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Jessa Duggar Seewald’s pregnancy loss is bringing the abortion access conversation to the forefront

Seewald of ‘19 Kids and Counting’ said she had a miscarriage. Critics say it raises questions of abortion access inequity. The Duggar family has lobbied for abortion bans.

Jessa Duggar Seewald of '19 Kids and Counting' said she had a miscarriage. Critics say it raises questions of abortion access inequity. The Duggar family has notoriously lobbied for abortion bans.
Jessa Duggar Seewald of '19 Kids and Counting' said she had a miscarriage. Critics say it raises questions of abortion access inequity. The Duggar family has notoriously lobbied for abortion bans.Read moreJessa Duggar Seewald/y

Jessa Duggar Seewald, of 19 Kids and Counting fame, revealed in a YouTube video that she was recovering from a “D&C” — which stands for dilation and curettage, a common medical procedure used in cases of dangerous, unwanted, or non-viable pregnancies.

Duggar, and subsequent media coverage, called the procedure “a miscarriage.” Abortion-rights advocates and people in the medical community say it’s the same thing as an abortion, which Duggar and her family say they are vehemently against.

Duggar has compared abortions to the Holocaust, and members of her family — who describe themselves as members of the conservative and controversial Independent Fundamentalist Baptists — lauded the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.

Now, Duggar undergoing the procedure has raised questions about access and equity surrounding abortion bans. Here’s what you need to know.

Who is the Duggar family?

The Duggar family became known for their reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting, which followed the religious Arkansas household throughout the 2000s.

The show followed Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, along with their 19 children, through everything from homeschooling and chaperoned group dates, to their religion.

The Duggar children — whose names all started with the letter “J” — became known independently as they grew older, for better or worse.

Josh Duggar, the eldest and an executive director for the Family Research Council at the time, was convicted of child pornography charges and sentenced to prison. Accusations that he molested children led to the TV show’s cancellation in 2015.

Earlier this year, another sibling, Jinger Duggar, opened up about breaking away from her religious upbringing in her memoir Becoming Free Indeed.

What about Jessa?

Jessa Duggar Seewald is Jim Bob and Michelle’s fifth child. After 19 Kids and Counting, she and her sister Jill starred in a breakout show called Jill & Jessa: Counting On, which ran for six years. She co-authored the 2014 book Growing Up Duggar with three of her sisters.

In 2015, Jessa said on The Kelly File that her brother sexually abused her as a teen.

She married Benjamin Seewald in 2014. They have four children.

What did Jessa’s YouTube video say?

On Friday, Seewald posted a YouTube video titled “Heartbreak Over the Holidays.” In the almost 20-minute video, she documented telling her children about a new baby being on the way and later, feeling concerned because she was “spotting” blood early in her pregnancy. At an ultrasound appointment, Seewald said, the doctor said things “did not look good.”

“I didn’t have the words, I just immediately started crying,” Seewald said.

She said she decided to undergo a D&C to remove the fetus because of her history with hemorrhages and the complications associated with carrying the baby to term or taking the pills associated with a medical abortion. The medical community considers a D&C a common and safe procedure.

“I feel like in some ways miscarriages can be so jarring because you don’t have clear signs of something going wrong,” she said. Seewald said she thanked God “for giving us this life, even if we wouldn’t be able to hold this baby in our arms.”

» READ MORE: Four Philly abortion providers talk about the calling that drives them to do emotionally challenging work

What is Jessa’s stance on abortion?

In 2014, following a visit to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Seewald compared the systemic murder of millions of Jewish people and other groups to modern-day abortion.

That year, Jessa and her family lobbied Tennessee lawmakers to enact statewide abortion restrictions.

The celebrity has not discussed abortion rights since her own D&C procedure. However, on the day she announced losing her pregnancy, Seewald described her changed views on birth control, which is prohibited by her religion.

“We are not against birth control,” Seewald said in a YouTube video, saying some forms — though not oral or hormonal contraceptives — are OK if they do not impact fertilization. “Biblically speaking, there’s no category for birth control being wrong.”

What has the response been like?

Entertainment outlets like People quoted Seewald’s terminology, calling the procedure a “miscarriage.”

But critics say that description skirts the fact that a public figure who has publicly decried the right to choose was able to get the medical support she needed to end her pregnancy when it faced complications.

“Health care for me but not for thee,” an article from the Arkansas Times — the local alt-weekly — put it.

In Arkansas, where the Seewalds live, dead fetuses can be aborted, but not living ones, regardless of risks for the baby or the person carrying it. Seewald did not say if a heartbeat was detected at the time of her procedure. If it was, she would have had to leave Arkansas for it to be legally done.

At least 18 states have enacted laws that impact abortion access.

» READ MORE: How overturning ‘Roe v. Wade’ will affect abortion access in Pa., NJ

In Ohio, a 10-year-old rape victim, who was ineligible for abortion in her state at six weeks pregnant, was forced to travel to Indiana for the procedure. In Florida, a mother whose baby has a deadly diagnosis said she is being forced to carry the child to term because of a new law. In Tennessee, lobbyists opposed including lifesaving exceptions in the state’s abortion ban.

Critics say state abortion bans create confusion and fear among the medical community causing an access gap for people who may need an abortion.

On social media, critics said others may not be as lucky as Seewald and pointed out how strongly she had previously described her abortion stance.

“So when we said that white woman would be able to access abortions, here you go,” said TikTok user @musclesandnursing, a popular nurse practitioner.

“Jessa Duggar, dedicated anti-abortion, anti-choice abortion campaigner, had the choice to have an abortion procedure in order to complete her nonviable pregnancy,” Anne Hodder-Shipp, a sex and relationship educator, said on TikTok. “I hope [she] heals quickly and fully has all the support she needs and deserves during this time. I also hope that eventually, she realizes that she benefited from the very same medical procedure that, thanks in part to her family and religious community’s efforts, has successfully been banned throughout Arkansas and is not a choice for millions of people — but she might not ever.”