BATON ROUGE, La. – A pregnant Louisiana woman who was denied abortion — even though her fetus has a rare and fatal disease — demanded Friday that Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature call a special session to clarify the state’s restrictions on the procedure.
Nancy Davis, who is 15 weeks pregnant, said she will travel out of state next week for a “medically necessary” abortion. Current state law prohibits all abortions unless there is a significant risk of death or harm to the woman if she continues the pregnancy and in the case of a “medically futile” pregnancy. Davis, 36, and abortion rights advocates have for months criticized the legislation as vague and confusing.
Their concerns are echoed in many other states, which, like Louisiana, passed so-called trigger laws when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion. About a dozen states currently ban abortions at all stages of pregnancy, with some allowing minor exceptions, such as in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.
“Ms. Davis was among the first women caught in the crosshairs of the confusion over Louisiana’s rush to restrict abortion, but she is unlikely to be the last,” Ben Crump, Davis’ attorney, said during a news conference held on the steps of the State Capitol in state. friday.
Ten weeks into Davis’ pregnancy, doctors at Women’s Hospital in Baton Rouge diagnosed the fetus she was carrying with acrania, a rare and fatal condition in which a baby’s skull fails to form in the womb. Davis was told that if she carried the pregnancy to term and gave birth, the baby would likely survive for a very short time, anywhere from a few minutes to a week. Doctors advised Davis to have an abortion, but said they could not perform the procedure.
“They basically said I have to carry my baby to bury it,” Davis said. “They seemed confused about the law and afraid of what would happen to them.”
If a doctor performs an illegal abortion in Louisiana, he can face up to 15 years in prison.
In a statement last week to news outlets, spokeswoman Carolyn Iseman said Woman’s Hospital was unable to comment on a specific patient, but reiterated that the hospital’s mission is to provide “the best possible care for women” while complying with state laws and policies.
Since then, the law’s author, Sen. Katrina Jackson, and other lawmakers have said that Davis qualifies for an abortion and that the hospital “grossly misinterpreted” the statute. Yet in a written statement On Tuesday, signed by Jackson and 35 others, including nine other women, they pointed out that many of them share a religious belief that would “compel us to carry this child to term.”
Davis and her attorneys said they don’t blame the doctors, but the vagueness of the law.
“The law is as clear as mud,” Crump said. “Every woman’s situation is different and open to interpretation, so of course health professionals don’t want to risk jail time or having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for making the wrong call.” Who would take anyone’s word for it when their freedom is at stake?’
A lawsuit filed by a Shreveport abortion clinic and others has been pending since the new law took effect. The legislation was in turn blocked and then enjoined as the case made its way through the courts. Most of them recent decision authorized enforcement of the law. The plaintiffs challenging the ban do not deny that the state can already ban abortions; they argued that the law’s provisions were inconsistent and unconstitutionally vague.
Although Davis has not filed a complaint or lawsuit, she wants Louisiana lawmakers to hold a special session to clarify the law. Their next regular session is scheduled for April 2023.
“Imagine how many women could be affected before (lawmakers) go back into session,” Crump said. “How much more mental anguish and mental cruelty will Nancy Davis have to endure before lawmakers clarify these vague and ambiguous laws.”
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