Abortion-rights activists demonstrate outside a Planned Parenthood clinic as they safeguard the clinic from a possible protest by a far-right group on July 16, 2022 in Santa Monica, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The fall of Roe v. Wade and wave of abortion bans coming into effect is causing truly horrific scenes in U.S. medical facilities. Not only are 10-year-old rape survivors being forced to flee to other states to receive abortions, but women who actually want their pregnancies are being forced to deliver nonviable fetuses—because the standard procedure to treat miscarriage, which is much less invasive and traumatic, is now illegal in some states.
A doctor in Louisiana, where Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed a law completely banning abortion without exclusions for rape and incest, recounted in a lawsuit challenging the statute a harrowing story about a recent patient. Dr. Valerie Williams said a patient whose water broke at 16 weeks—well before the point of viability—requested a dilation and evacuation (D&E) to remove the fetus, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
But a lawyer told Williams that performing the procedure could put the doctor in legal jeopardy. And so the woman “was forced to go through a painful, hours-long labor to deliver a nonviable fetus, despite her wishes and best medical advice,” Williams said in an affidavit, according to the Advocate.The woman hemorrhaged nearly a liter of blood over the course of the delivery, but Williams said she was more distraught emotionally. “She was screaming–not from pain, but from the emotional trauma she was experiencing,” Williams wrote in the affidavit. Williams described the experience as a “travesty.”
Attorneys from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office argued during a hearing Monday that doctors are permitted to use “reasonable medical judgment” in such situations, according to the Advocate. But attorneys challenging the law on behalf of an abortion provider argued Monday that Landry’s own tweets have caused ambiguity as to how laws would be enforced in different situations, which presiding State District Judge Don Johnson sympathized with, according to the website the Louisana Illuminator. “If the attorney general is confused in a tweet, what does that say for ordinary citizens?” the judge said. A decision in the case could come as soon as Tuesday, according to the Illuminator. “There is absolutely no medical basis for my patient, or any other patient in this state, to experience anything like this,” the affidavit said, according to the Advocate. “This was the first time in my 15-year career that I could not give a patient the care they needed.”In Texas, these sorts of problems have been a reality for nearly a year, after a six-week ban on abortion went into effect in Texas last September. Last fall, Marlena Stell discovered around 10 weeks into a pregnancy she intended to carry to term that there was no fetal heartbeat, she told CNN on Monday.
“There is no heartbeat, there is no viable pregnancy,” Stell told CNN said she was told by a provider last year following an ultrasound. But after Stell asked her doctor for a dilation and curretage procedure (D&C), which is the standard for both miscarriages and abortions in the first trimester, the doctor informed her that state law required another ultrasound. Ultimately, she had to undergo three ultrasounds showing the pregnancy was nonviable. She described as “gut wrenching” the experience of being told twice that she had lost her pregnancy. “Emotionally carrying it around and knowing there's nothing you can do… it’s like I can’t grieve or move past it,” she said. But as was the case for Dr. Williams’ patient in Louisiana, Stell could have experienced serious health complications as a result of being denied standard care.“She can develop an infection that can make her sterile and never able to have children again,” Atlanta OB-GYN Dr. Lillian Schapiro told CNN. “It can cause organ failure. It can cause death." Stell was ultimately forced to carry the dead fetus inside of her for two weeks until she found a provider who would do the procedure. Stell, a mother of one, said she won’t try to get pregnant again while living in Texas and is considering moving away.“I’m worried about getting infected [and] having something happen to me,” Stell told CNN. “And then my daughter’s without her mom.”Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.