared Carter, and how likely the Green Mountain state will transform into a safe haven for patients seeking abortions.

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