Baltimore Sun

Anti-abortion activists in denial

- By Michelle Goldberg Michelle Goldberg (Twitter: @michelle inbklyn) is a columnist for The New York Times, where this piece originally appeared.

It is always painful to grapple with realities that contravene your most deeply held beliefs. Perhaps some in the anti-abortion movement are wrestling with a similarly discomfiti­ng gap between intentions and effects right now. That, at least, is the most sympatheti­c reading of the angry denial of prominent abortion opponents when confronted with a predictabl­e consequenc­e of abortion bans: delayed care for traumatic pregnancy complicati­ons.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, there’s been a steady barrage of horror stories, including several of women refused abortions for life-threatenin­g pregnancy complicati­ons. Rakhi Dimino, a doctor in Texas, where most abortions have been illegal since last year, told PBS that more patients are coming to her with sepsis or hemorrhagi­ng “than I’ve ever seen before.”

Some foes of abortion appear unbothered by such suffering; Idaho’s Republican Party recently rejected language from its party platform that would allow for abortions when a pregnant woman’s life is at stake. Others, however, seem to be struggling to reconcile their conviction that abortion bans are good for women with these evidently not-good outcomes. The result is frantic and sometimes paranoid deflection.

In National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis, suggested that pro-choice activists are the ones sowing confusion about how abortion bans affect miscarriag­e treatment. “Abortion supporters are muddying the waters on purpose, with the sole aim of underminin­g pro-life laws,” she wrote. The influentia­l anti-abortion strategist Richard M. Doerflinge­r accused his opponents of “revving up a public relations apparatus to spread false and exaggerate­d claims in order to ‘paralyze’ physicians and discredit the laws.” tweeted that doctors are “willing to put women’s lives at risk to create viral stories making abortion bans look culpable.”

To believe this, you have to believe that not just doctors, but also hospital attorneys and ethics boards, are collaborat­ing to withhold care from anguished women in order to generate political propaganda.

Recently NPR reported on the ordeal of Elizabeth Weller, a Houston woman whose water broke at 18 weeks. With little amniotic fluid left, her fetus had almost no chance of survival. Continuing the pregnancy put Weller at risk of infection and hemorrhage. She decided to terminate, but when her doctor arrived at the hospital to perform the procedure, she wasn’t allowed to because of Texas’ abortion ban. The fetus still had a heartbeat, and Weller didn’t yet show signs of severe medical distress. She waited for days, getting sicker, until a hospital ethics board ruled that she could be induced.

Ms. Weller’s story is at once shocking and, to anyone who has followed the issue closely, predictabl­e. Even before the Supreme Court allowed states to ban abortion, there were instances of egregious miscarriag­e mismanagem­ent at Catholic hospitals, which operate under guidelines prohibitin­g abortion.

A 2008 article in The American Journal of Public Health detailed cases in which “Catholic-owned hospital ethics committees denied approval of uterine evacuation while fetal heart tones were still present, forcing physicians to delay care or transport miscarryin­g patients to non-Catholic-owned facilities.” According to a report by a Michigan health official obtained by The Guardian, one Catholic hospital subjected five women to dangerous delays in the treatment of miscarriag­es over just 17 months. In 2013 one of the women, Tamesha Means, sued the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, though her case was dismissed.

One reason that Catholic hospital policies around abortion and miscarriag­e haven’t been even more devastatin­g is that, with Roe standing, other hospitals served as a release valve. In a 2016 ACLU report, for example, several doctors described caring for patients transferre­d from Catholic hospitals that wouldn’t treat their pregnancy-related emergencie­s. One doctor, David Eisenberg, recalled a patient who was transferre­d to his hospital from a Catholic institutio­n 10 days after her water broke. Her sepsis was so severe it left her with a cognitive injury.

“To this day, I have never seen someone so sick — because we would never wait that long before evacuating the uterus,” he said.

Abortion opponents write off reports about abortion bans making miscarriag­e more hazardous because they distrust the people publicizin­g them. Many wrote off news of a 10-year-old rape victim forced to seek an out-of-state abortion for the same reason. In a tweet, Ms. DeSanctis called the uproar over miscarriag­e care a “disingenuo­us sideshow concocted by concern trolls to undermine every pro-life law in the country.”

I’ll cop to wanting to undermine anti-abortion laws; I believe they put people’s health at grave risk, but that’s far from the only reason I oppose them. Still, dismissing an argument because of the motive of the person making it is a classic logical fallacy, the sort of thing you resort to when you’d rather not deal with the argument itself.

Members of the anti-abortion movement often claim that abortion is never medically necessary. If they can’t bear to look clearly at the world they’ve made, maybe it’s because then they’d have to admit that what they’ve been saying has never been true.

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