Reproductive healthcare advocates on Tuesday recoiled at a harrowing report describing how one Texas woman’s wanted pregnancy became a “dystopian nightmare” after she suffered potentially deadly complications but was still initially denied lifesaving care under the state’s extreme abortion ban.
“Anti-abortion zealots should be forced to read this,” tweeted journalist Emily Singer in response to a Tuesday NPR article on the traumatic experience of 26-year-old Houston resident Elizabeth Weller. “The horror this woman endured because of the abortion bans they’ve pushed for for decades is unimaginable.They are responsible for her suffering.”
Weller and her husband James wanted to have a baby. Although she believes in the right to choose abortion, the graduate student insisted that she “personally never would get one.”
“We skipped over the genetic testing offered in the first trimester,” she explained. “I was born with a physical disability. If she had any physical ailments, I would never abort her for that issue.”
At 18 weeks of gestation, Weller suffered a premature membrane rupture, a condition affecting roughly 3% of pregnancies. With almost all of her amniotic fluid lost, there was very little chance that Weller’s fetus would survive.
According to NPR:
For the women, expectant management after premature rupture of membranes comes with its own health risks. One study showed they were four times as likely to develop an infection and 2.4 times as likely to experience a postpartum hemorrhage, compared with women who terminated the pregnancy.
In some cases, the infection can become severe or life-threatening, leading to sepsis, hysterectomy, or even death. In 2012, a woman died in Ireland after her waters broke at 17 weeks and doctors refused to give her an abortion. The case spurred a movement that led to the overturning of Ireland’s abortion ban in 2018.
However, in Weller’s case she was informed that under Texas law, she would have to wait for the fetus’ heartbeat to stop before a medical abortion could be performed. Meanwhile, her own health deteriorated dangerously. She was cramping and passing clots of blood and foul discharge. But she was told none of that was severe enough to warrant an abortion. After her condition worsened to the point where she was instructed to rush to the emergency room, a hospital ethics committee determined she could finally terminate her pregnancy.
Although Weller first blamed hospital staff—”to them, my life was not in danger enough,” she said sardonically—she eventually came to attribute her “dystopian nightmare” of “physical, emotional, and mental anguish” on the Republican state legislators who passed Texas’ six-week abortion ban and GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the measure into law in May 2021.
“We live in a culture that advocates small government and yet… we are allowing our Texas state government to dictate what women do with their own bodies and to dictate what they think is best, what medical procedures they think [are] best for them to get,” Weller lamented.
Abbott came under fire Monday in a new political advertisement attacking his crusade to strip more than half the people in his state of their bodily autonomy.
In the ad—which was released by Mothers Against Greg Abbott PAC—an actor playing a doctor tells a distraught couple their child will suffer agonizing seizures before dying within hours of birth from a catastrophic brain anomaly. The doctor informs her that “only one person” can make the choice for her before phoning Abbott to ask if abortion is an option.
“Yeah,” the doctor tells the couple after hanging up the phone, “that’s gonna be a no. Best of luck to you.”
Healthcare providers and patients already have numerous real-life horror stories to share in the nascent post-Roe era.
Dr. Jessian Munoz, a San Antonio OB-GYN who treats high-risk pregnancies, told the Associated Press earlier this month that with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal of Roe v. Wade, “the art of medicine is lost and actually has been replaced by fear” as doctors struggle to determine whether patients are “sick enough” to justify an abortion under Texas’ six-week ban.
Munoz told of a pregnant patient who had begun to miscarry and developed a potentially life-threatening womb infection. But because the fetus still had a detectable heartbeat, abortion was illegal under the new law.
“We physically watched her get sicker and sicker and sicker” until the fetal heartbeat stopped the next day, “and then we could intervene,” Munoz said. As a result of the delay in critical care, the patient developed complications, lost multiple liters of blood, required surgery, and had to be connected to a breathing machine.
Marlena Stell, a popular YouTuber, found out 9.5 weeks into her pregnancy that she had suffered a miscarriage. She was even more horrified to learn that due to Texas law, she would be forced to carry the dead fetus inside her for two weeks.
“I felt like a walking coffin,” Stell told The Washington Post last week. “You’re just walking around knowing that you have something that you hoped was going to be a baby for you, and it’s gone. And you’re just walking around carrying it.”
“I get so angry that I was treated this way because of laws that were passed by men who have never been pregnant and never will be,” Stell told her nearly 1.5 million YouTube subscribers. “I’m frustrated, I’m angry, and I feel like the women here deserve better than that.”
Because the Texas law contains no exceptions in cases of rape or incest, some women have gone to extreme measures to protect against pregnancies resulting from crimes perpetrated against them.
Sexual assault survivor Julie Ann Nitsch told the AP that she “saw the writing on the wall” and chose to have herself sterilized at age 36 rather than risk being impregnated by another rapist.
“I ripped my organs out” to avoid that, she said, adding that “it’s sad to think that I can’t have kids, but it’s better than being forced to have children.”
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Brett Wilkins is staff writer for Common Dreams.