Ashley Leach speaks during a virtual abortion rights rally on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Ashley Leach
Ashley Leach speaks during a virtual abortion rights rally on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

The Supreme Court could abolish the right to have an abortion before fetal viability. Pennsylvania women share their stories to defend abortion rights.

Whitney Joson and her husband were very excited when they found out Whitney was pregnant with their first child, a boy, in 2016.

But then, about 17 ½ weeks into Whitney’s pregnancy, the Allegheny County couple learned that one third of their baby’s brain had grown outside of his skull. Doctors said there was nothing they could do.

“If our baby even made it, he would be sent home to pass away,” she said.

Whitney had an abortion 19 weeks and 3 days into her pregnancy. 

Ashley Leach had to wait until 16 weeks into her pregnancy to have the screening that confirmed her fetus had Trisomy 13, a chromosomal condition that causes severe mental and physical problems. Doctors told the Delaware County woman that she would likely have a miscarriage or stillbirth; and if she didn’t and managed to carry her fetus to term, her baby would live for only a few days.

“The moment that broke me was the one doctor saying to me, ‘You know, hospitals have really great baby hospice care,’” Leach said. “Absolutely not.”

So she chose to have an abortion shortly after doctors confirmed the fetus’ condition.

Joson and Leach had access to abortion care when they needed it. They shared their stories Tuesday during a virtual abortion rights rally hosted by Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, the chairperson of the Montgomery County Commissioners and a US Senate candidate.

Arkoosh hosted the rally in advance of a US Supreme Court hearing Wednesday on a Mississippi law that, if upheld, could lead to dramatic restrictions or bans on abortion in Mississippi and several other states.

“People are pregnant today and they need and deserve healthcare options today. Options free from political interference, free from fear of criminal persecutions, or barriers because of cost or distance,” Arkoosh  said during the virtual rally. 

Arkoosh wants Congress to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law. She wants to make women’s healthcare more accessible and affordable, and eliminate the negative stigma associated with abortion.

Reproductive Rights at Risk

Mississippi passed a law in 2018 that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, is challenging the law, saying it violates Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Roe v. Wade is the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that protects a pregnant person’s freedom to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. Planned Parenthood v. Casey is the 1992 Supreme Court decision that prohibits states from banning abortion before 24 weeks, the time at which a fetus is considered viable.

The US Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Mississippi case Wednesday. If the court upholds the Mississippi law, the ban will go into effect in Mississippi and other states that have similar laws set to take effect if Mississippi prevails.

In those states, women like Leach and Joson, who face serious health issues and know their fetus won’t survive, would be forced to carry them for weeks — or even months — after the diagnosis.

Leach and Joson said they didn’t want to have abortions, but they believe the decisions they made were the best.

“We would have done anything to save our child, anything,” Joson said. “And ultimately, I think we did save our child by making this decision.”