Gathering storm

Just over a week ago, on the same day my social media feed blew up with gut reactions, primal screams, and hot takes from the official announcement that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, I was on a hospital gurney, waiting for a diagnostic colonoscopy after a positive Cologuard test.

Although I’ve spent the past month telling myself the test results were either a false positive or “just” indicative of benign polyps, I’ve also been nursing a lingering sense of dread. What if I have cancer? What if the cancer has spread? What will I do in the aftermath of a dire diagnosis: what might treatment look like, and why me, why now?

I’ve never been pregnant, and I’ve never had a pregnancy scare: like Terry Tempest Williams, the only thing I’ve done religiously my entire adult life is keep a journal and take birth control. But I’m guessing quietly worrying you might have cancer is similar to quietly worrying you might have an unwanted pregnancy. In both cases, you fear something growing inside you might end or upend your life.

One of the first things my gastroenterologist did before starting the procedure was ask me to sign a consent form. Nobody can force a patient to undergo cancer screening or even cancer surgery: had I wanted to ignore my Cologuard results, that would have been a bad decision, but it would have been my right.

Because we assume grown adults have the right to make their own medical decisions, nobody can force a person to eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, or give blood, even if doing so would save another’s life. Even after we die, nobody has the right to harvest our organs without our consent. But with the stroke of a pen, the Supreme Court erased the right to bodily autonomy for women across the country. If you’re a woman of childbearing age living in a red state, what happens in your body is now the government’s business, not your own.

In the month leading up to my colonoscopy, I told only a handful of friends and relatives. I didn’t share my fears on social media, and I didn’t blog about them, either. I chose, in other words, privacy over publicity. Roe v. Wade argued that women have the right to make the most intimate of decisions about their health and families privately, without government interference. As soon as a woman begins to show, however, everyone has an opinion about her pregnancy: whether a pregnant woman likes it or not, her personal decisions suddenly become political.

During my colonoscopy, my gastroenterologist found and removed four polyps, each a clump of cells that could be benign, cancerous, or precancerous. While I waited for my pathology results, I realized the world of difference between cells that are precancerous and those that are cancer: the difference between an acorn and oak, zygote and child.

It doesn’t matter what your or my personal beliefs about abortion are: medical decisions are each individual’s personal business. Earlier this week, I got my pathology report: all four polyps were precancerous, not cancer. I dodged a bullet when it comes to my personal health, but I still have dire concerns about the American body politic. A court that ignores precedent to strip away rights is a threat to democracy from within.