A pregnant woman in Louisiana says she’s being forced to choose between carrying a fetus that lacks a skull and the top of its head (as a result of a rare condition called acrania) to term, or traveling several states over for a legal abortion, since Louisiana has banned abortion with very narrow exceptions.
“It’s hard knowing that I’m carrying it to bury it,” Nancy Davis, who’s 13 weeks pregnant and is already the mother of one child, told local news station WAFB9 on Monday. A few weeks ago, she had her first ultrasound and was told the fetus wouldn’t survive—but that she would have to either carry and birth the nonviable fetus or travel to Florida, the closest state where abortion is still legal. Davis is running out of time to make her decision, however, because Florida bans the health service at 15 weeks.
Last Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court allowed the state’s ban—which bans care except to save a pregnant person’s life or in some cases when the fetus won’t survive—to take effect, though litigation to block the ban remains ongoing. Louisiana’s ban includes an exception for some fetal conditions, but acrania isn’t on the Louisiana Department of Health’s narrow list of qualifying conditions.
Louisiana’s ban—and certainly, the constant legal back-and-forth around it—is already taking a massive toll on the state’s health care system that will only get worse now that all three of the state’s clinics were forced to permanently relocate out-of-state on Monday. Before Davis, one Louisiana doctor testified in an affidavit challenging the ban that her patient was forced to endure a “painful, hours-long labor to deliver a nonviable fetus, despite her wishes and best medical advice,” after the ban temporarily took effect last month.
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The doctor, Valerie Williams, said her patient was “screaming—not from pain, but from the emotional trauma she was experiencing.” It took hours for the woman’s placenta to deliver, causing her to hemorrhage about a liter of blood which placed her own life in danger. A simple abortion procedure would have lasted 15 minutes, Williams said. She claimed this was “the first time in my 15-year career that I could not give a patient the care they needed.” The state threatens doctors and abortion providers who violate the ban with 10 to 15 years in prison. Louisiana doctors have told Jezebel the ban has forced them to fear they “could go to prison just for handling a miscarriage as I always have.”
Both Davis’ story and Williams’ testimony show the ban’s supposed exceptions are pretty ineffective in practice: Davis is literally being forced to carry a fetus missing part of its head, and Williams’ patient’s life was endangered by the unsafe delivery of her nonviable fetus. Doctors have previously pointed out that exceptions for threats to the pregnant person’s life are too ambiguous to actually help pregnant people. “How close to death must a patient be?” an attorney for Louisiana’s abortion providers asked last month. “Doctors are unsure what counts as a ‘medically futile’ pregnancy.’” Further, in some countries, being forced to carry a dead fetus has resulted in pregnant people developing fatal infections when doctors are too afraid of criminal charges to help.
The U.S. already leads wealthy nations in maternal mortality, particularly among people of color. I can’t imagine that doctors being forced to choose between prison and helping patients, or a Nebraska teen being charged with a felony for self-managing her abortion, will improve these conditions. But this is our post-Roe world, where Republicans are pushing to ban birth control and IVF, hospitals are denying rape victims emergency contraception, top anti-abortion activists are romanticizing the new reality of 13-year-old forced parents, and in Louisiana, the state can force you to carry a headless fetus. As horror stories of immeasurable suffering pour in on a near-daily basis, we can’t afford to become desensitized to any of it.