NewsOK: Oklahoma lawmakers perpetuate a bad idea

By Nancy Northup, President, Center for Reproductive Rights

Last year, Nebraska passed a law that bans women from obtaining an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Soon thereafter, the law's devastating impact became evident. Danielle Deaver, a Nebraskan who was 22 weeks pregnant, was rushed to the hospital that November after suffering a premature rupture of the membranes. Among other horrifying diagnoses, doctors determined that her baby's lungs were unlikely to develop.

Grief-stricken, Danielle and her husband considered their options. It seemed selfish to carry the pregnancy to term, then put their child through countless medical procedures that she probably wouldn't survive. So they decided to terminate, but immediately learned that the legislature had already decided for them. Danielle was forced to deliver the baby, and 15 minutes later, watch her die.

Danielle's experience epitomizes government interference at its worst. The law deprived her of a medical decision, then left her to suffer the consequences. The degradation to her dignity and personal freedom is palpable.

Last week Oklahoma enacted a similar ban, making it the fourth state to do so.

These laws are clearly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has held that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus can realistically survive long term outside the uterus. And while this point differs with each pregnancy, it's generally not as early as 21 weeks.

In Oklahoma, a college professor testified about his wife's traumatic experience terminating a pregnancy with twins at 22 weeks. Early on, doctors had diagnosed her with a condition that put the twins at risk of cerebral palsy, mental retardation and heart problems. Undaunted, the couple worked with doctors over the next six weeks to save the pregnancy.

As time progressed, the diagnoses became more severe. One twin lacked kidneys and a bladder, and posed a clear risk to the other twin's life. Doctors suggested surgery to save the healthier twin, but then he suffered heart failure. Eventually, doctors concluded that both twins would die. They advised ending the pregnancy. Otherwise the uterus might rupture, damaging any chance of getting pregnant again.

In Georgia, a pediatrician testified that she had had two pregnancies with deadly fetal disorders. She asked lawmakers to imagine continuing a pregnancy when the outcome is hopeless. “The longer a mother is pregnant, the more chance there is of her developing complications of pregnancy: anemia, hemorrhage, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, thrombophlebitis and infection such as endometritis or sepsis. … This is not something to be taken lightly.”

Every pregnancy comes with risks, unique personal circumstances and unexpected developments. Politicians cannot predict all of these factors. There isn't a one-size-fits-all rule to medical care. That's why the Supreme Court has said deciding to have an abortion involves “intimate views, with infinite variations.”

In many of the states considering these bans, there apparently aren't any doctors who provide abortion past 20 of pregnancy. Why then do lawmakers bother with these laws? Because they don't trust women to make decisions to which they are constitutionally entitled.

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