Soon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, horror stories started emerging of women denied medically urgent abortions for pregnancies gone dangerously awry. In response, the anti-abortion movement developed a sort of conspiracy theory to rationalize away the results of their policies.
Abortion rights activists, they argued, were deliberately misconstruing abortion laws, leading doctors to refuse to treat women who obviously qualified for exceptions. “Abortion advocates are spreading the dangerous lie that lifesaving care is not or may not be permitted in these states, leading to provider confusion and poor outcomes for women,” said a report by the anti-abortion Charlotte Lozier Institute. The Catholic conservative Richard Doerflinger accused “pro-abortion groups” of spreading “false and exaggerated claims in order to ‘paralyze’ physicians and discredit the laws.”
Whether this argument stemmed from genuine denial or a cynical desire to mislead the public, a shattering case in Texas shows how absurd it is. Late last month, Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two, learned that her latest, much-wanted pregnancy was doomed because of a severe genetic disorder. If the pregnancy continued, she was likely to have a stillbirth, and if she didn’t, the baby had virtually no chance of surviving long outside the womb.
She’d made several trips to the emergency room for severe cramping and what seemed to be leaking amniotic fluid. Her doctor told her that carrying the pregnancy to term could jeopardize her future fertility, and Cox very much wants more children. So she, her husband and her doctor sued the state, seeking a court order to allow her to terminate her pregnancy in Texas. If the Texas abortion ban had workable medical exceptions, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t apply to Cox. But it doesn’t, and the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, fought the Cox family and their doctor every step of the way.
This case is unusual for Cox’s willingness to wage a legal fight while suffering a medical catastrophe, but not for the cruel bind the state placed her in. The day Cox received the terrible news about her fetus, the Texas Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in Zurawski v. Texas, a suit brought by two doctors and 20 women who had been denied medically necessary abortions and were seeking to clarify the scope of emergency exemptions to the state’s ban. Among the plaintiffs is Amanda Zurawski, who was 18 weeks pregnant after a year and a half of fertility treatments when her water broke. Although her pregnancy had no chance of surviving, she was denied an abortion until she became septic. Zurawski ended up spending days in an intensive care unit and has been left with damage to her reproductive tract that will most likely make it harder for her to become pregnant again. [Continue reading…]