Texas Abortion Disaster: The Inevitable Result of Decades of Sexist Legislation

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Okay, let’s talk about Kate Cox.

I’ll go over the facts in case you aren’t aware: Cox is a 31-year old woman in Texas who fell pregnant this year with a fetus she very much wanted to bring to term. Unfortunately, when she was about 20 weeks into her pregnancy, Cox’s doctor informed her that her fetus had a genetic abnormality called Trisomy 18, or “Edwards Syndrome.” The condition has no cure and ranges in severity, but most fetuses with it die before birth, most babies born with it die painfully within two weeks, less than 10% make it to their first birthday, and a handful survive to their teens with nonstop extensive care. In extremely rare cases, a person with Trisomy 18 may have a functional heart that allows them to live to 40 with severe disabilities.

Cox wasn’t so “lucky,” and her doctors told her that her fetus had absolutely zero chance at living long after birth, if that long. Furthermore, they informed her that continuing to carry the pregnancy would jeopardize her own health and future fertility, as she would likely require a C-section that would put her at risk of uterine rupture and hysterectomy.

Cox obviously knew that after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade, Texas quickly moved to make abortion effectively illegal. However, she also knew they had carved out an exception for the life of the mother, so she assumed she could end her pregnancy without putting her own health at risk and without bringing a baby into the world only to watch it suffer horribly for a few hours or days before dying.

She was wrong. Exceptions for “the life of the mother” have always just been lip service, referring only to a fantastical scenario in which doctors can say without a doubt that a woman will die if she brings a pregnancy to term, as if the baby will emerge from the womb holding a cartoon bomb with the fuse already lit. Her doctors told her she could not get an abortion in her home state.

So Cox contacted the Center for Reproductive Rights, which quickly moved to file a case asking the state of Texas for emergency authorization for an abortion, allowing her to get treatment without punishment for herself, her husband, or her doctor, all of whom would ordinarily be punished under Texas law. The judge in that case granted her request, stating that to do otherwise would be “a genuine miscarriage of justice.” Pun intended?

Unfortunately, as happens in cases like this, a miscarriage happened anyway and, unable to expel it naturally, the State was forced to let it rot and develop an infection. That infection’s name is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who within hours of the judgment sent a threatening letter to the hospitals where Cox’s doctor worked, stating that the state would prosecute them after the judge’s order expired if they gave Cox an abortion.

The Texas Supreme Court then stayed the first ruling and then determined that Cox could NOT receive abortion care in the state. Paxton said that her “pregnancy did not meet the standard of “life-threatening” required for a legal abortion, and said that if she interrupted her pregnancy in Texas, her physician would face first degree felony charges and civil penalties.”

So, Cox was forced to flee the state to get an abortion.

A new poll finds that, unsurprisingly, 83% of Americans disapproved of Texas’s actions in this particular case. And that includes Republicans, amongst whom 74% disapproved.  I say “unsurprisingly” because poll after poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support abortion access and disapprove of the government inserting itself in the decision making between a pregnant person and their doctor.

And that’s for any generic abortion. In this case, Kate Cox is the perfect, ideal subject to the average American, including (especially) conservatives: she’s a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, married woman. She already has two young children with her husband. They very much want to have a large family. They were excited to be pregnant again and wanted to bring the fetus to term. And the pregnancy was without a doubt nonviable–the fetus would likely not make it to term, and if it did it would die horribly after birth. AND this pregnancy, if continued, would very likely negatively affect Cox’s ability to have children in the future. 

It’s equally fortunate that Cox was educated and wealthy enough to immediately get legal assistance, and wealthy enough to be able to leave the state to get the care she needed.

I’m calling all of this out because this is exactly the end game that we’ve been warning about since decades before the Supreme Court threw out Roe v. Wade: this was never about protecting babies but about controlling and punishing women, and so the result was always going to be bad for ALL women, not just those who didn’t want to be pregnant.

In fact, as I’ve previously said, in a way the outlawing of abortion is even worse for people who WANT to have children, for exactly this reason. If you don’t want kids and you get pregnant and you have the means, you leave the state immediately to get your abortion. But if you DO want kids and you get pregnant, you’re in for nine months of anxiety. What if you get cancer or some other disorder in which the treatment could harm the fetus? The longer you remain pregnant, the worse things will be if you need an abortion and can’t get one, all the way up until you give birth and you wonder, if a life-threatening complication occurs, will you get the treatment you need or will the doctors worry about being prosecuted for not doing enough for the child?

And so, while Cox’s story is upsetting, we have known that it was going to happen. And that’s why IF this story upsets you, you also need to look back at all the cases that maybe did NOT upset you as much, but which led inevitably to this moment in time: the “heartbeat” and “fetal pain” bans that make it difficult for people to get abortions if they don’t know about health complications early enough or if they can’t access healthcare quickly enough; the banning of Medicaid or even private insurance covering abortion care that stops poor people from getting abortions; parental consent requirements that mean a parent can force their underage child to give birth; the limiting of abortion care to medical doctors with hospital admitting privileges, which leads to the closing of clinics meaning that poor people have a harder time getting to care; forced counseling prior to abortion, which extends the amount of time it takes for people to get care which means poor people traveling from other states need to spend more money on hotels; all of these laws that have been passed in various states over the past decade, that mostly affected poor, marginalized people, all of this finally and inexorably led to a negative outcome for a woman who even rich conservative white people could empathize with.
Like I said in 2019 when an Ohio Republican introduced a bill that would charge doctors with murder if they removed an ectopic pregnancy: that shit is the pointy tip of a wedge, and once that point breaks the surface they will just keep pushing and pushing until they get the whole shebang jammed in, and they can finally put women back in their place: barefoot and pregnant and bleeding out on the floor of the kitchen.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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