Missouri Republicans are gearing up to kill pregnant women, not just with one lawmaker’s suggestion that the death penalty is appropriate for people who facilitate abortions, but with two key lines in an anti-abortion bill making it a class A felony if “The abortion was performed or induced or was attempted to be performed or induced on a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy.”
Ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. These pregnancies are not viable, and they are very dangerous to the pregnant person: “Hemorrhage from ruptured ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of pregnancy-related maternal death during the first trimester and accounted for 2.7% of all pregnancy-related maternal deaths in the United States from 2011 to 2013.” If 2.7% of all pregnancy-related maternal deaths doesn’t sound high, consider that ectopic pregnancies represent just 0.6% to 2% of all pregnancies, so they’re punching way above their weight.
This isn’t the first time Republicans have endangered lives by refusing to acknowledge the reality that ectopic pregnancies are not viable and do present an immediate health risk to the pregnant person.
In 2019, an Ohio bill called for ectopic pregnancies to be reimplanted in the uterus. The bill called on doctors to “take all possible steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman,” and, in a stellar example of lawmakers literally trying to tell doctors what to do, specified that all possible steps should “include, if applicable, attempting to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus.”
This was “science fiction,” according to one doctor. According to a doctor at Ohio’s most famous medical facility, the Cleveland Clinic, “These pregnancies can never become normal, viable pregnancies.” As a result of that and the dangers they present, “These are pregnancies that you need to disrupt for the mother’s safety. And once you’ve disrupted it, there is no way of implanting it. I don’t think anyone’s ever even considered looking at doing this because it makes no sense from a scientific standpoint.”
The Ohio bill did not pass. But in Texas, the six-week abortion ban (still on the books thanks to a series of courts insisting that they cannot do anything about a law enforced by vigilante action) is preventing doctors from providing the needed care for ectopic pregnancies. At The Lily, Caroline Kitchener reported on a woman with an ectopic pregnancy who had to go to New Mexico, a more than 12-hour trip, for ectopic pregnancy care after both her own doctor and a local emergency room told her that her case did not meet the law’s narrow and vague “medical emergency” exemption.
“If a patient shows up with signs of an ectopic pregnancy, the patient should be in the operating room in less than 12 hours,” a maternal fetal medicine professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine told Kitchener. “You do not have time to send her to another hospital, much less out of state.”
Of course, at the same time as Missouri Republicans consider making it a felony to terminate an ectopic pregnancy, they’re considering blocking people from leaving the state for abortions through an amendment copying the vigilante enforcement mechanism of the Texas abortion ban. So Missouri Republicans really want to sentence women facing ectopic pregnancies to death, refusing them either abortions or the option to cross state lines for health care. Presumably—maybe?—once an ectopic pregnancy ruptures, Missouri doctors would be allowed to provide care for the resulting hemorrhage, but in many cases it could be too late.