Lauren Miller of Dallas, 13 weeks pregnant with twins, received terrible news this fall. One twin had trisomy 18, which kills 90% of fetuses. Healthy twin.
A genetic counselor warned her that carrying both twins could harm the healthy one. “You can’t do anything in Texas, and I can’t tell you anything further in Texas, but you need to get out of state,” a high-risk pregnancy doctor informed her.
Miller came to Colorado for a “selective reduction” at 15 weeks pregnant to continue her pregnancy with her healthy twin. She faced abortion silence after returning to Dallas for prenatal care. Could the ultrasound technician report her for having an abortion out of state?
Experts agree Miller did not break Texas abortion regulations. Under Texas’s new legal landscape, doctors and patients are so afraid that some won’t say “abortion” in the exam room, as Miller found. Elizabeth Sepper, UT Austin law professor, says the first amendment protects free speech. She told doctors could speak freely to patients. “Physicians shouldn’t be afraid to say a word.
That appears to be happening. Texas doctors who serve pregnant patients are terrified, especially of a state abortion prohibition that authorizes civil action against “aids or abets” abortion.
Three Overlapping Abortion Bans
Lauren Miller’s OB-GYN told NPR, “It’s just crushing.”
Many doctors won’t discuss this. NPR reached out to six Texas OB-GYNs, but none responded.
“People are hesitant to discuss,” says Fort Worth OB-GYN Dr. Andrea Palmer. She adds that doctors may worry they would be set up by a patient or family member who wants to talk about abortion and sue if they publicly counsel on abortion.
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There are, in fact, three laws against abortion in Texas, explains Sepper. “We have the trigger ban that was recently enacted and comes along with up to life imprisonment for violation,
” She says. “We have possibly the pre-Roe ban, which Texas officials are arguing is still in effect, and applies both to performance of an abortion and to providing the instrumentality or the means of an abortion. And then we have SB8 as a civil backstop, which prohibits aiding and abetting abortions.”
Abortion Bans are Unlikely to Modify or Clarify
NPR contacted five Republican Texas lawmakers about abortion regulations and Lauren Miller’s story, but none answered. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not respond to NPR’s request to explain how Texas will enforce abortion regulations, particularly regarding doctors and counseling.
A few Republican Texas lawmakers suggested adding an exception for abortions of rape or incest pregnancies before the fall elections. Nevertheless, Austin Republican political consultant Brendan Steinhauser believes lawmakers aren’t keen to pass new abortion laws to include exceptions or limits.
“I don’t hear a lot about it in the capital,” Steinhauser says. “I think that you’re probably not going to see a lot of change in the session this year. “
Angered and Motivated to Speak Out
Lauren Miller, the Dallas patient who had to go 800 miles for an abortion, thinks her doctors might have helped her more without Texas’s restrictions.
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She’s been digesting her experience while caring for her 1-year-old and planning for her baby’s birth at the end of March. She says she’s civically active. “I have no problem phoning a member of Congress, writing an email, staying informed, the letter to the council.”
She’s furious about leaving home for an abortion. She wanted Texas-based care. She’s not quiet about it.