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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

What would happen if I were pregnant in Texas right now? | Zoë Ettinger

Four years ago, when I was a 22-year-old college student in Virginia, I found out I was pregnant. I knew I was late, maybe a bit longer than a week, but that wasn’t unusual – I’d always had irregular periods. Like I had many times before, I picked up a test just in case. It came back positive.

I didn’t tell anyone at school I was pregnant, but I called my mom. She assured me it would be OK, and told me to schedule an appointment nearby, rather than drive home to New York. She was right; I probably didn’t need a seven-hour car ride of contemplative dread.

I never considered keeping it, and the why is not important. Regardless of my reasoning, know that no one wants to have an abortion. It is a decision made out of personal necessity. I still think about it sometimes, riddled with whispers of unexpected guilt that I wonder if all women experience. The one feeling I didn’t expect when thinking about my abortion was gratitude for its legality.

On Wednesday, the supreme court failed to block Texas’s draconian law banning abortions after six weeks and offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who reports illegal abortions in the state. The six-week timeframe comes from the state’s “heartbeat bill”, which cites the earliest time an ultrasound can detect a “fetal heartbeat” as the point of viability. Many doctors consider that fetal development to be electrical flickering, not a real heartbeat, and have called “heartbeat” legislation misleading. As a demarcation point, it’s also drastically earlier than Roe v Wade, which recognizes the point of viability at 24 to 28 weeks.

The majority of abortions, including mine, take place after six weeks. That’s because it typically takes more than two weeks to figure out you’re pregnant, make an appointment to get an abortion, and get together the money to pay for the procedure, which costs $508 on average in the United States.

It took me two weeks to get an abortion after I discovered I was pregnant. When I called my local Planned Parenthood, the earliest they could squeeze me in was a week later. That appointment wasn’t for the abortion itself; it was just to confirm the pregnancy. They told me I was six weeks pregnant, which meant that when I took the home test I was five weeks. I wasn’t able to schedule the abortion for another week, so I had it at seven weeks – a week too late in Texas today.

It’s not uncommon to wait weeks for an abortion appointment. Clinics are woefully underfunded. In 2019, Planned Parenthood gave up $60m in federal funding after Trump forbid Title X clinics from referring patients to abortion clinics. The Title X program, which serves low-income women, provides funds for a range of sexual health services, like STD testing and pregnancy prevention.

The majority of women who get abortions are low income. These women, who are disproportionately Black and Latina, will suffer the consequences of this ban, just as they did in 2014.

The data shows that regardless of legality, women who are pregnant and don’t want to be will continue to seek out abortions. Illegal abortions can be dangerous, but Texas has made them even more so by incentivizing citizens to report them. In the worst case, a woman could be prevented from accessing care so the provider won’t face the hefty fine. It seems the ramifications of this law weren’t even considered.

I can’t help but picture myself in a Texas woman’s shoes. My heart aches for them. I cannot imagine the pain and isolation I felt being worsened by the panic and desperation they will feel. And I fear that Texas is just the beginning. I can only hope it is not.


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