America’s anti-abortion laws leave complicated pregnancies in limbo

Moments after the introduction of a bill banning all 15-week abortions in the United States, Senator Lindsey Graham was interrupted by her mother with a devastating story.

“I did everything right and after 16 weeks we found out our son was probably going to be dead,” Ashbey Beasley told a room full of people. “When he was born, he bled for eight days from all the orifices of his body,” she said.

However, she added that at least she could have chosen how to deal with a difficult pregnancy, while Graham’s law would have taken that choice away from her.

“What do you say to someone like me?”

Graham is not the only lawmaker to be asked tough questions about her position on abortion and how it can affect women with complicated or unsafe pregnancies.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, several U.S. states have decided to insist on banning abortion or severely limiting the procedure.

With the entry into force of such legislation, there were unintended consequences.

Doctors and patients say the confusing rules and obscure language of these laws have had a chilling effect on the medical field in anti-abortion states, leaving both present and future tragedies in their wake.

“We can’t help you, good luck”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, medical abortions are rare, accounting for less than 4% of all such procedures in the United States in 2004.

But for some pregnancy complications, they are an accepted and common life-saving procedure.

Model Chrissy Teigen, for example, said last Friday that she had an abortion to save her life when she was 20 weeks into an unlivable pregnancy.

But today, in states with strict abortion restrictions, that option is getting more and more complicated.

For the past year, Amanda Horton, a Texas doctor who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, has struggled caring for patients with pregnancy complications.

Sometimes Dr. Horton has to inform families that their children have been diagnosed with a fatal fetal abnormality.

These disorders are rare and possibly lead to fetal death in utero or soon after birth.

But under Texas’s strict abortion ban, doctors’ hands are tied.

“We can say, ‘If you’re interested in terminating your pregnancy, that’s always an option. But that’s not an option for you in Texas.” And that’s really where counseling begins and ends,” he says.

“These are people who love their unborn child and who, through no fault of their own, face challenges they never expected,” she says.

And since the state they live in bans all abortions except in life-threatening situations, she adds: “Now the answer is, ‘We can’t help you, good luck.’

emergency definition

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. But like all bans introduced this year, the state allows an exception when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.

In fact, all states that ban abortion provide for similar exceptions when the mother’s life is in danger.

About a dozen state laws contain language that allows “medical emergencies” abortions, and three explicitly contain an exception for fetal anomalies.

West Virginia, which just passed a ban on abortion, opposes the procedure “except in a medical emergency or a fetus medically non-viable.”

Graham’s domestic law proposal would include broadly worded exceptions for a woman “whose life is in danger”.

However, critics say that in practice, the legislation provides little guidance on general terms such as “life threatening” or what constitutes a medical emergency that would make abortion possible.

This leaves a lot of room for debate about when a doctor should act, and in some cases has even changed the options that might be considered the standard of care.

In July, a Texas woman identified as Amanda told the New York Times she spent 48 hours in agony sitting in a bathtub as the water turned “dark red” as she waited for her body to deliver a fetus. miscarriage.

Previously, when she had a miscarriage, doctors had performed a dilatation and curettage procedure to remove tissue from the uterus.

But at the time of her second miscarriage, a Texas ban was passed allowing citizens to sue anyone who assisted in an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Amanda did not undergo the procedure.

“It was so different from my first experience when they were so kind and reassuring that now I felt alone and scared,” she said.

Cases like this have exposed a gap between written rules on abortion limits and medical reality, which worries doctors.

“It’s very dangerous when legislators who don’t have medical expertise dictate how we can practice medicine and forbid us from providing the required care,” says Daniel Grossman, an obstetrician at the University of California, San Francisco.

“reasonable medical judgment”

Many of the bans are modeled on a bill proposed by the National Right to Life (NRL), the country’s oldest anti-abortion organization.

Model legislation permits abortion when the mother’s life is in danger.

“The language of our model law speaks of a ‘reasonable medical assessment’ by a responsible doctor, which is usually the case in all medical situations, not just abortion,” the NRL said in a statement to BBC News.

“We are not aware of any pro-life legislation, including our model law, that would prevent proper treatment in any of these cases.”

But for those struggling with difficult pregnancies, these laws can actually get in the way of medical care.

In Louisiana, the story of Nancy Davis made national headlines after she reported that doctors would not terminate her non-viable pregnancy.

At a press conference, Davis told reporters that her baby has acrania, a disorder that causes the fetus to develop without a skull and is incompatible with life.

“They basically said I had to continue the pregnancy, bury the baby,” she says, adding that the doctors “seemed confused by the law and were afraid of what would happen to them if they legally performed a ‘criminal abortion'”.

“I want you to imagine what it’s like to continue this pregnancy for another six weeks after this diagnosis,” she said. “It’s not fair to me and it shouldn’t happen to any other woman.”

In South Carolina, Republican state senator Neal Collins went viral when he confessed he regretted voting for a six-week abortion ban after a local obstetrician/gynecologist told him the story of a 19-year-old who faced a harrowing miscarriage but he was denied medical care.

“I haven’t slept all week,” Collins said in a speech before the state judiciary.

She said she went ahead and two weeks later the ER was able to “bring out” the fetus, but only after it had died.

release drug

Days after expressing his regrets, Collins voted for a near-total ban on abortion, which lists a dozen situations that qualify as exceptions.

And last month, following Davis’ miscarriage, the Louisiana Department of Health issued a list of conditions that make pregnancy “medically useless” and qualify for an exception to the state’s near-total abortion ban.

But Dr. Grossman points out that you can’t list disorders that meet the “medical emergency” exception.

“It does not work like that. There are many gray areas and uncertainties in medicine,” he says.

“If there is a 20% risk of dying in the next month if the pregnancy continues, that is an extremely high risk. The medical care required would be to offer the patient an abortion.”

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BBC-NEWS-SRC:, IMPORT DATE: 2022-10-10 22:50:05

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