In the five decades since Roe vs. Wade, abortion rights have been restricted in several states across the country with lawsuit after lawsuit. And again and again it has been doctors who have gone to court to defend these rights, often speaking in clinical and abstract terms.
“The entire history of abortion law is a history of doctors appearing in court to represent their own interests and the interests of pregnant people,” he said Elizabeth SepperLaw Professor at the University of Texas-Austin.
But in a Texas courtroom last month, abortion advocacy was brought forward by the women themselves. They have been denied abortions and are suing the state to clarify exceptions to its ban, which makes it illegal to have an abortion unless a patient is at risk of death or “significant impairment of an important bodily function.”
The moms-to-be described in vivid, harrowing detail how the federal abortion ban had endangered their health, traumatized them and, in the case of Samantha Casiano, forced them to give birth to a baby girl with no sculpted skull or brain just to watch her for four hours later died a painful death.
“She gasped,” Casiano testified on the witness stand. She described how her baby turned purple and her eyeballs bled. “I kept telling myself and my baby, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you.’ I was so bad. She showed no mercy. There was no mercy for them.”
Casiano had been denied an abortion months earlier after discovering her baby had had an abortion anencephaly, a fatal condition. She had wanted her daughter, whom she named Halo, to be safe from ailments and “retire early.” She described the abortion as an act of compassion, mercy and love.
For decades, anti-abortion Christian groups have used fetal ultrasounds and grisly photos of allegedly aborted fetuses on billboards, protest signs, and online ads to arouse sympathy for “unborn children” and further their religious and political goals. But for the first time since the early 1970s, according to legal scholars and historians, the Texas hearing turned the camera up, away from the high-resolution fetus images toward the faces of compassionate women who say they’ve suffered badly under the state’s abortion ban.
Women have long shared abortion stories in private and at public speaking #ShoutYourAbortion and the nonprofit group We testify. But the formality of the Austin courtroom drew relentless attention to their experiences. The black-clad judge and court stenographer leaned forward to listen to the plaintiffs as their testimonies were taped under oath for a national television audience. It put anti-abortion activists on the defensive.
“We’re in that moment where all the stories are coming out and everything is still raw,” he said Greer Donley, Abortion and Law Expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “All these mysteries — abortion, miscarriage, the blurring of miscarriage and abortion — that’s something people now deeply appreciate.”
Before the conservative majority of the Supreme Court scrapped a federal abortion law in June 2022, polls showed that statewide support for abortion care was “pathetically stagnant,” Donley said. Compare that stagnation, she said, to the support for same-sex marriage rights that grew as gay people and their families shared their stories publicly.
“Storytelling is the future,” Donley said. “That’s how you change hearts and minds.”
The pregnancy complications and medical emergencies described by the plaintiffs “undermine notions of motherhood” and “support notions of motherhood,” they said Maria Zieglera law professor at UC Davis who has written books on the history of abortion.
Soon after, the Supreme Court ruled that women had the right to an abortion in 1973, the anti-abortion movement launched a concerted effort to restrict this newly established constitutional right. Movement leaders spoke at ghastly length about abortions later in pregnancy, the coining of medically inaccurate phrasessuch as “partial abortion,” which lent emotional and provocative imagery to the language of the abortion debate.
“Usually it’s about women versus fetuses and abortion being selfish or not caring,” Ziegler said. “But these women say in court, ‘The best thing for my child was an abortion.’ I was denied that, but so was my child.’”
Some Catholics and conservative Christians who oppose abortion hold the notion of “natural femininity,” Ziegler said — the religious belief that God created women to complement men and that “abortion compels women to be like men” and ” disturbing nature”.
This belief was expressed by dr Ingrid Skop, a Texas anti-abortion gynecologist who testified last month as a witness for the state. When asked on the witness stand about Casiano’s description of watching her baby die, Skop said inducing labor is “a much more holistic way of going through the grieving process than dismembering the child and not having a chance to grieve.”
Infant mortality has increased in Texas since the government mandated the birth of nonviable pregnancies. In September 2021, Texas banned abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy and then introduced a ban on all abortions from the point of conception unless a woman was suffering from “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or caused as a result of pregnancy.” becomes”. Texas law makes no exception for nonviable pregnancies.
In 2022, preliminary data on infant mortality from the Texas Department of State Health Services was released. first received from CNN, showed a 21.6% increase in infant mortality due to serious genetic and birth defects. This increase reversed a 15% decrease in infant mortality from 2014 to 2021.
The Austin case comes at a time when abortion rights and civil liberties groups and state democratic parties are seeking a series of legal and electoral challenges to the Supreme Court ruling Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, who knocked Roe over last summer. In November, Ohio voters will adopt a proposed constitutional amendment that would ensure “every individual has the right to make and carry out his or her reproductive choices.” There are lawsuits against abortion bans ongoing in at least 17 states, according to KFF. (KFF Health News is a KFF program.)
A new poll A study by nonpartisan research firm PerryUndem examining the impact of an “enforceability threshold” on support for abortion ballots found that voters were 15 percentage points more likely to support ballots that didn’t include federal abortion regulations than those that didn’t. which restricted abortion later pregnancy.
The Texas lawsuit highlighted the myriad reasons women and their families — at least two husbands were in the Austin courtroom — need abortion treatment throughout pregnancy, Donley said.
If we’re thinking about removing all abortion restrictions, “we don’t have to trust that women are perfect, kind mothers,” Donley said. “We just have to believe that they are rational actors.”
After 24 weeks, most abortions require artificial birth, she added. “So we imagine a person who, for no good reason, has endured the rigors of pregnancy, witnessed their body completely transform, and went through labor and delivery of a stillborn baby simply because they can’t get an abortion sooner could ? People have late abortions because terrible things happen.”
Texas District Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Friday, but the Texas Attorney General appealed the decision and blocked the order. The state’s assistant attorney general, Amy Pletscher, had asked the court to dismiss the case. She told Mangrum that “the plaintiffs suffered their alleged injuries as a direct result of the failure of their own medical providers.”
But although the outcome of the case is uncertain, legal scholars say it marked the beginning of a new strategy for the abortion rights movement in the United States.
“We fought for 50 years to get rid of Roe,” Ziegler said. “This is the beginning of the 50-year struggle to get rid of Dobbs.”
KFF health newsformerly known as Kaiser Health News, is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues.