The Women Who Died After Abortion Bans

That photo of Ms. Santoro was published in Ms. magazine in 1973, under the words “Never Again.” The image was blown up on placards carried at abortion rights rallies, a visceral illustration of the risks of illegal abortion.

In recent years, the state of abortion rights in America has deteriorated, especially for poor women and women of color. But it may be harder to motivate protesters now, in an era where women of reproductive age have spent their entire lives with the protections of the Roe era. The back-alley abortions that motivated the movement in the past are largely someone else’s memory.

There are other fears now. Today, a person could be charged with a crime after miscarrying or could face legal consequences for ingesting abortion pills ordered on the internet. In states where abortion access has been whittled down, legal provisions promising to safeguard the life of the pregnant woman are left to interpretation by medical personnel. But this is a space without clear answers, and hospital staffs will inevitably factor their own legal and professional risk into what would otherwise be a decision about the patient’s best interest.

Texas’ law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy has been in effect since September, and already, The Lily has reported, a woman in the state who experienced an ectopic pregnancy said she was turned away for care. Ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, require immediate termination because they endanger the patient’s fertility or, worse, her life. In theory, terminating an ectopic pregnancy is not banned under the Texas law. But in this case, according to the National Abortion Federation’s hotline director, who spoke with The Lily, doctors were afraid to intercede, and the woman ended up driving at least 12 hours to New Mexico for the procedure.

The Texas woman with the ectopic pregnancy survived her ordeal. But as more states consider passing laws like Texas’, the next woman might not. What will happen then? Will we know her name? Will she become a rallying cry? Or will she and other women with tragic stories fade into obscurity, their families fearful of coming forward? No one wants to see this happen, but what are we doing to prevent it?

I called up Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (who happens to be my cousin by marriage), and asked her: Why does tremendous outcry over restrictive abortion laws come after a woman dies, rather than before? Ms. Paltrow was biting in her response. “The primary impact of the anti-abortion movement has not been to stop abortions, it is to dehumanize,” she said. “It is martyrdom and the visible suffering and death of a visible woman that reminds people of their humanity and their right to life.”

In Texas and elsewhere, Americans shouldn’t wait for another woman’s heart to stop beating before they demand change.

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