Membership and Fellowship |

In Treacherous Waters


By Haben Debessai, MD


After the leakage of the draft of the Supreme Court opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in May 2022 and the crystallization of the fact that I may have more restrictions on my uterus than my mother’s generation, I found I could not stay silent.

I am a Black woman.
I am a daughter of Eritrean emigrants.
I am a Christian.
I am an obstetrician and gynecologist.
I am a physician who provides abortion care.
I am a human being.

Do the above roles seem contradictory? They are not. I am complex, just as the reasons that someone may need an abortion are complex. My story is not going to sway those protesting abortion outside our clinics, but I do implore them to think about the stories of my patients, the pregnant ones. And specifically, the ones who are drowning.

The one who told me that she and her husband made this difficult decision while at the children’s hospital next door tending to their sick 6-year-old son in the ICU.

The one who bitterly cried as she held my hand, scared about her new cancer diagnosis, in desperate need of urgent treatment to save her life.

The one who was a sophomore in college and avoided eye contact with me when I asked whether she had ever been a victim of sexual assault.

The one who trusted her partner when he said he wore a condom … and maybe he did.

The one …
The one …
The one.

Each woman should decide for herself whether pregnancy will drown her or allow her to swim, to sustain her own life. I can’t make that decision for her. You can’t make that decision for her. We can’t make that decision for her. She must make that decision, and she will. And what you can help decide will be whether she lives past making that decision. I pray to God she does. Will she drown? Or swim?

I think often about Infinite from Root to Tip, pictured above, by Calida Rawles. This artwork always makes me think about the pregnant one: the one who must make the journey, alone, through the treacherous waters of pregnancy, and how we can’t quite tell which way she is moving, toward the endless bottom or up to the surface to survive … now, in many cases, without a choice in the matter.

The national theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories. This March, ACOG wants to uplift the women whose stories or words have empowered our members. Email [email protected] to share a quote from someone you admire and, if you like, explain why it’s meaningful to you.