Recent lawsuits and complaints in multiple states are putting the brutality of abortion bans on display. The lawsuits come from women who should have had access to abortion in their home states because they faced dangerous pregnancy complications—but instead they were denied care because they weren’t facing extreme enough or immediate enough danger. The women have “each been through unthinkable trauma,” Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing them in court, said at a press conference announcing the actions. “And today, they are holding their states, their state governments, accountable for the suffering that their laws have caused.”
Jaci Statton, an Oklahoma woman who experienced a partial molar pregnancy, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act after she was denied care. Although Statton was bleeding heavily and in severe pain with a nonviable pregnancy, “providers told Jaci that they could not provide an abortion until she was actively crashing in front of them or on the verge of a heart attack,” the complaint alleges. “In the meantime, the best that they could offer was to let Jaci sit in the parking lot so that she would be close to the hospital when her condition further deteriorated. As her condition grew more dire, Jaci fled the state to receive an abortion, traveling three hours by car during a medical emergency.”
Oklahoma’s abortion ban allegedly allows abortion when “necessary to preserve” the life of a pregnant person, but that’s not the care Statton received. “All of the doctors agreed I needed a lifesaving abortion and should receive care under Oklahoma's ban,” she said at the press conference. “But the ultrasound tech refused to sign off on the exception. He insisted that he could hear a heartbeat and told the doctors that they could not touch me due to the ban. I remember hearing the doctors pleading with him.” The next hospital she went to was the one where she was advised to sit in the parking lot.
In Idaho, Jennifer Adkins is one of a group of patient plaintiffs who, along with two doctors and the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, are suing. Adkins’ fetus had conditions that almost always lead to miscarriage before 12 weeks gestation, but she was the exception. Continuing the pregnancy and carrying a fetus that her doctor had told her would not survive would have been a significant risk to Adkins’ health since the fetal conditions made her likely to develop preeclampsia and edema. But that wasn’t nearly enough for doctors in Idaho to feel they could provide an abortion, or even a referral out of state.
Adkins did end up going to Oregon for an abortion, which was a significant burden. "We aren't rich and we aren't poor. We knew that we, with all the added travel and medical costs, we would not be able to make our mortgage payment, and we were so grateful for the assistance from family, friends and two abortion funds," Adkins said at the press conference.
She had a warning: “It isn’t safe to be pregnant in Idaho.”
In Tennessee, Nicole Blackmon learned she was pregnant months after her 14-year-old son was killed in a drive-by shooting. “We didn't really plan to have another child because I suffered from severe medical issues. So we were really surprised to learn I was pregnant last summer, but felt incredibly blessed to get the news,” she said. At 24 weeks, though, “Doctors told us certainly that this pregnancy would not result in a living baby.”
Blackmon was denied an abortion in Tennessee and unable to afford the trip to a place she could get care. “Waiting to lose another child in the same year was bad enough, but then my health started to get worse,” she said. “My water broke in my seventh month, and after 32 hours laboring, I delivered our baby stillborn. Why won’t Tennessee politicians allow people to have abortions in terrible situations like mine? Something good must come out of my pain, that’s why I joined this case. What we went through was torture that no one else should ever have to face.”
These cases follow a Texas lawsuit by 13 women who similarly faced grave threats to their lives or were forced to carry nonviable pregnancies. A state district court judge made an initial ruling that women with complicated pregnancies should have access to abortion, but that was stayed when the state attorney general’s office almost immediately appealed.
The fierce fight that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his office have waged to prevent any expansion of a narrow life of the mother exception tells the story. The exceptions to abortion bans are not intended to be used. They’re there to keep the laws’ Republican sponsors from sounding like absolute monsters, but they’re so vague—and the consequences doctors face if they are found to have provided an abortion that didn’t meet the terms of the exception are so grave—that in practice they don’t exist.
When this is pointed out by women who have suffered real harm—being told to wait in the parking lot until they’re near death, or developing nearly fatal sepsis, as happened to Texas plaintiff Amanda Zurawski—the Republicans who backed these laws have the opportunity to say, “Yikes, we didn’t mean for that to happen! Of course, you should have gotten care to stabilize your condition before you faced so much pain and harm and fear for your life. Of course, you should not have been forced to spend months carrying a fetus that could not survive.”
But they don’t do that, because banning abortion has never been about preserving life. So while we should keep fighting for everyone to have the right to abortion, understanding what it means when these extreme pregnancy complication cases are deemed not to fulfill the requirements for care tells us something important about the real intentions of the people banning abortion.
Kerry talks with Drew Linzer, director of the online polling company Civiqs. Drew tells us what the polls say about voters’ feelings toward President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and what the results would be if the two men were to, say … run against each other for president in 2024. Oh yeah, Drew polled to find out who thinks Donald Trump is guilty of the crimes he’s been indicted for, and whether or not he should see the inside of a jail cell.