1 year after Roe v. Wade's reversal: Texans reflect on impact of total ban on abortion

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Monday, June 26, 2023
1 year after Roe v. Wade: Texans reflect on total abortion ban
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One year after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, groups in Texas, pro abortion and anti, are speaking on the impact it has made on the country.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Saturday marks a year since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, which allowed states to pass their own laws on abortion. Texas is one of 13 states that have total or near-total bans on abortions.

RELATED: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, transforming abortion rights in US.

How has the decision impacted the country since then? Well, it depends on who you talk to.

Pro-abortion rights advocates say the reversal of Roe v. Wade has stripped women of their rights, freedoms, and liberties to make decisions about their bodies. They argue the vagueness of Texas law has also put doctors in complicated predicaments where they could risk losing their licenses and jobs when a pregnant woman is in dire need of an abortion.

Anti-abortion groups believe the ruling has saved the lives of countless babies and led more pregnant women who were considering abortions to the resources, support, and help that they need to give birth to their children. They believe the language in Texas law is clear enough to make exceptions for abortion when the pregnant woman's life is in danger.

A Kingwood couple's traumatic experience

Elizabeth Weller and her husband James' dream of growing their family quickly became a nightmare last year.

Elizabeth was at about 19 weeks of pregnancy when her amniotic sac burst and caused her to lose the necessary fluids to keep their baby girl, Theodora, alive in May 2022.

RELATED: Map: Where abortion is banned, restricted, protected across the US

She was left with an extremely difficult decision: One, wait until week 24 to deliver Theodora when she became viable, knowing that the baby would likely die immediately after birth or live a short life with severe disabilities. Two, have an "early delivery," a term she says the doctor used instead of "abortion."

The Wellers ultimately chose the latter, an immensely painful choice for the Kingwood couple.

"Given all of the circumstances, we had to understand the fact that my daughter wasn't going to survive, point blank, in either choice. On top of that, knowing that my body was now open to infection and that I could ultimately lose my uterus or my life," she said.

Their nightmare worsened when the hospital would not approve her for immediate induction. At the time, SB 8, or the "Texas Heartbeat Act," was in effect and made it illegal for a pregnancy to be terminated after about six weeks or when a heartbeat was detected.

"My doctor looked at me with absolute pain in her eyes, and she told me, 'You can either stay here for however long it takes for your daughter to die, or for infection to come, whichever comes first,'" Weller said. "We were in complete shock. My doctor told me they were essentially waiting for me to get sepsis before they could step in."

RELATED: 'Torture': Texas abortion law means woman has to continue pregnancy despite fatal anomaly

Traveling out of state at the time wasn't an option, she said.

"My doctor forewarned that I had never given birth before since this was my first pregnancy. There was no understanding of whether or not I could bleed out if I were to begin the process of labor. She wanted us to be cautious about the fact that I could go into labor on a plane or in a car on the way out of Texas. In that case, what would happen if I needed emergency medical attention then and there?" she explained.

Weller went through five days of agony before the hospital's ethics board ultimately decided to grant her the abortion.

"It was an extremely traumatic event for us. Our mental health was the worst part about it. It came off of a great high to a really horrible low," Weller said.

Two weeks later, the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Pro-abortion advocates still struggling with confusion and fear among patients.

In a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 68 percent of OBGYNs said the SCOTUS ruling has worsened their ability to manage pregnancy-related emergencies, 64 percent believe the decision has worsened pregnancy-related mortality, and 70 percent say it's worsened racial and ethnic inequities in maternal health.

Medical providers at Houston Women's Reproductive Services stopped providing abortion services a year ago when the Dobbs v. Jackson decision allowed Texas' trigger law to go into effect.

The law banned abortions at all stages of pregnancy, except when the pregnant woman is in "danger of death or a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function," terminology that they argue is extremely vague and open to a range of interpretations.

"It's been a very different and very confusing path for the people coming into our office. There's a lot of confusion about the laws. A lot of pregnant people worry about even mentioning that they want to have an abortion or inquire about obtaining one in another state," said Kathy Kleinfeld, administrator at Houston Women's Reproductive Services, said.

Kleinfeld shared that in the last year, they've conducted about 1,600 appointments for pre and post-abortion care. They don't always know the full story of these patients, like whether they decided to drive out of state, keep the pregnancy, or even take matters into their own hands.

She expressed they worry most about pregnant women who are in vulnerable situations. The KFF survey found that 50% of OBGYNs practicing in states where abortion is banned said they had patients in their practice who were unable to obtain an abortion they sought.

"Our biggest concern is all those patients who aren't able to access services and are forced to continue pregnancies that they're not prepared for either physically, emotionally, financially, or all of the above," said Kleinfeld.

She went on to say, "We know these bans impact people without the means to travel, who cannot take time off of work, or who have issues with childcare. There are just so many barriers that make it much more difficult or impossible for those populations. The state of Texas has completely turned their backs on these women."

Anti-abortion groups celebrate the victory they've worked towards for decades

According to information from the Society of Family Planning, there was an average of about 2,700 abortions per month in Texas before the SCOTUS ruling. Now, the monthly average is about seven. A steep decline celebrated by pro-life groups, who have worked for decades to overturn Roe v. Wade.

RELATED: Protests in downtown Houston emerge for the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

"I can't help but reflect with joy on this decision that allowed Texas to protect life beginning at conception. Outside of emergency medical exceptions, the number of abortions in Texas has dropped down to zero. We absolutely believe that it's saving lives. We celebrate every life that has been saved in Texas as a result of our pro-life laws," Amy O'Donnell, communications director at Texas Alliance for Life, said.

She said her organization works with pregnancy centers across the state that provide support and assistance for women who choose to move forward with their pregnancy and give birth to their children.

"One thing we have worked on, which is really no different than what we've focused on in the past, is to educate Texans about the vast resources that Texas offers women. There's resources to specifically help low-income women and women facing unplanned pregnancies," O'Donnell, said. "We believe in the value of protecting lives conceived even in rape or babies diagnosed with disabilities in their mother's wombs."

O'Donnell believes the language in the Human Life Protection Act is clear when it comes to the exceptions that can be made for abortions, but acknowledges there could be more clarification on the law.

"One thing we've been made aware of is how much misunderstanding there is out there about the language in our pro-life laws. It is very clear in Texas law that treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is not considered an abortion. Also in Texas law, a miscarriage is called a spontaneous abortion, and treatment is allowed for women facing miscarriage in our state. It's carved out specifically as miscarriage care," said O'Donnell. "There's a little bit of clarification needed on how our laws impact the medical community. That needs to come from the Texas Medical Board."

Sharing their story

Elizabeth and James Weller now actively speak out in support of women's reproductive rights, sharing their story in hopes of raising more awareness on the issue. Just a few days ago, Elizabeth spoke at a round table in Washington D.C. with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden at the White House.

"Regardless of the fact that I was in a position where I needed this, having that liberty stripped away from you is gutting. You feel like a second-class citizen in this country," said Weller. "Abortion is not a black-and-white issue. It's a gray topic. The changes that I hope to make in the state, I can't do it alone. I'm doing the best that I can and I know other women in Texas are already doing so. Together, we're hoping to make a change."

Weller is part of a lawsuit with the Center for Reproductive Rights against the State of Texas. She said ultimately, what they want is clarification on the law on when an exception can be made for an abortion.

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