At the end of 2015, Rachel Goldberg was patiently awaiting the birth of her first child. She dreamed of her own spring birthday, a party she could spend with her newborn. She had a bedroom in her home in Springfield, Missouri, filled with tiny clothes and a new crib.
But 20 weeks later, Goldberg and her husband were hit with unexpected and sobering news during a routine ultrasound: her baby’s heart was not working properly and her organs were developing far too slowly. Something had gone terribly wrong.
Goldberg was referred to a perinatal specialist, who was unable to fit her into her schedule for two weeks. A week or two after her appointment, she was told that her baby was completely missing a stomach and kidneys. If she carried it to term, the baby would likely live a few short, painful minutes before dying – and her doctor assured her it would be a high-risk birth for her. He said he understood if she wanted to terminate the pregnancy. But since the doctor could not confirm that Goldberg’s life was definitively endangered, it would be illegal for him – or anyone in Missouri – to facilitate her abortion. That’s because Missouri law prohibits women from having an abortion 21 weeks and 6 days after conception unless the woman’s life is threatened.
So Goldberg was faced with this decision: drive 10 hours to an abortion clinic in Colorado (where state law has no deadline for the procedure) and pay $10,000 (her insurance couldn’t legally cover a non-life-threatening abortion) or risk a dangerous childbirth, after which she would see her baby suffer and die.
Goldberg and her husband took out a loan from their bank and traveled to Colorado, where an unknown doctor aborted her 25-week-old fetus. She recovered in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable hotel room miles from her home as she mourned the loss of her son.
“It’s not an emotion that I can really explain or describe to people,” Goldberg told the Fluent. “My body was reacting like I had just delivered a baby, which I had. But I wasn’t holding it. I felt empty inside. And I wanted to be home.”
Besides the staggering cost of the abortion, she estimates the ordeal cost her and her husband approximately $3,000 in lost wages, gas and hotel bills.
“I realize that’s a decision that a lot of women can’t afford to make,” she said.
But it’s a decision Texas women will soon have to face now that Governor Greg Abbott has signed a sweeping new anti-abortion bill into law.*
Researchers now know that a 2013 Texas law, which has since been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, forced more Texas women to have abortions even later in their pregnancies. They now fear that lawmakers may have exacerbated the problem this session by passing a bill that bans the safest type of abortion procedure these women can receive in the second trimester.
Texas Senate Bill 8 seeks to ban an abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation” (or D&E), the safest and most common form of abortion after 12 weeks of gestation. The only alternatives to D&E are to deliver a woman and deliver the fetus or go under the knife for a procedure similar to a hysterectomy – both procedures that abortion doctors say are incredibly risky and expensive.
“Complication rates associated with alternatives are much, much higher,” said Bhavik Kumar, Texas medical director for abortion provider Whole Women’s Health.
By leaving women with these dangerous alternatives – alternatives that run counter to the best medical judgment of most doctors, SB8 will effectively be a ban on second-trimester abortions. Which, Kumar fears, could push women to take their abortion into their own hands by taking illegal pills or resisting physical abuse cause miscarriage. “It’s already happening in Texas,” he said. “I can only imagine it will get worse with this bill.”
Like most bills that survive the Texas Legislature, SB8 began out looking very different from the final law Abbott signed.
Filed by Senator Charles Schwertner, SB8 was originally intended to prohibit women who have abortions from donating any resulting fetal tissue to scientific research organizations. But as the session neared its May 29 end date, more and more anti-abortion lawmakers whose bills had yet to be heard by a committee began to paste together pieces of their bills. law on Schwertner’s, as his seemed to be gaining ground. Soon, SB8 became a 12 page bill banning the sale of fetal tissue, banning D&E abortions, banning dilation and extraction (D&X) abortions (which anti-choice activists call “partial birth abortions”), and requiring the abortion to remain cremated or buried.
Two of those measures — D&X abortions and the sale of fetal tissue — are already illegal under federal law, proving that part of the intent of this bill was simply to remind conservative voters that their anti-abortion representatives are always anti-abortion. Prohibiting D&E is arguably the single regulation in the bill that will have the most impact on the lives of Texas women. And it specifically punishes women who need the kind of procedure that another Texas law has forced them to seek.
The bill is similar to 2013’s House Bill 2, a similar hodgepodge of various anti-abortion regulations stemming from the state capitol. HB2 imposed specific and strict building regulations on abortion clinics and doctors across the state, ultimately forcing 21 of Texas’ 40 abortion providers to close. Lawsuits against the constitutionality of the bill eventually brought HB2 to the Supreme Court in 2016 with Overall Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. The judges sided with the abortion provider, agreeing that HB2 placed an “undue burden” on the majority of Texas women seeking legal abortions by needlessly closing so many clinics.
“I thought the message of the HB2 ruling was crystal clear — states can’t regulate abortion,” said Amanda Allen, senior state legislative adviser for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the legal group that represented Whole Women’s Health on the Supreme Court. . “We believe SB8 is unconstitutional.”
Allen is particularly concerned about a provision in the bill that only allows a D&E abortion if it’s a “medical emergency,” but not if they’re a victim of rape or incest. Under SB8, victims of rape or incest would be forced to carry a fetus to term. She would not confirm whether or not CRR would take legal action after the bill takes effect.
Although it’s no longer the law, HB2 has left a long-lasting impact on women seeking abortions in Texas. Only a few of the 21 closed clinics have reopened, meaning women still face the “excessive burden” of driving hours for a procedure (if their employer, childcare provider or budget permits, c ie). Because of this hurdle, many women cannot make an appointment until later in their pregnancy, which means they had to undergo a D&E procedure.
“Economic justice is such an issue here,” said Amanda Williams, director of the Lilith Fund, a nonprofit group that helps low-income women afford abortions. Many of her clients seek second-term abortions due to significant financial barriers. In many cases, she says, women aren’t able to find enough money for an early abortion, which ranges from $550 to $1,500 in the state, forcing them to go into the second trimester. . Sometimes, Williams added, women can never find the funds — and are forced to carry out their pregnancies.
“Our main concern is that it could put abortion completely out of reach,” Williams said.
According to researcher Dan Grossman, director of the University of California, San Francisco, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, the need for second-trimester abortion has only increased since the short-lived success of HB2. Prior to the fall of HB2, Grossman worked with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at UT Austin to collect quantitative data on how HB2 had impacted women in Texas. His work was instrumental in the Supreme Court victory.
He told the Fluent that if SB8 becomes law, his team is ready to start recording how anti-abortion restrictions affect Texas women again. He now knows how essential this type of comprehensive data is in court.
“Courts must consider the evidence when weighing the potential benefits of a law affecting abortion care against the potential harms to women’s access to services,” he said. “Courts cannot simply rely on the statements or beliefs of legislators.”
That’s the main reason Rachel Goldberg started telling her story to Missouri state lawmakers in support of anti-abortion laws. She wanted her experience to protect future wives from draconian laws — and the stigma that shrouds them.
When Goldberg returned from Colorado, she was reviled by family, friends and loved ones who learned that she had had an abortion. “They told me I was going to hell,” she said. “A lot of them still don’t talk to me.”
Others apologized more and said that her abortion was different from the normal type, so that was fine. But Goldberg was not seeking a pardon.
“Everyone’s abortion experience is different, everyone has the right to make that decision for themselves. I was no different,” she said. “I envision a world where every child born is wanted and every woman’s reproductive rights are valued.”
*Updated on 06/06/2017 at 3:50 p.m..: Governor Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 8 on June 6.