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BATON ROUGE, La. — The surgery was supposed to alleviate worry, but now, years later, Whitney Carter’s mind kept flicking back to it, wondering if it could be undone. She sometimes descended into these moods, taciturn, withdrawn, as if all hope had gone extinct. She sat on the couch in the half-light, blinds shut against the heat. The whole thing made her feel less than, like some essential part of her had been removed.

She was seven months pregnant when the doctor brought it up in April 2017. She could feel the baby’s weight on her bladder as the obstetrician went over the plan for her C-section, a month away. She shouldn’t eat before the operation. Once she arrived, her belly would be washed and shaved, her body draped. She’d get an epidural, numbing her from navel to thigh. Then the doctors would open her up. While they were in there, she remembers him saying, it would be best to tie her tubes, so she wouldn’t get pregnant again. Here was a consent form for her to sign.

It made...