The frustrating unwillingness of conservatives to see abortion as a necessary medical procedure instead of a handy political football has always been a dangerous game of chance. Pregnant women in Texas, including very young girls, are already seeing the disturbing results.
Since September 1, abortion has been illegal in Texas after six weeks, what forced-birth advocates insist is the time a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus (it’s actually just electrical impulses along the cardiac pole). There is no exception for rape or incest in the law, though there is a provision for a “medical emergency.” Theoretically, this means that a pregnancy that puts a person in mortal danger can still obtain an abortion. Practically? The vagueness of the law’s language is leading doctors to question whether they have the legal right to proceed.
Alan Braid is a San Antonio-based doctor who is the first abortion provider to openly defy the law, eventually daring the forced-birth advocates to sue him and make the case of the law’s constitutionality in court. In a Washington Post op-ed on why he broke the law, he specifically mentioned the possible danger of ectopic pregnancies under the new guidelines.
An ectopic pregnancy is when a fetus fails to attach inside the uterus and instead starts to grow somewhere else, often inside the fallopian tubes. The condition is very common, occurring in 1 in 50 pregnancies. It is also generally non-compatible with a viable pregnancy. The growth of the fetus leads to ruptures of internal organs and often death. Live births in these kind of pregnancies are almost unheard of, and only a single case has ever been reported.
“Normally most physicians want to intervene as soon as they diagnose an ectopic pregnancy, before it ruptures,” Braid says. “Do you have to wait until it’s about to rupture? Until it has? How do you make that decision under this law? No one wants to get sued.”
It’s not surprising the law fails to account for a very basic part of reproductive health. In 2019, Ohio Republicans introduced a law demanding that ectopic pregnancies be re-implanted, or the doctors involved would face murder charges. As this technology does not actually exist yet, it was a stark reminder of how forced-birth advocates continuously operate in a realm of complete make-believe.
Texas does not appear to be doing better than Ohio when it comes to facing reality. According to Caroline Kitchener at The Lily, unsure doctors are already turning away ectopic pregnancies lest they be legally liable. Rachel Lachenauer, the director at the National Abortion Federation (NAF) hotline, told Kitchener that a South Texas woman diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy was refused an abortion by her doctor. Told to go to the emergency room, she was advised to seek help out of state. The patient ended up driving 15 hours to New Mexico for life-saving treatment after no one in Texas would help her. These cases are only going to grow until the law is either repealed or clarified. Under the current text, any doctor who removes an ectopic pregnancy that is not actively causing the patient to bleed to death faces dire consequences.
Of course, there are other ways for a pregnant person to be put in grave danger that the law fails to account for, specifically the rape of very young minors. The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center states that they have had seven pregnant 12-year-olds in a recent month. Some of their victims are as young as nine. An 11-year-old girl found herself pregnant after being raped by her father. She wasn’t able to fully understand what happened to her.
Under the new abortion ban, these children will likely be forced to carry their pregnancies to term despite the fact that their bodies are almost certainly not well developed enough to do so safely. Adolescent pregnancies are at higher risk for eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections, not to mention the danger of being pregnant in a household that may contain a rapist. Abortion is simply not an option for these victims in Texas anymore, most of whom will not even know enough about their menstrual cycles or have regular enough ones to notice within the six-week window.
Governor Greg Abbott has blithely waved away these concerns, promising to “eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas.” While that would be nice, there’s no indication what he plans to do with pregnant grade-schoolers until he gets around to it, other than to insist they see their rapist’s baby as a blessing.