The Most Dangerous Anti-Abortion Strategy Yet Is Gaining Steam

Abortion opponents want Americans to believe life-threatening pregnancies don’t exist. My experience proves otherwise.

Sonogram showing an ectopic pregnancy. Photo: BSIP/Getty Images

AAmericans may have differing opinions on abortion, but there was almost always one point of agreement: If a woman’s life is in danger, there should be no legal barriers to the procedure.

But in the last year, anti-abortion activists have begun claiming that women don’t ever need abortions to save their lives. It’s an outrageous lie, one made even more dangerous by the fact that it’s being depicted as one side of a controversial debate rather than a blatant falsehood.

This week, the conservative publication the Federalist published an article by Georgi Boorman arguing that women should carry ectopic pregnancies to term, and urging doctors to take a “watchful waiting” approach rather than end the dangerous pregnancy. While Boorman acknowledged that an ectopic pregnancy is life-threatening, she still scolded women who were putting fears of their own health above the well-being of their unborn children and falsely suggested the risk wasn’t all that great. “[I]s that very small chance [of dying] enough to prompt you to suffer through purposely destroying your own child?” Boorman asks.

But this isn’t just about one article. Earlier this year, an Ohio Republican claimed in a bill that ectopic pregnancy can be treated by “re-inplant[ing] the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus.” No such procedure exists.

The truth is that ectopic pregnancy is the leading cause of maternal death in the first trimester — a fact that makes conservative claims to the contrary so very dangerous. The anti-abortion movement wants us to ignore science, medicine, and doctors; better that we cross our fingers and hope that a woman won’t die. As Daniel Grossman, a reproductive services professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told Vox, “It is really malpractice to watch a patient who is at risk for a tubal rupture from an ectopic pregnancy,” without offering an abortion.

Even worse than the misinformation, though, is how some are afraid to label it as such. Last month, the anti-abortion group Live Action published a Facebook video falsely claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. It was fact-checked by the social media company as false, and marked as such. (As part of Facebook’s attempt to cut down on fake news, it has hired third-party fact-checkers.) After Republican senators sent a letter complaining to the company, however, it removed the fact check.

So because of the obsession with both-sidesism, a video spreading a harmful lie about women’s health now exists unchallenged, with hundreds of thousands of views.

The danger of this kind of lie being adopted into law cannot be overstated.

When it comes to real-life situations with life-threatening pregnancies, there is no time for parsing out laws or policies, no time to take chances or hope for the best. There are not hours, but minutes, to make decisions that will make the difference between living and dying.

I know this about potentially fatal pregnancies because I had one.

One minute I was at a routine doctor’s appointment, the next I was being admitted into the hospital. I thought I was fine, only to discover that my liver was failing and I needed to deliver my daughter — even though her due date was three months away. I was lucky. My pregnancy was far enough along that I could deliver. My baby survived. Many women aren’t so fortunate.

When anti-abortion activists recommend — with zero evidence and in direct contradiction to medical advice — that doctors should wait out life-threatening pregnancies, they’re valuing unborn fetuses’ lives over women’s. In reality, delaying action on ectopic pregnancies, or claiming that women never need an abortion to save their lives, will absolutely kill women.

One minute I was at a routine doctor’s appointment, the next I was being admitted into the hospital.

Let’s say I got sick a few weeks earlier and needed to end my pregnancy to live, but my state only allowed for abortion if my life was in direct jeopardy. When would the doctors be legally allowed to act? Not when my blood pressure skyrocketed. Not when I started having excruciating pain and my vision became blurry, indicating a possible seizure. Not when I needed a blood transfusion or when my liver started to fail — because perhaps the doctors would worry that they still couldn’t legally act; in theory, I could get a liver transplant.

To those who believe this sounds like hyperbole, look at the cases we’ve already seen in countries where abortions are illegal.

When Savita Halappanavar showed up to a hospital in Ireland with terrible pain, the 31-year-old dentist found out that she was in the process of miscarrying. But law prevented her doctors from ending the pregnancy faster because a fetal heartbeat was still present.

Over the next three days, as Halappanavar grew sicker, she and her husband begged the doctors to end her doomed pregnancy — but they were legally bound to do nothing. By the time the fetus’ heartbeat stopped, Halappanavar was in septic shock. She died because of a law that trumped a dying fetus over the life of a woman.

That’s the kind of future, and the kind of tragedy, Americans can look forward to if ideas like those espoused by the anti-abortion movement and leaders are taken seriously. We can’t afford to let affronts to women’s health go unchallenged. Our lives, quite literally, depend on it.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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