A pregnant lady in Louisiana who was denied an abortion despite the fact that her unborn child had a rare and fatal condition has asked Governor John Bel Edwards and the state legislature to hold a special session to clarify the state’s laws on abortion. On Friday, Nancy Davis announced that she would be leaving the state next week for a “medically necessary” abortion, at 15 weeks into her pregnancy.
The only exceptions to this rule are “medically futile” pregnancies and those in which the woman’s life or health is in grave danger if she continues the pregnancy. Davis, 36, and abortion-rights groups have been critical of the legislation for months, calling it ambiguous and difficult to understand.
When the Supreme Court of the United States reversed Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 ruling ensuring a constitutional right to abortion, many states, including Louisiana, introduced so-called trigger laws in response.
About a dozen states outright prohibit abortions at any point in a woman’s pregnancy. These laws vary, with some allowing for limited exceptions in extreme circumstances like rape, incest, or the threat to the pregnant woman’s life.
“Ms Davis was among the first women to be caught in the crosshairs of confusion due to Louisiana’s rush to restrict abortion, but she will hardly be the last,” Ben Crump, a lawyer for Davis, spoke at a news conference held on the state’s Capitol steps on Friday.
Doctors at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge diagnosed Davis’s unborn child with acrania at the ten-week mark of her pregnancy. Acrania is a rare and fatal illness in which the baby’s skull fails to form in utero. The doctors advised Davis that her baby had a very small chance of survival if she carried the pregnancy to term and gave birth. Doctors suggested an abortion to Davis but stated they couldn’t carry it out themselves.
“Basically, they said I had to carry my baby to bury my baby,” Davis said. “They seemed confused about the law and afraid of what would happen to them.” In Louisiana, a medical professional who assists in an unlawful abortion faces up to 15 years in jail.
Caroline Isemann, a spokesperson for Woman’s Hospital, said in a statement to the media last week that the hospital could not comment on a specific patient but that it is committed to providing the “best possible care for women” in accordance with state laws and procedures.
Senator Katrina Jackson, who authored the bill in question, and other legislators have since said that Davis is legally entitled to an abortion and that the hospital “grossly misinterpreted” the law. Jackson and 35 others, including nine other women, signed a declaration on Tuesday saying they were “compelled to carry this child to term” because of their religious beliefs.
Davis and her attorneys have stated that they do not hold the doctors responsible, but rather the ambiguity of the legislation. Crump remarked, “The law is as clear as mud.”
“Every women’s situation is different and subject to interpretation, so of course, medical professionals don’t want to risk prison or to have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines for making the wrong call. Who would just take somebody’s word for it when their liberty is in jeopardy?”
Since the law went into force, a Shreveport abortion clinic and others have sued. As the lawsuit works its way through the courts, the law has alternately been stopped and then enforced. In light of the most recent judgement, the law can now be enforced. The plaintiffs in this case do not dispute that the state can currently restrict abortions, rather, they say that the law is unconstitutionally vague and contains inconsistencies.
Davis hasn’t lodged a formal complaint or lawsuit, but she does want the Louisiana legislature to convene a special session to clarify the statute. In April of 2023, they will meet again for a regular session.
“Imagine how many women may be affected before [lawmakers] come back into session,” Crump stated. “How many more Nancy Davises will have to endure the mental anguish and mental cruelty before the legislators clear up these vague and ambiguous laws.”
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