The ripple effect of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade is being felt in Louisiana, where a woman says she was not able to terminate her pregnancy after being told that her unborn child would likely die due to a birth defect.
Around 10 weeks into her pregnancy, Nancy Davis, a Black woman with a partner and three children, said doctors told her that her baby would be born with acrania, a rare abnormality that occurs when a fetus lacks a skull.
Davis said her condition meant that the fetus would likely be stillborn or die within the first week of life. Medical professionals recommended an abortion but said they couldn’t provide one because of the state’s abortion ban.
“Basically, they said I had to carry my baby to bury my baby,” Davis said as she stood with her family and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump outside the Louisiana state Capitol on Friday.
Davis said her doctors were unsure if they could legally perform the abortion due to Louisiana’s law, which states that abortion is banned except to prevent the patient’s death or in cases of “substantial risk of death due to a physical condition, or to prevent the serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ of a pregnant woman.”
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, the ban has exemptions for “medically futile” pregnancies, which include a number of fetal abnormalities.
“They seemed confused about the law and afraid of what would happen to them if they performed a criminal abortion,” Davis said. “Now I am preparing to go out of state for this procedure next week. I want you to imagine what it’s been like to continue this pregnancy for another six weeks after this diagnosis.”
Davis said a doctor recommended an abortion and said they would perform it for several thousand dollars. But then, she said, the administrator at the facility, Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., said they could not perform the procedure due to the overturning of Roe and the strict “baby termination laws” in Louisiana.
A spokesperson for Woman’s Hospital told CNN that the hospital can’t comment on a specific patient, but said it looks at “each patient’s individual circumstances and how to remain in compliance with all current state laws to the best of our ability.”
“Because the medical team feared repercussions if they provided Mrs. Davis with an abortion, she had to look out of the state for safe, trustworthy care,” Crump said.
He added that doctors feared they could face fines of upwards of $200,000 as well as lose their medical licenses and even face jail or prison time.
In a statement Tuesday, they said that during this past legislative session they amended changes to a previous 2006 trigger law. “Amongst those changes was a medical futility exception that allows for a woman to have a medical procedure which leads to a spontaneous miscarriage, if she is carrying a child that cannot survive outside the womb.”
They further stated, “Although many of us share a faith which would compel us to carry this child to full term believing that throughout the pregnancy the child’s vital organs will form, we voted for this exception and therefore recognize it as law.”
The confusion surrounding Louisiana’s law comes as doctors across the U.S. have expressed concern over physicians having to navigate strict abortion bans perceived as vague or unclear.
The issue of reproductive rights is usually split along party lines nationally, with Republicans favoring abortion bans. But in Louisiana, Democrats have been leading the charge.
In 2006, it was a Democratic Louisiana state senator who sponsored the “trigger law” that would automatically ban abortions unless the pregnancy threatened the woman’s life. Then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, signed the law, well before Roe v. Wade was in serious danger of being overturned by the high court.
In 2019, Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, signed a bill that prohibits abortion “of an unborn human being with a detectable heartbeat.” The measure was sponsored by a Democrat, former state Sen. John Milkovich.
Then, also in 2019, Jackson carried a bill that would allow Louisiana voters to decide on a constitutional amendment stating that no provision of the state constitution protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion. It passed, Edwards signed it, and voters approved it in 2020.
Jackson, a Democrat, said she asked the Louisiana Department of Health to communicate the medical futility exception to Woman’s Hospital attorneys, telling them the hospital could legally perform the procedure on Davis.
However, Crump said the law is racist and classist, affecting mostly women who are people of color or low-income. Despite the clarification by the state, Crump said his client plans to get the abortion elsewhere.
“The attorney general did contend that the law is clear, to which we say the law is clear as mud. Every woman’s situation is different and subject to interpretation,” Crump said in response to a reporter’s question about why Davis was going out of state to get an abortion that would fall within the Louisiana law’s exception.
“So, of course, medical professionals don’t want to risk prison or having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for making the wrong call. Who would just take somebody’s word for it when their liberty is in jeopardy?”
On her GoFundMe page, Davis said she plans to travel to North Carolina to get this “challenging” procedure.
Her partner, Chedrick Cole, who was with her at the press conference, said that “having a front row seat to the situation and seeing the impact that it had on our family, it’s really complex, it’s really difficult … it’s so much bigger than us and our family.”
“This is not fair to me, and it should not happen to any other woman,” Davis added.
“Being a mother starts when your baby’s in the womb, not on the outside. The attachment and everything that comes with it. So as a mother, as a parent, it’s my obligation to have my children’s best interest at heart.”