Since the nation's highest court gutted abortion rights more than a year ago, vaguely worded restrictions implemented in some Republican-controlled states have stoked nervousness over how the exceptions should be implemented. .
Supporters have said these exemptions included in laws restricting abortion are sufficient to protect a woman's life. Yet again and again, when applied Heartbreaking situationsThe results are much more ambiguous.
"We have black and white laws on something that is almost always several shades of gray," said Kaitlyn Kash, one of 20 Texas women denied an abortion. Across the country.
State legislators there and elsewhere face increasing pressure to answer these questions by amending laws in legislative sessions that begin next month in most states. But it is not certain how they will do so – or whether they will.
Before the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022, nearly every state allowed abortion at least until the fetus became viable outside the womb — about 24 weeks of gestational age, or Approximately 22 weeks after conception.
Yet the new decision cleared the way for states to impose tougher restrictions or bans; Many already had such laws in place in anticipation of the decision.
Currently, 14 states enforce bans on abortion during pregnancy. Two others are under such restrictions due to court decisions. And the other two have restrictions that take effect when cardiac activity can be detected, about six weeks after pregnancy – often before women even know they are pregnant.
Every state ban has a provision that allows abortion in at least some circumstances to save the life of the mother. At least 11 – including three with strict restrictions – allow abortion because of fatal fetal anomalies, and some do so when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
But a provision included in a law enacted by Congress in 1986 and signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan states that abortion must be available. When a pregnant woman's life is in danger During a medical emergency.
But a lack of clarity on how to enforce that rule and other exceptions in state laws has compounded the trauma and heartache some women experience when they face serious medical problems but cannot access abortion in their home states. Unable to get it done.
Meanwhile, Jackie Staton filed a complaint in Oklahoma claiming the state violated the federal rule. She said in court documents that because her own life was not in immediate danger when doctors deemed her pregnancy non-viable, she was told to wait in the hospital parking lot until her condition became so bad that So that he becomes eligible for life saving care.
In Tennessee, Nicole Blackmon told reporters that a 15-week ultrasound revealed that several of her baby's major organs were growing outside her abdomen and that he likely would not survive. Still, her medical team told her she did not have the option to have an abortion. She ultimately gave birth to a stillborn child because she could not afford to travel out of state for an abortion.
Ambiguity surrounding the Volunteer State's abortion ban has prompted Republican state Senator Richard Briggs to seek changes to the law during the upcoming 2024 legislative session. However, it's unclear how far the measure will advance inside the GOP-controlled state House, where several members are running for re-election.
Republicans created an extremely narrow exception earlier this year, but Briggs, who is a doctor, said the law still fails to appropriately help women and doctors. He wants the law to include a list of diagnoses when it may be appropriate to have an abortion and to protect women suffering from pregnancy complications who could become infertile if they do not get an abortion.
Other states took steps in 2023 to clear up the confusion, but advocates say they did not fully accomplish the task.
In Texas, lawmakers added a provision this year that gives doctors some legal protections in abortion cases. premature rupture of membranes, commonly known as water breaking or ectopic pregnancy. Which can cause dangerous internal bleeding.
Across the country, advocates on both sides predict that more legislatures will consider adding or clarifying abortion ban exceptions and definitions in 2024, though few, if any, such measures have been filed so far.
"What is abortion and what is not, what is an abortion emergency?" Dennis Burke, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, said he is behind several anti-abortion lawsuits. "This may require some clarification in some areas."
Meanwhile, in the state where Democrats are in control, lawmakers are expected to push to loosen abortion restrictions and expand access.
This year, Maine became the seventh state to have no specific limits on when an abortion can be performed during pregnancy.
Greer Donnelly, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who is an expert on abortion law, said there could be a push for more such changes: “Many people are questioning whether a line should exist right now . ,
The line is stark in Texas, where change is unlikely in 2024 because lawmakers are not scheduled to meet.
In Texas, Kash and 19 other women who were denied abortions, and two physicians, have filed a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court, seeking to clarify when abortions are allowed. Needed
Kash, who already had a child, was overjoyed at the idea of telling family and friends that she was expecting. But after a routine ultrasound at 13 weeks of pregnancy, she discovered the baby had severe skeletal dysplasia – a condition that affects bone and cartilage development. Her baby was unlikely to survive birth or would likely suffocate soon after birth.
“Is this where we talk about the ending?” Kash asked his doctor.
"They told me to get a second opinion out of state," he recalled.
Her health was not in immediate danger of deterioration, so she did not qualify for any of the narrow exceptions to allow her doctor to provide abortion services. Instead, she moved to another state to legally terminate her pregnancy.
At arguments on the case last month, a lawyer for the patients told the judges about the confusion.
"Although the ban technically has a medical exception," said Molly Duane, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, "nobody knows what that means and the state won't tell us."
Assistant state Attorney General Beth Klusman said the law includes guidance: Doctors must use "reasonable medical judgment" when deciding whether a pregnant woman's life is in danger.
He said that "there will always be strong demands" towards any abortion ban.
Mark Herron, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights who is leading the Texas case, said he generally doesn't have a lot of confidence in lawmakers across the U.S. to do it right.
“Legislatures have no track record of listening to doctors,” he said. “We're certainly not waiting for legislatures to do the right thing.”
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