Free Press readers respond to Allie Phillips on abortion in Tennessee.
Allie Phillips with the memorial for her unborn daughter, Miley Rose, at her Tennessee home on April 14, 2024. (Photo by Raymond Di Pietro for The Free Press)

Letters to the Editor: What Is Off-Limits in the Abortion Debate?

Plus: The Antisemitism Awareness Act is no threat to free speech.

By The Free Press

May 15, 2024

Recently, Allie Phillips wrote in The Free Press about how, in 2023, she was denied an abortion in her home state of Tennessee after she discovered the baby she was carrying had almost no chance of living outside the womb. She described how she was forced to raise money so she could travel to New York City where she got the procedure, and how her experience compelled her to run for office in her state so she can ensure women in her position do not face the same fate. Her story sparked a wide range of comments from you, many of them informed by personal experience. But one response in particular stood out. It comes from Helen Raleigh, who lost a son late in her pregnancy and thinks tragedies like the one she suffered should be off-limits in the abortion debate. Here’s her letter: 

Last month you ran an article by a woman who was motivated to legalize abortion due to her tragic loss of her child. (“My Unborn Baby Was Dying. But I Couldn’t Get an Abortion.”) I think Free Press readers deserve a different perspective on this issue. 

Please allow me to share my story. 

In October 2017, my husband Mike and I were thrilled to learn that I was pregnant. We knew we were going to have a little boy so we named him Lucas, which means light.

My parents, both immigrants from China, were ecstatic because Lucas would be their first grandson and the first grandchild to be born in America. According to a traditional Chinese belief, a pregnant woman should eat walnuts to ensure her baby has good hair. My parents believed that off-the-shelf walnuts were not fresh enough, so they bought fresh walnuts from the farmers market, peeled them by hand, and sent them to me throughout my pregnancy. In addition, my mom made Lucas many different things: baby clothes, blankets, hats, crocheted sweaters, and several pairs of delicate shoes. Mike, my husband, made Lucas a crib from scratch. He meticulously measured, cut, shaped, sanded, and painted each piece, and assembled all 117 pieces. 

I had a healthy pregnancy for nine months. Then, on May 14, 2018, the day after Mother’s Day, I first started experiencing contractions. Shortly after I arrived at the hospital, I began to bleed. The on-call doctor didn’t take my symptoms seriously. It turned out that I had experienced placenta abruption, a condition where the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before birth, depriving the baby of oxygen and nutrients and causing heavy bleeding in the mother. Another doctor at the hospital recognized the seriousness of my condition and eventually performed an emergency C-section. But it was too late for Lucas. He was stillborn. The light in my life went out. 

Lucas was the most beautiful child we’d ever seen. Thanks to all the walnuts my parents sent, he indeed had a full head of thick, dark hair. 

Nothing could prepare us—or the rest of our family—for the devastation and pain of burying our child. Words lost all meaning. Our world fell apart. 

The first and the last time Lucas wore anything his grandmother made was at his funeral. My father had experienced much pain and suffering in his life, but I had never seen him cry before Lucas’s death. After Lucas died, he cried twice. The first time was at the hospital. My father held Lucas in his arms for a long time, and he wouldn’t let go. When it was time to leave, he cried as he told Lucas how sorry Grandpa was for being unable to protect him. The second time I saw my father cry was at Lucas’s funeral. My father put his hands on the tiny coffin and tried to say a Chinese prayer for Lucas. But he couldn’t complete his sentences without breaking down in tears.

My father-in-law was one of the pallbearers to carry Lucas’s tiny coffin to the burial site. My father and father-in-law, two gray-haired gentlemen in their late seventies walking with canes, one from China and one from the United States, stood side-by-side and buried their newborn grandson together. 

I didn’t realize how common pregnancy losses were until it happened to me, and I started researching the issue online. Take stillbirths, for example. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines stillbirth as the death or loss of a baby before or during delivery, usually occurring at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. According to the CDC, “stillbirth affects about 1 in 175 births.” 

I met many women who experienced pregnancy losses through support groups. The American public doesn’t hear from us very often: pregnancy loss and infant death are difficult, uncomfortable subjects, and those of us who have lost babies often carry our anguish and grief in silence. 

I never imagined that our losses and devastating personal experiences would someday be politicized to justify abortion. After the Dobbs ruling in 2022, I started seeing posts on from abortion supporters who described a pregnancy loss such as miscarriage as an “abortion.” I felt a deep sting in my heart. 

Then the celebrity model Chrissy Teigen spoke about her own tragic miscarriage to argue against legal limits on abortion. In doing so, Teigen rewrote her own story. When Teigen and her husband, the singer John Legend, lost a baby boy in 2020, she called it a miscarriage. But after Roe, she instead described that miscarriage as a life-saving abortion. Based on her description, it seems likely that after she miscarried, Teigen had a dilation and curettage (or D&C) procedure, which is a minor surgery to remove tissue from a woman’s uterus. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the D&C procedure is necessary for some women “after a miscarriage, abortion, or when parts of the placenta are left in your uterus after childbirth.”

