Are abortion bans killing women?

A Texas radio host says his wife was denied life-saving miscarriage care

Abortion rights and anti-abortion supporters hold up signs as they clash outside the Supreme Court on April 24, 2024 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)
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Since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Dobbs decision two years ago this month, pro-abortion activists have scrambled to prove that ensuing state laws restricting abortion are putting women’s lives in danger. Although the vast majority of abortions are performed for reasons of convenience, the new trope is that women are going to die en masse if they can’t have access to these procedures. There are a couple of angles to this argument: 

Abortion bans and restrictions will render doctors unable to provide life-saving care to women 

Because abortion is safer than pregnancy, forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term puts…

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Dobbs decision two years ago this month, pro-abortion activists have scrambled to prove that ensuing state laws restricting abortion are putting women’s lives in danger. Although the vast majority of abortions are performed for reasons of convenience, the new trope is that women are going to die en masse if they can’t have access to these procedures. There are a couple of angles to this argument: 

  1. Abortion bans and restrictions will render doctors unable to provide life-saving care to women 
  2. Because abortion is safer than pregnancy, forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term puts her life in danger 

In this edition of Culture Shock, we are going to dig into the first claim. We’ll tackle the second claim next week, so please remember to subscribe. 

There have been several viral stories pushed by abortion activists in recent weeks to argue against pro-life laws in various states. As you’ll see, these stories are missing important context and contain blatant misinformation. 

Will abortion bans and restrictions render doctors unable to provide life-saving care to women? 

There is not a single pro-life law in the country that would prohibit doctors from providing life-saving care to pregnant women. All twenty-two states that restrict or ban abortions have exceptions on abortions that are performed to save the life of the mother. This is based on the “reasonable judgment” of the medical provider, which is a common standard for any healthcare decision. Sixteen out of twenty-two states with abortion restrictions also state that abortions may be performed to protect the health of the mother. The Texas Supreme Court recently clarified in one of its rulings that women need not face the consequences of a life-threatening pregnancy i.e. she does not need to be imminently facing death or impairment before doctors intervene. 

There is also no law that prohibits care for ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages, which no reasonable person would confuse with an elective abortion. There have been a few recent viral stories that suggested women who are miscarrying are getting substandard healthcare in states with abortion bans.

A couple in Louisiana claimed that ER doctors refused to say she was having a miscarriage and denied her abortion pills that would have expelled her non-viable pregnancy more quickly. The couple alleged the doctors must have been scared of being prosecuted under the state’s abortion ban. The hospitals the woman sought care at told NPR that her symptoms did suggest she was having a miscarriage, and the proper treatment path would be to take a “wait and see” approach. They denied changing standards of care due to the abortion law. It is true that an expectant management approach is usually taken with miscarriages, which can take up to two to six weeks to pass naturally. Sixty-five percent of missed miscarriages and 80 percent of incomplete and first trimester miscarriages successfully pass this way. This method is associated with lower rates of infection. 

In Texas, radio host Ryan Hamilton similarly claims his wife was denied a procedure to remove a fetus she was carrying that no longer had a heartbeat. The couple went to a healthcare provider seeking surgical intervention — a dilatation and curettage (D&C) to remove the child — but that provider does not provide surgeries. Doctors instead prescribed her a drug, Misoprostol, to help expel the child. When two doses did not work, Hamilton tried to get a refill, which doctors declined to provide. A different hospital said Mrs. Hamilton’s situation wasn’t enough of an emergency to yet perform a D&C and prescribed her another round of Misoprostol. They suggested scheduling a D&C for another time if needed (D&C is an elective procedure). The third round worked, but Mrs. Hamilton bled significantly, passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital. Hamilton has accused the doctors of denying his wife a D&C due to Texas’s abortion law, even though it explicitly states that miscarriage care is permissible: “An act is not an abortion if the act is done with the intent to: remove a dead, unborn child whose death was caused by a spontaneous abortion [miscarriage].”

A write-up on the case from the Dallas Morning News says, “It’s impossible to say whether the woman’s miscarriage care was influenced by the abortion bans, even though her case should fall outside the laws bounds.”

The Hamiltons’ case is sad and unfortunate, but it wasn’t caused by Texas’s abortion law. If anything, they should blame the irresponsible rhetoric of pro-abortion activists who have created unrealistic and potentially dangerous expectations for miscarriage care. In both of these cases, you have scared couples who have been warned that they will be unable to get treatment for one of the most horrific things a woman might ever go through. They demand pills and surgical intervention when the normal standard of care for a miscarriage is expectant management. It can take around two weeks for the body to pass the fetus, at which point a doctor would then check to make sure all of  the tissue has been properly expelled. A responsible doctor would not immediately jump to prescribing three doses of Misoprostol or scheduling a D&C.

Even if it were the case that doctors were providing substandard miscarriage care because of fears about state abortion laws, anger should be directed toward doctors, not pro-lifers. Any sane and reasonable doctor would be able to differentiate between an elective and spontaneous abortion and would not be “confused” by laws banning the former. If they declined care to a woman for the latter, they would be guilty of malpractice. Any doctor that cites an abortion restriction or ban as a reason to deny miscarriage care should rightfully be called out for putting their desire to score political points over the health of women. 

Stay tuned for next week’s Culture Shock on maternal mortality rates, which are rife with bad data and bizarre assumptions.