TEXAS VIEW: Texas abortion law has made miscarriages more dangerous and more devastating

THE POINT: Our state’s misguided rules show why we need a federal standard that limits but does not prohibit abortions.

Some of us have wrestled with the moral dilemma of abortion as a philosophical exercise. Some of us have confronted it directly after the jolt of two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Most Americans, including this editorial board, reject hard-line stances because we recognize the question of abortion is too complicated for absolute prohibition or total permission.

Our state lawmakers would have been wiser to recognize the deep moral complexity that abortion presents and the reality that there are times when women must have access to abortion. But instead the Legislature passed laws in 2021 that ban abortions after six weeks — even in cases of rape — and created a system that allows anyone to sue people they suspect of having facilitated an abortion.

Those laws may have arisen from a desire to protect more of the unborn. But they have had foreseeable consequences that are morally untenable. This includes scientific and anecdotal evidence that they have worsened medical care for women experiencing miscarriages.

These are women whose own bodies are rejecting their pregnancies, but the Texas laws have sown confusion and fear among medical professionals about how to treat them. That’s because medical interventions for miscarriages mirror treatment for elective abortions.

This extreme outcome is why we need Congress to pass a federal law that limits but does not wholly prohibit abortion, much like countries in western Europe have done.

Women experiencing a miscarriage, no matter where they live, should have access to basic medical care without seeing their lives placed in greater danger because doctors fear prosecution or lawsuits for treating them.

When a woman seeks care for a miscarriage, it is standard practice for her doctor to present her with the option of expelling the pregnancy on her own or receiving medical care that involves labor-inducing medication or surgery.

But now doctors have to navigate new restrictions on abortion medication and a ban on abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected. The law allows abortions in case of “a medical emergency,” but it’s unclear what counts as one.

One Dallas-area woman told The New York Times that her hospital sent her home bleeding and in pain with instructions to come back only if she filled a diaper with blood more than once an hour. Another woman in Central Texas told NPR that emergency room doctors communicated with her by typing on their phones because they were afraid to be overheard helping her plan a therapeutic abortion.

A recent study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at the outcomes of 28 pregnant patients in Dallas who sought care at Parkland and UT Southwestern Medical Center after the “heartbeat bill” became law in September. They were patients whose water broke, who were bleeding or who experienced other complications before 22 weeks, prior to fetal viability.

Because fetal cardiac activity was detected in every case, the patients had to wait an average of nine days until there was an “immediate threat” to their lives to receive medical intervention. All but one of the 28 patients lost her fetus or baby. The newborn still alive at the end of the study lay in intensive care with respiratory failure, a brain injury and a heart defect.

The study also found that the wait led to 57% of the patients developing serious health complications.

Carrying forward as Texas is now will only hurt the cause of abortion opponents and leave well-intended health care providers in a difficult position. The authors of the law may not have intended for women with miscarriages and their doctors to get caught in the middle, but that is what’s happening. What they have done is prolong the suffering of women going through one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives.

Dallas Morning News