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The student news site of Lake Forest Academy

The Spectator

The student news site of Lake Forest Academy

The Spectator

Abortion exceptions and their consequences

Photo by Courtesy of Planned Parenthood
The current states that do not allow abortions along with their exceptions

Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June of 2022, America watched as state after state made restrictions on abortion rights that slimmed the “exceptions” to life or death. Horrified, people made scenarios of what these possible exceptions could be and whether someone’s situation fits the mold of what a state would consider, “life threatening.” 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the exceptions of state abortion bans usually fall into the four categories: “to prevent the death of the pregnant person, to preserve the health of the pregnant person, when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, and where the embryo or fetus has lethal anomalies incompatible with life.” However, the vague wording within these exceptions has posed a threat on women’s health care since many clinicians face ambiguity on how to treat patients in these circumstances. The Kaiser Family Foundation health policy research found, “Many of the exceptions included in these bans use definitions that are vague, narrow, and non-clinical, and effectively remove the ability of health care providers to best manage the care of pregnant people, instead leaving that decision to the state or the clinician’s home institution.” When taking a look at the four major categories the exceptions lie in—preventing death, danger in health of pregnant person, sexual assault cases, and life danger of the fetus— the ambiguity of the problems allowed for abortion care is what threatens women’s health care.  

With the first and second category—preventing the death and preserving the health of a pregnant person— one would think that the exception is the most straightforward. However, the relativity of how close a pregnant person must be to death or how much risk they must face remains unclear under law restrictions. For example, in Texas a seven weeks pregnant patient fighting for her life against kidney failure was unable to get an abortion due to the Texas ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is evident as soon as 6 weeks. The woman was ordered to go out of state to another clinic to get an abortion, since the doctor there would have faced legal issues such as lawsuits or felony charges. A professor of Reproductive Health at the University of Michigan told NBC News, “Doctors in states where abortion is now illegal will likely ‘wait to that very last minute when it’s clear that a patient will die to do the procedure, and that’s just not an ideal time to do any kind of intervention.’” While some conditions like ectopic pregnancies (fertilized egg implanted outside the uterus causing internal bleeding) or infections in the uterus are clear they qualify as life-threatening for an “acceptable” abortion, others do not. NBC News discussed how conditions, like cancer or pre-existing health issues that impose great risk on the mother and fetus, might not qualify as life-threatening. The director of the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale Law School discussed in the NBC article that for many exception rules in states, an abortion may be allowed under the circumstances of the patient dying in that moment rather than if her life is endangered moving forward. 

The third category—sexual assault—is one of the main categories that people feared would be hurt by the overturning of Roe V. Wade. As mentioned before, physicians are becoming cautious of performing abortions out of fear of being arrested due to state laws, causing individuals that have the funds to travel outside of their state. Not only that, but currently there are 22 states that have outlawed abortion and only eight allow abortions for rape and incest while the other 14 are without this exception. The states that do have the rape and incest exceptions often require the occurrence to be reported to law enforcement. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “It is estimated that out of every 1000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police and 50 of these reports will lead to arrest, 28 of which will lead to a felony conviction.” Even with that, the exceptions are unclear of what information the providers need to know from the crime in order to perform the abortion legally. A state that has one of the more clear requirements for a legal abortion, West Virginia, has the exception of abortion for rape and incest only within 8 weeks from the last menstrual period for adults and 14 weeks for minors. That in itself poses many limitations to women and that is based on one of the states with the best qualifications for a legal abortion in terms of assault. 

Finally, the last exception is for extreme life danger of the fetus, which proves to be the only exception that abortion-banned states all have a collective view on. The law states that if the baby’s life expectancy is under three months, it is allowed. However, it does not include birth defects that may impose on the baby’s quality of life or the parents ability to care for them. The only state with a clear list of conditions qualifying a legal abortion is Louisiana, while the rest might have some general criteria, however do not have enough specificity in them for clinicians to understand whether or not they will be criminally charged for performing an abortion. 

In conclusion, the vagueness of exceptions is a common theme among states that have banned abortion. Despite the thought that these exceptions are installed to protect pregnant persons, they instead instill anxiety in physicians and drive people out of state for abortions. Abortion is supposed to “save children,” however with the ambiguity within these abortion laws, abortions are becoming more unavailable and are threatening women and infant health care. Even more than that, this issue is endangering the liberty women have over their own bodies!

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