It was May 10, 2022. Elizabeth was 18 weeks pregnant. She ate a healthy breakfast, went for a walk outside, and came back home.
In the nursery upstairs, they had stashed some baby clothes and new cans of paint. Down in the kitchen, images from recent scans and ultrasounds were stuck to the fridge.
Elizabeth stood up to get some lunch. That’s when she felt something “shift” in her uterus, down low, and then “this burst of water just falls out of my body. And I screamed because that’s when I knew something wrong was happening.”
Her waters had broken, launching her into what she called a “dystopian nightmare” of “physical, emotional and mental anguish.” She places the blame for the ensuing medical trauma on the Republican legislators who passed the state’s anti-abortion law; on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed it; and on the inflamed political rhetoric, which Elizabeth said sees abortion “as one thing, a black-and-white issue, when abortion has all of these gray areas.”
State abortion laws are complicating other types of obstetric care
Elizabeth’s pregnancy crisis began — and ended — weeks before June 24, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion in its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling.
But the Wellers and 28 million other Texans had already been living under a de facto abortion ban for eight months, since September 2021. That’s when a new state law banned all abortions after embryonic or fetal cardiac activity is detected — usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. Since then, thousands of women have left Texas to obtain abortions in other states.
Today, abortion is also illegal in Texas under a 1925 law that the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, declared to be in effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Another ban, a so-called “trigger law” passed by Texas in 2021, is expected to go into effect within weeks.
The crisis the Wellers endured is emblematic of the vast and perhaps unintended medical impacts of the criminalization of abortion in Republican-led states. The new abortion bans — or the old laws being resurrected in a post-Roe world — are rigidly written and untested in the courts. Many offer no exemptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomalies.
But the most confusing development involves the exemptions that exist for the woman’s life or health, or because of a “medical emergency.” These terms are left vague or undefined.