The public learned, in graphic detail, exactly how far the harms of abortion bans reach after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June. It seemed like every week, patients and doctors were coming forward to talk about women who developed life-threatening sepsis or filled diapers with blood before they were finally able to get abortions. Some never got that care, like a Louisiana woman who was forced to deliver her nonviable fetus, and cancer patients who had to delay their chemotherapy. Another woman’s fetus didn’t have a skull, and still she had to travel 1,400 miles to get an abortion. These stories dominated the headlines for months. Recently, we caught up with one of the women who shared hers.
Elizabeth Weller’s water broke at 18 weeks into her pregnancy, long before a baby could survive. It was May 2022 in Houston, Texas, where a six-week abortion ban was in effect. The Wellers wanted to end the pregnancy rather than have their baby suffer, but there was still a heartbeat. The hospital told Weller she basically had two options: wait for the fetus to die inside her, or wait to develop a life-threatening uterine infection from the lack of amniotic fluid. Only then could the hospital end the pregnancy under the law’s medical emergency exception.
As Weller waited at home, her health deteriorating, the hospital told her by phone she wasn’t sick enough yet. Then, when she had dark, foul-smelling discharge, she called her doctor, who told her to go to the ER right away. She felt so gaslit by the situation that she brought a piece of toilet paper with the discharge as evidence in case they didn’t believe her. She didn’t end up needing it, as the hospital ethics panel finally determined she could be induced. Weller decided to share her story on the record with NPR soon after.
Weller, 27, recently graduated with a masters in political science, and has been having hard conversations with her husband about their plans for children and for staying in the state. Here’s what she had to say.
This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
I remember sitting in my hospital bed thinking about how, the semester before this happened, I had taken a media class in politics. In that class, they told us that the literature has found that when conservatives see anonymous sources, they predominantly think, “Oh, this source was made up by the reporter.” I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want this to be another thing where something horribly tragic and very personal—and I think an issue that other women are going to have to face—would give people a reason to say, “This is a fake issue.”
I come from a really conservative family. For me, finding my own voice and challenging my parents was a warm up, because when it came time, I was well-versed in how to speak to other individuals who are conservative and get them to understand that this necessitated empathy. Still, after talking about my abortion, I did see some comments on the story saying, “This isn’t real.” I would have to restrain myself from sharing the picture of my daughter. I have a picture of her when she was delivered—she’s very, very small, very red. That’s my personal picture, but there were times where I just wanted to shove it in this person’s face.
I grew up thinking women should have access to abortion, but I wouldn’t personally have one. This experience definitely made me very supportive of abortion, point blank. This is what happens when you try to outlaw abortion. These are the consequences. I brought toilet paper with discharge on it when I went back to the hospital in case they didn’t believe me. It’s flabbergasting. We shouldn’t have to do that. We shouldn’t have to bring our own bodily fluids for them to believe that we’re getting sick. Death is trying to take us, and we shouldn’t have to prove that to people.
Now, I’m 100 percent supportive of any woman who seeks out an abortion. We don’t need to be telling people how to approach these choices. It should be up to them and only them. When you look at the polls about American society today, people don’t actually want to go back to such a conservative lifestyle either.
What I felt like was a stab in the back, in the weeks leading up to the midterm election, was a lot of talk about Democrats overplaying their hand with abortion. I was just like, “Shut up. Don’t say that.” If you say that, people fall in line—they start downplaying it. When the abortion ballot measures passed, it was really good to at least feel like that’s still the pulse of the United States. It was also disappointing to see that it didn’t translate into anything meaningful here in Texas with races for Governor and state house.
I think all women should be disappointed with how this country has let us down. We had all this time to codify Roe, and we didn’t, and it’s the fault of both parties, Democrats and Republicans. Some of my family members who are Republican voters thought that Roe v. Wade would never be overturned. Then when it happened, they switched to supporting the Democratic candidates. We’ve let women down because it’s easier to use this as a way to get people to vote for you than it is to actually do something meaningful.
It’s angering, and I don’t know how to do more to stop it. And that’s also what makes me feel helpless.
After coming out for the first time with the NPR article, I was very busy. It was a lot of activism for about four months up until the election in November. Since then, it’s been a nice calm. I’ve been allowed to recover and start the healing process. It’s been a little bit like waves of depression here and there, but it’s gotten a lot better.
I have a little corner in my house where I put my daughter’s urn and where I have a little frame of her footprints, her sonogram, and some letters that we got from the hospital. Every now and then, I go over there and I look at it, and I tell her how much I miss her. This was the first Día de los Muertos that I actually celebrated. I did the whole thing for her, the altar and everything.
I’m now reflecting on, well, what does life look like after this? Do I try to get pregnant again after working for a year? And if I do, what does that look like? Am I going to go through another miscarriage? And if I do, is the same thing going to play out in front of me again? It’s terrifying. There are days where I think yeah, I’m definitely going to try for a kid again. But then there are days where I just can’t imagine even attempting to take that on again. I find myself having to ask, “Do I really want a child anymore if it means having to go through the possibility of miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage, like I’ve heard from other women?” If it gets to that point again, how much of this am I willing to see myself go through?
My husband and I talked about leaving Texas. My mom was born and raised in Mexico, and my dad’s family’s Indigenous, so my family has been in Texas—or at least the area that has always been Texas and just south of the border—for centuries. If I moved out of Texas, I would be the first one. I don’t want to have to leave here, you know? I don’t want to have to leave my family and my friends, whatever life that I’ve made in Texas, just because the state doesn’t want to regard me as someone who has autonomy over their own body.
Graduating in December was a very much needed positive for this last year—it felt like a different way of healing. It allowed me to feel like I had accomplished something and say, “Okay, finally I can think about the next chapter in my life now that I have this degree and got something that I really wanted and was able to end such a horrible year on such a high note.” At the end of the day, I’m still standing.
As horrible as it was, I am at least grateful to see this transformation in realizing how strong I can be as an individual, and I’m really grateful for my daughter for being able to show me that. She has given me the power to appreciate my inner strength, and she’s giving you the power to show other women that they are just as strong—that they can say these things and put themselves out there. I do know that she’s at least changed somebody’s mind, and I can say I’m a really proud mom for that.