Add this to the ever-growing list of traumatic, post-Roe v. Wade horror stories unfolding across the country in the three weeks since the Supreme Court decision dropped: One Louisiana woman was apparently forced to endure a “painful, hours-long labor to deliver a nonviable fetus, despite her wishes and best medical advice,” because her doctor wasn’t allowed to perform a dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortion (the safest form of second-trimester abortion).
According to an affidavit filed by the woman’s doctor, Valerie Williams, throughout the delivery, Williams’ patient was “screaming—not from pain, but from the emotional trauma she was experiencing.” This patient already had to grapple with the devastating news that her pregnancy wasn’t viable; on top of this, she was then forced to birth a dead fetus.
Following the delivery, it took hours for Williams’ patient’s placenta to deliver, prompting her to hemorrhage nearly a liter of blood before Williams was able to stop the bleeding, the affidavit claims. Nonetheless, the hospital’s lawyer barred Williams from providing abortion care, which Williams says would have “lasted approximately 15 minutes,” because the incident occurred after Louisiana’s trigger ban temporarily went into effect for a few days starting on July 8.
“There was no way for the pregnancy to continue without putting the patient’s health at risk, as the fetus was already starting to deliver,” Williams wrote. She added, “Going back into that hospital room and telling the patient that she would have to be induced and push out the fetus was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had.”
Williams’ affidavit comes as a Louisiana judge weighs whether to allow the state’s trigger law, which bans abortions with almost no exceptions, to take effect. On Monday, the judge temporarily extended an order that blocks the law, meaning abortion is legal in Louisiana right now. But the judge didn’t go so far as to grant a preliminary injunction, leaving patients and abortion seekers in an ongoing state of limbo.
Given the extreme time-sensitivity of pregnancy-related care, navigating whether abortion is legal or can land you or your doctor in prison on any given day, or at any given hour, simply isn’t tenable. Louisiana doctors have told Jezebel they fear they “could go to prison just for handling a miscarriage as I always have.”
“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. She called this “a travesty,” and specified that this incident was “the first time in my 15-year career that I could not give a patient the care they needed.”
Kathaleen Pittman, who runs an abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, told the Washington Post her clinic is “getting a lot of desperate phone calls from women who are angry or sobbing.” Patients are unsurprisingly incredibly confused about whether they can legally seek care in this state, given the constant, flip-of-a-switch legal action around the law. “[Callers] seem so totally beaten down because they have been trying to access care and, in one moment, it is available in a few weeks. The next minute, it may not ever be available here.”
Louisiana’s top anti-abortion leaders are only adding to this confusion. The state’s attorney general tweeted last week, “Louisiana’s laws banning abortion have not been enjoined. Subject to certain exceptions, abortion remains a criminal offense in our State! Anyone performing abortions, pending outcome, will be culpable when the case is closed in favor of the laws of our State.”
Had Williams’ patient not begun to deliver the unviable fetus, it’s likely Louisiana’s then-active trigger law would have forced her to remain pregnant with it, which can lead to sepsis and other life-threatening infections. Shortly after Texas’ abortion ban SB8 took effect last year, one woman was forced to carry a dead fetus for two weeks before she could get care. Earlier this year, a Polish woman died after being forced to carry a dead fetus for a week due to the country’s abortion ban, despite how the law technically has an exception if someone’s life is at risk.
Harrowing stories like that of Williams’ patient are all but guaranteed to become normalized in states that ban abortion post-Roe, particularly as states like Texas wage a legal war on President Biden’s recent guidance for hospitals to provide life-saving abortion care, and states like Idaho refuse to support exceptions to abortion bans when the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Already, exceptions for abortions for medical emergencies can be confusing and ineffective, given the lack of clarity about risk assessment and at what point doctors can intervene.
Louisiana’s abortion law that’s currently in court threatens doctors with 10- to 15-year jail terms, while including such an exception for threats to the pregnant person’s life. But “how close to death must a patient be?” an attorney for the state’s abortion providers asked. “Doctors are unsure what counts as a ‘medically futile’ pregnancy.’” What about cases like Wright’s patient, whose fetus wasn’t viable?
Following the overturning of Roe, many well-meaning abortion rights supporters claimed we would inevitably return to the days of people dying from unsafe abortions, despite the existence of medically safe abortion pills that we didn’t have before Roe. As Jezebel’s Susan Rinkunas pointed out, the “more pressing concern” is risk of death by pregnancy itself: “Women and pregnant people in the U.S. will die from homicide, the physical toll of pregnancy, and being denied emergency care in hospitals—the factors that were already killing pregnant people, only now, more people will be forced to stay pregnant.”
Banning abortion yields a massive ripple effect on the health system—like, say, being denied prescriptions for life-saving medications that are deemed “abortifacients”—particularly for pregnant people. The U.S. already has the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy nations, especially for Black people and people of color. The CDC doesn’t even count homicides, despite how they are a leading cause of death for pregnant people, and forcing domestic violence victims to remain pregnant will inevitably worsen this outcome.
This is post-Roe America: You can be forced to birth or remain pregnant with a nonviable fetus—all while your state’s attorney general gloats about how doctors who try to help you will be jailed.