Below is today’s column on common talking point among Democratic members and pundits on how the recent Dobbs decision will present a barrier to women seeking treatment for ectopic pregnancies. It is not only legally and medically false but it is dangerous if women actually believe what they are hearing or reading from these figures. There are ample grounds for pro-choice advocates to oppose the decision without spreading alarm over a danger that does not exist.
Here is the column:
After the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a common rallying cry for pro-choice advocates has been the endangerment of women with ectopic pregnancies who would now be barred in some states banning or severely limiting abortion services. Reps. Judy Chu, Jan Schakowsky, and others have insisted that women with such pregnancies are now without protection. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even used the issue to justify hounding and harassing justices eating in public in reference to a recent incident involving Justice Brett Kavanaugh at a restaurant with his wife: “Poor guy. He left before his soufflé because he decided half the country should risk death if they have an ectopic pregnancy within the wrong state lines.” These views have been amplified by academics like Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe. It is a great talking point but it just happens to be untrue as both a legal and medical matter. Worse yet, this common claim could be putting women physically at risk by suggesting that they might be legally at risk if they seek such treatment.
There are obviously good-faith objections to the Dobbs decisions on the underlying constitutional interpretation. However, critics have created a parade of horribles that extend beyond that opinion, including arguments expressly rejected by the Court. That includes President Biden who has repeatedly suggested that contraceptives and travel for women could be now curtailed under the decision.
The majority expressly and repeatedly rejected the application of this holding to these other rights. It stressed “intimate sexual relations, contraception, and marriage” are not impacted by its holding because “abortion is fundamentally different.” The court and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurrence return to the point again and again: “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” Only Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that these other cases should be examined. Yet even Thomas stressed this opinion expressly rejects that application.
However, the ectopic pregnancy talking point is not just false, it is dangerous. These pregnancies can be life threatening and must be addressed as soon as possible. These interventions are not abortions and even restrictive states expressly state so.
When a pregnancy implants in the fallopian tube, it is not a viable pregnancy but it creates a potentially fatal risk for the mother from tubal rupture and internal bleeding. Treating such woman is not an abortion of a viable pregnancy. Indeed, as noted in a recent column, the procedures are vastly different, including the fact that “mifepristone and misoprostol, used commonly to provide medical abortions, specifically do not treat a pregnancy outside of the uterus.”
This is reflected in some of the most restrictive laws. For example, Oklahoma’s law expressly states “An act is not an abortion if the act is performed with the purpose to . . . remove an ectopic pregnancy.” Texas, Louisiana, and other states have the same express exemption. However, even if the law were silent on ectopic pregnancies, it is doubtful that the courts would ignore the medical and factual classifications to treat such emergency procedures as abortions or ignore that the mother’s life is in danger without medical intervention.
Yet, women would not know that in listening to leaders or reading news accounts. In the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino explained “abortion bans will hurt, disable, and endanger many people … who encounter medical difficulties…One woman in Texas was told that she had to drive fifteen hours to New Mexico to have her ectopic pregnancy—which is nonviable, by definition, and always dangerous to the mother—removed.” That is based on a story from 2021 before the Dobbs decision and an account from an abortion hotline of a doctor refusing to deal with an ectopic pregnancy. It is not explained how, even when Roe v. Wade was still good law, such a procedure could be denied under Texas law.
A woman reading such accounts might easily conclude that she could be charged with a crime or face other legal penalties if she sought treatment for an ectopic pregnancy in restrictive states. These politicians stress that time is of the essence and that such a loss of time in an ectopic pregnancy could prove lethal. Yet, their false claims could have precisely that effect.
That makes this not just disinformation but the most lethal form of disinformation. Indeed, it is precisely the type of disinformation that many of these same leaders have called to be censored. Indeed, this year, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez continued her call for corporate censorship on social media because “disinformation through U.S.-founded companies like Facebook … have absolutely slowed and frankly sabotaged” efforts in areas like Covid treatment. Many have rallied to this anti-free speech cause. Indeed, this week, another medical professor was suspended for simply calling for a discussion of concerns over the need for Covid vaccines of children.
I remain opposed to government and corporate censorship of disinformation, including the false statements made by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. Like many of the false claims surrounding the Dobbs decision, these issues can be addressed without curtailing free speech, but that only increases the importance of countering these false narratives.
President Biden and other Democratic members have called for censorship because social media companies are “killing people” with disinformation. That is precisely what could occur if women believe the claims of politicians and pundits on these ectopic pregnancies.