There’s been a lot of talk about abortion access in this country lately, particular in Bible Belt states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississipi and Texas, where the laws blocking access are particularly stringent. In the conversation that surrounds undue burdens when it comes to accessing legal health care, another side of the abortion debate often gets pushed aside — a woman’s right to have a late-term abortion. But we need to talk about that too, as one heartbreaking Reddit post on a couple’s nightmare experience with dealing with those laws makes painfully clear.
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In the post titled “My nightmare with Texas’ ‘Women’s Health’ Laws,” a user tells the story of him and his wife — identified as Taylor and Daniel Mahaffey in a Daily Beast article — who were happily anticipating their very wanted child, when, at about four months along, Taylor experienced serious complications when her cervix began to dilate. Because Taylor had experienced a miscarriage before, as soon as she felt something was off, the couple went to the hospital.
When they arrived, their son’s — whom they’d already named Fox after one of J.M. Barrie’s Lost Boys in Peter Pan — amniotic sac and feet were already outside of the womb.
Despite every attempt to perform a cerclage (a cervical stitch that prevents preterm labor) and save the baby boy’s life, the doctors and nurses had to inform the couple that there was nothing more they could do. Their baby would not survive outside the womb, and there was nothing to keep him inside until his life was viable. In a just and humane world, the doctors would have been able to rupture the sac and deliver the baby, preserving the dignity of his too-short life and allowing his parents a small measure of peace in their grief.
But the couple lives in Texas, and because their son had a heartbeat, the medical team — some of them in tears — had to inform the Mahaffeys that even though they vehemently opposed the inhumanity of the situation, they could not break the law.
In Texas, the law says that inducing the delivery of a baby who would not survive constitutes a late-term abortion, which is banned in the state.
In Texas, the law required that a mother who loved and wanted her child very badly go home and feel her son struggle and die inside her womb for four days before delivering her stillborn child.
We think we know what a woman seeking a late-term abortion looks like. She is a fickle slut who just couldn’t make up her mind. She doesn’t care about anything but herself and her own comfort, and seeks an abortion when it’s most convenient for her, irrespective of any consequence. She is heartless and cruel. She deserves to be punished.
But that isn’t even close to the truth. By the time a woman’s pregnancy is 20 weeks along, she’s more than halfway through it. She knows she’s having a baby; she almost certainly made that decision long before that milestone. Her pregnancy may have been planned, or perhaps it wasn’t, but her baby is coming now, and chances are very, very high that she wants and has already bonded with that baby. She may name the child, anticipating its arrival.
The woman who needs a late-term abortion is almost always the woman who desperately does not want one. What she wants is a healthy child, one that will survive outside her womb without suffering. She is a mother. And when we tell her that she must defy every instinct to shield the child she already loves from injury and pain, then that is grim and cruel, and it could never be called pro-life.
What’s more is that this archaic, ugly prohibition defies medical common sense. The law in question is Texas’ HB2 Fetal Pain Law that operates under the scientifically dubious claim that 20 weeks is when a fetus begins to feel pain, and uses that as a justification to ban abortions for women like Taylor Mahaffey. Despite the fact that the law was built on sketchy science, and despite the fact that her doctors — you know, the men and women who specialize in human bodies and not legislative bureaucracy — actively wanted to do the medically sane and ultimately humane thing and deliver Fox, it wasn’t up to the Mahaffeys and their health care providers.
It was up to the state of Texas, and the decision to force both Fox and the Mahaffeys to suffer wasn’t made by the people who were in Taylor Mahaffey’s hospital room that day. It was made by a group of people who will probably never even meet the couple or know their grief.
And that, no matter where you stand on the abortion debate, isn’t just sad and grim and wrong. It’s heartbreaking.