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Bailey: Sarah Frick's story illustrates pain, complexities of abortion debate

Sarah Frick had an abortion. Who among us is willing to say she was wrong?

It’s a painful story — stories of abortion usually are. It’s her story, not mine, but I will do my best to tell it. Decide for yourself.

It starts with Grace, a beautiful baby who died three days after she was born at East Cooper Medical Center in Mount Pleasant. Then the story gets worse. And, yes, thankfully, it gets better, too.

It’s the kind of real-world experience the Legislature needs to consider as it drafts a bill that could ban almost all abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Last week, House Republicans made quick work of passing an extreme bill that would ban all abortions except in the case of rape and incest in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Senate is expected to take up the bill this week.

This is a Legislature where only 1 in 6 members are women. In the four-hour House debate Tuesday, man after man got up to explain why their conscience demanded they decide for women when abortion is appropriate. They made no exception for fetal anomaly, no matter how severe. Gov. Henry McMaster’s spokesman called the bill “a good starting point for the Senate to begin its deliberations.”

Would they have told Sarah Frick no? Would you?

Grace was wanted as much as any baby could be wanted. Sarah and her husband, John, were over the moon about their first child. There were baby showers, the nursery was all set, the family and friends all activated and ready to help.

Then, 36 weeks into what seemed like a normal pregnancy, Sarah’s midwife detected a problem. It was quickly confirmed by doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina. The decision was made to deliver the baby right away.

Grace was born May 15, 2012. She looked beautiful, perfect in fact.

But she wasn’t. Grace was born with a paralyzed diaphragm, which made her unable to breathe normally.

It was so severe it couldn’t be repaired surgically, the doctors said.

On the third day, Sarah, exhausted, laid in the bed at MUSC, cradling her tiny, doomed child. That night they baptized Grace and took her off the ventilator. And then they took their little girl home to be buried.

Can any loss be greater? I don’t think so.

“I miss Grace every day,” Sarah says.

The Fricks learned later that Grace’s condition was called unbalanced translocation, which occurs when a fetus inherits a chromosome with extra or missing genetic material from a parent with a balanced translocation. Tests showed Grace had inherited this from Sarah.

The Fricks went into a dark place. Sarah was consumed with guilt for what she perceived she had done to her daughter and her husband. But one thing hadn’t changed: She knew she wanted to be a mom. Her doctor told her women with similar genetic conditions have healthy babies every day. The risks of another problem, though, were high.

Sarah was pregnant again by September, months after Grace died. The next two months were the most agonizing of their lives: Would the baby be born healthy?

A test at 11 weeks revealed the worst: Grace’s experience was repeating itself. The baby was destined to die if Sarah carried it to term, the doctors told her.

She had an abortion.

“It was a heart-wrenching decision,” said Sarah, her voice cracking a decade later. “If I had to carry another baby to term that was going to die, I don’t think I would be here today.”

But she is here today, and life is good. Sarah and John have three children: Waylon, 8, and their 5-year-old twins, Van and Della. All were born through in-vitro fertilization, with several miscarriages along the way.

“I am heartbroken by the House vote, which completely erases my own experience,” Sarah, 40, told me last week. “The reason I have my three beautiful babies is because I was able to access abortion care when I needed it. Do these lawmakers understand or care how much unnecessary suffering they are going to cause? It is beyond cruel to force anyone to go through with a pregnancy. I am begging the Senate to put a stop to this.”

In a world impossibly divided, abortion is the most divisive issue of all. Witness the past five decades of both sides shouting at each other since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade. The court’s recent reversal of Roe has done nothing to quiet the storm.

We want simple answers to complicated questions. Life — and death — are anything but simple. Life is complicated, not black and white but often gray.

And if we’re lucky — blessed, in fact — it offers us second and sometimes even third chances along the way. Just ask Sarah Frick and her family.

Steve Bailey can be reached at sjbailey1060@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @sjbailey1060.

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