To characterize this procedure as an abortion is inaccurate. Abortion is “the voluntary termination of a pregnancy” when the fetus is still alive. A D&C procedure takes place after a pregnancy is already terminated, either voluntarily through abortion or involuntarily, as with a miscarriage. No red states that ban or limit abortion ban D&C procedures because a D&C is not an abortion. However, those who support abortion rights have been intentionally misleading others by claiming D&C is the same as abortion. 

I do not deny that there may be rare medical needs to terminate a pregnancy when the fetus is still alive. But the emphasis is on rare. Abortion supporters shouldn’t deny the fact that the majority of women who had abortions were not motivated by medical necessity or health reasons. One study found that the most frequently cited reasons for having an abortion were “that having a child would interfere with a woman's education, work, or ability to care for dependents (74 percent); that she could not afford a baby now (73 percent); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48 percent).”

The fundamental difference between the majority of women who sought abortions and those of us who experienced pregnancy losses is that we didn’t choose to end our pregnancies. Every woman in my pregnancy loss support group wanted her baby to live, and would have done anything to keep her baby alive. Hearing someone call a tragic pregnancy loss “abortion” is like ripping our wounds open and rubbing them with gallons of salt.

Pregnancy loss should be off-limits to the national abortion debate. 

Helen Raleigh

And here is Allie’s response: 

I understand the impulse to avoid politicizing abortions and women’s pregnancies. But unfortunately, our government politicized abortions when they took that access away from women and girls. D&C and D&E are both types of abortion procedures happening at different stages in gestation. My daughter died in utero and my body didn’t recognize it. I had an abortion to remove her from my uterus and to stop the risk of going septic. 

I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I know the pain of losing a child you desperately wanted and planned for. But framing abortion as you do is dangerous and damaging to so many. Abortion is a medical procedure that can remove a fetus whether it’s dead or alive. The procedure is the same either way. 

I made the most selfless decision I could make for my daughter. She was suffering and if she made it to birth, she would’ve suffered even more. She had no lungs. She would’ve been gasping for air until she succumbed to her fate. I feel fortunate that Miley passed on her own so I didn’t have to live with the guilt of “what if.” My doctors were right that she was not compatible with life and there is no reason to force a woman to continue a pregnancy that is going to end in death—not only for the fetus but potentially for the mother as well. 

I have told my story to show how severe these laws have become. I had a nonviable pregnancy that was putting my life at risk the longer I stayed pregnant, yet I did not qualify for the “life of the mother” exception.

Abortion is healthcare. Period. Giving birth to a stillborn is an induction abortion if you had any assistance with the labor and delivery. My goal is to destigmatize the term and actually educate people on what abortions do and when they’re used. 

Allie Phillips 

Is the Antisemitism Awareness Act, a new bill designed to fight Jew hate, a threat to free speech? Christopher F. Rufo and Jenin Younes answered yes in a column for The Free Press last week, arguing that the legislation “violates our country’s most fundamental principles, including the letter and spirit of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee Americans the rights to free speech and equal treatment under the law, regardless of their racial, ethnic, or religious identity.” 

Ilya Shapiro, director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute and the author of the forthcoming Lawless: The Miseducation of America’s Elites, disagrees. Here’s Ilya on why the Antisemitism Awareness Act is no threat to our basic freedoms: 

Christopher Rufo and Jenin Younes do a nice job of arguing against the DEI-ification of Jews: reordering the privilege hierarchy such that antisemitism joins the pantheon of -isms and -phobias in our intersectional cancel culture. But that’s not what the Antisemitism Awareness Act does, which is why I part ways with their criticism.

The heart of Chris and Jenin’s error is this sentence: “The legislation codifies an ideologically charged definition of antisemitism into law, provides special protections based on group identity, and expands anti-discrimination enforcement to include constitutionally protected speech.” Each of these three points is wrong.

First, calling the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism “ideologically charged” fails to reckon with that definition on its own terms. The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” That’s not a radical outlier, but the gold standard accepted by scholars of all ideological stripes. And contrary to some commentary, it doesn’t cover teaching the New Testament, criticizing the Israeli government, and the like.

Second, the AAA doesn’t create any new identity-based rights. As I’ve described before for The Free Press, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits any entity that receives federal education funds from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin, which the Department of Education has long understood to include ancestry and ethnicity. The AAA simply defines antisemitism so the relevant authorities can more accurately evaluate such discrimination claims.

Third, the AAA doesn’t “instruct bureaucrats to apply. . . ‘hate speech’ analysis to civil rights complaints.” Title VI targets actions motivated by improper motives, including harassment and intimidation, not speech. But don’t just take all that from me. The statutory text explicitly says “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

There’s been a debate since October 7 over whether Jews should better insinuate themselves into DEI structures or recognize that the diversity-industrial complex is rotten and should be ended rather than mended. I’m firmly in the latter camp and joined Chris (a colleague of mine at the Manhattan Institute) to co-author model legislation to abolish DEI bureaucracies. I’m also a staunch free-speech advocate, having filed briefs supporting Jenin’s cases, but my friends are wrong to assert that the AAA instantiates DEI or chills speech.

Ilya Shapiro 

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