In an utterly profound failure to read the room, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D, supposedly) said at an end-of-year press conference on Monday that the state’s transition to adopt its near-total abortion ban “has been relatively smooth.” As Jessica Valenti pointed out in her abortion news Substack, this would be ridiculous to say in any state, really—but it’s especially so in Louisiana, where there have been several documented cases of people almost dying as a result of the ban since the fall of Roe v. Wade, and where the ban has “created an atmosphere of terror” for doctors.
Edwards said “that while there have been some hiccups, when people were denied abortion access in Louisiana when they probably shouldn’t have, the post-Roe transition has been relatively smooth.”
“I continue to believe that we should have an exception for rape and incest,” he continued, according to the Louisiana Illuminator. “That’s something that we’ll ask the legislature to put in place in statute when the session starts in April.”
How generous! Pregnant people in Louisiana should have a pass to not be forced to give birth and face possible criminalization, Edwards says—but only if they subject themselves to a violating state process to prove they were raped, of course.
His comments would almost be comical if the stakes of the ban weren’t truly life-or-death. Over the summer, one woman pregnant with a nonviable fetus lacking a skull due to a rare condition called acrania was denied an abortion in the state, and said of her pregnancy that she was “carrying it to bury it.” The longer someone is forced to remain pregnant with a dead or nonviable fetus, the greater the risk to their own life, as they could develop a possibly fatal infection like sepsis, which can cause infertility.
The woman, Nancy Davis, eventually had to travel 1,400 miles to New York for an abortion. But her story exposes how useless abortion ban “exceptions” can be in practice: Louisiana’s ban has an exception for some fetal conditions, but acrania isn’t on the Louisiana Department of Health’s narrow list of qualifying conditions. Rape exceptions to abortion bans have a long history of being unhelpful to rape survivors, or really anyone but anti-abortion politicians pretending to care about rape victims.
Before Davis went public with her story, doctors in the state filed an affidavit challenging the abortion ban in July. The affidavit cited the story of a patient who was forced to endure a “painful, hours-long labor to deliver a nonviable fetus, despite her wishes and best medical advice,” because the state’s near-total ban had just taken effect and her doctor, Valerie Williams, wasn’t allowed to perform a dilation and evacuation abortion—the safest form of second-trimester abortion. According to Williams, the woman, who already had to learn that her pregnancy wasn’t viable and be forced to birth a dead fetus, was “screaming—not from pain, but from the emotional trauma she was experiencing” throughout the delivery.
Afterward, her placenta took hours to deliver, causing her to hemorrhage nearly a liter of blood before Williams was able to stop the bleeding, per the affidavit. In contrast, an abortion procedure would have “lasted approximately 15 minutes.” Williams said that “telling the patient that she would have to…push out the fetus” was “one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had” in her 15-year career. “The trigger bans have turned a hospital room and medical procedure into a legal consultation, all while patients’ health and safety are at risk,” Williams said.
Louisiana doctors told Jezebel over the summer that they feared they “could go to prison just for handling a miscarriage.” In October, doctors in the state said that the abortion ban’s requirement that they sufficiently prove a fetus couldn’t survive in order to not go to prison for providing abortions has “created an atmosphere of terror.” But, as Lorena O’Neil reported for Jezebel in November, doctors in the state are still quietly, creatively trying to help patients anyway: “We can’t tell the patient to be dishonest, but what we can say is, something like, ‘What’s wrong with you? What you mean is, you’re already having a miscarriage, right?” a nurse told O’Neil.
Surely, you wouldn’t have guessed how dire the situation in Louisiana is based on its governor’s comments, which feel like something akin to gaslighting. In contrast, at the same press conference he referred to Louisiana’s push to attract more insurance companies to the state as “a crisis.” But doctors facing possible jail time and patients with nonviable fetuses hemorrhaging blood? Oh, those are just “some hiccups.”
No matter how desensitized anti-abortion leaders like Edwards want us to become to their cruel policies, we have an obligation to stay angry—and frankly, comments like Edwards’ make it pretty easy to do so.