In Austin, Texas, a lawsuit filed by 13 women for the “torture” to which they have been subjected by the state of Texas is ongoing. The plaintiffs claim that the anti-abortion laws enacted by their state forced them to carry pregnancies to term even after diagnoses of lethal fetal malformations and serious risks to their own health.
Texas is among the 13 U.S. states that rushed to ban abortions with very few exceptions since the Supreme Court’s landmark anti-abortion ruling last year.
In the case of Amanda Zurawski, after whom the case is named (Zurawski v. Texas), her water broke prematurely at 18 weeks, inevitably causing the death of the fetus. However, since the fetus still showed residual heart activity, doctors were prevented from performing an abortion unless her condition worsened so much that it became an imminent threat to her life. Zurawski developed sepsis over days before doctors intervened and was close to dying herself.
Another woman, Samantha Casiano, was forced to carry a pregnancy to term even after being diagnosed with anencephaly, a death sentence for the fetus. In court, the woman was so distressed that she vomited as she told the story of having to witness her baby suffering hopelessly for four hours before it died in her arms.
Such episodes reflect the reality of thousands of American women in the wake of the Supreme Court’s hard-right swerve. For the female citizens who have the misfortune to reside in the more than 30 states that have instituted prohibitionist laws (about half of all Americans), it’s a dystopia worthy of Gilead, the regime of patriarchal autocracy that is established in North America in the fictional future of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women are enslaved and used for reproduction. It is a de facto reality nowadays that millions of women in the U.S. no longer enjoy autonomy over their own bodies and decisions regarding their health.
Just one month after the repeal of Roe v. Wade, a Texas woman was forced to carry an already-dead fetus for two weeks. In Florida, a pregnant woman was forced to carry a fetus without kidneys to term.
Many women are being forced to travel to other states to get an abortion that is sometimes essential for their survival – or, at least, those women who can afford the time and expense needed. Many prohibitionist states provide serious penalties specifically for those who seek abortions elsewhere. For instance, in Nebraska, a mother and her 18-year-old daughter both face two years in jail for procuring abortion pills to terminate the girl’s pregnancy at the end of the second trimester.
There are also severe penalties (up to 99 years in prison) for doctors and medical staff, who are thus forced to follow rules that contradict their code of ethics. Two obstetrician-gynecologists have joined as plaintiffs in the Texas trial. Dr. Damla Karsan of Houston said she joined the suit on behalf of many of her colleagues who feel they are being prevented from fulfilling their duty according to the Hippocratic oath, but are hesitating to go public with their outrage for fear of reprisals.
Over the past few days, the Austin courthouse bore witness to a succession of dramatic testimonies, such as that of Lauren Miller of Dallas, who told of being forced to travel out of state for the abortion that saved the life of one of the twins she was carrying when the other was diagnosed with Edwards syndrome (a deadly genetic condition). The women said they felt hostage to the state and in anguish over the possibility of ever being in that condition again.
The state’s defense attorneys, however, asked that the case be dismissed since the women are not currently in danger, and it’s unlikely that they will suffer from the effects of the law in the future (particularly since, due to the long-term effects of the ordeals they went through, most are unlikely to be pregnant again).
Polls continue to find large popular majorities in the U.S. in favor of the right to abortion.