The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Congress holds the abortion hearing we have been waiting for

Amanda Zurawski testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
6 min

Last week, I wrote a pointed column criticizing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and his fellow Democrats for not playing hardball with increasingly recalcitrant Republicans. I wrote that, while the committee held a hearing last summer on the legal ramifications of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it hadn’t brought forward women and doctors to testify about the disastrous, real-world consequences of abortion bans that followed the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

On Wednesday, the committee held just such a hearing, inviting a Texas woman who nearly died because of her state’s abortion ban; an esteemed law professor; a practicing OB/GYN; a doctor from an antiabortion group; and a senior research associate from Notre Dame — a Catholic university.

The most compelling and heartbreaking testimony came from Amanda Zurawski, who lives in Texas. During her prepared remarks, she explained that after sending out invitations to her baby shower she began experiencing symptoms, her membranes ruptured, and she was “told by multiple doctors that the loss of our daughter was inevitable.” However, her doctors “didn’t feel safe enough to intervene as long as her heart was beating or until I was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider my life at risk and permit the standard health care I needed at that point — an abortion.”

Zurawski couldn’t very well drive to a “safe” state. (“Developing sepsis — which can kill quickly — in a car in the middle of the West Texas desert, or 30,000 feet above the ground, is a death sentence, and it’s not a choice we should have had to even consider.”) Instead, she had to wait — for either the fetus’s heart to stop or to get really sick. She nearly died from sepsis, which is why the standard of care in such circumstances is to perform an abortion before the woman gets very sick and risks death.

What happened was nothing short of horrifying:

In a matter of minutes, I went from being physically healthy to developing a raging fever and dangerously low blood pressure. My husband rushed me to the hospital where we soon learned I had developed sepsis — a condition in which bacteria in the blood develops into infection, with the ability to kill in under an hour. Several hours later, after stabilizing just enough to deliver our stillborn daughter, my vitals crashed again. In the middle of the night, I was rapidly transferred to the ICU, where I would stay for three days as medical professionals battled to save my life. I spent another three days in a less critical unit of the hospital — all because I was denied access to reasonable health care due to Texas’s new abortion bans.

If she had been alone or had lacked good medical care to rescue her, she would have died.

Not only did she suffer physical and mental trauma; she might not be able to have children in the future. As she put it, “The barbaric restrictions that are being passed across the country are having real life implications on real people.” She is now one of five women (in addition to two doctors) suing the state of Texas.

Her poignant denunciation of politicians who put her through this is worth listening to and watching in full:

It’s a shame neither of her state’s senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both of whom are on the Judiciary Committee, bothered to be present to hear her.

The impact on doctors has also been horrific (which explains why more are avoiding states with abortion bans). Dr. Nisha Verma, a fellow for Physicians for Reproductive Health, explained in her prepared remarks, “Because of a law that is not based in medicine or science, I am forced to turn away patients that I know how to care for.” She continued, “I have had adolescents with chronic medical conditions that make their pregnancies very high-risk, women with irregular periods who don’t realize they are pregnant until after six weeks, and couples with highly desired pregnancies who receive a terrible diagnosis of a fetal anomaly, cry when they learn they can’t receive their abortion in our state, and beg me to help them.”

Contrary to the claptrap spread by the forced-birth crowd, Verma contended that “abortion is extremely safe and none of the arbitrary barriers imposed by politicians make it any safer.” A 2018 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirmed “the safety record of abortion and pointed out that the biggest threat to patient safety is the litany of medically unnecessary regulations that raise costs and delay procedures, ultimately putting patients’ health at risk.”

Denying women abortions has grave consequences for women and their families. “Research shows that women who were denied abortion care are more likely to experience high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions during the end of pregnancy; more likely to remain in relationships where interpersonal violence is present; and more likely to experience poverty. Research also shows that states with higher numbers of abortion restrictions are the same states with poorer maternal health outcomes, with marginalized populations facing the largest burden,” Verma testified. Given that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death than abortion, the bans are endangering the lives of thousands of women.

The hearing was a welcome departure from the sometimes abstract, legalistic debates over abortion. The real-life consequences of the inhumane forced-birth law should be on full display for the entire country. Perhaps the Judiciary Committee will go on the road to hold more hearings and develop an accurate factual account of the barbarous and entirely predictable results flowing from Dobbs and abortion bans.

Even if the MAGA crowd cares not one whit about women (which was evident in Dobbs and the bans that followed), perhaps they will read the polls. The forced-birth position has proved to be a loser for Republicans. According to the latest PBS NewsHour-NPR-Marist poll, 59 percent oppose the Dobbs decision, the percentage of people favoring abortion access through six months has grown (up 20 points since 2009) and 70 percent say abortion in cases of rape and incest should be allowed throughout pregnancy.

A Pew Research Center survey shows, “Overall, around six-in-ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all (27%) or most (35%) cases, while 36% say it should be illegal in all (9%) or most (27%) cases.” Likewise, “around six-in-ten Americans (62%) say their greater concern is that some states are making it too difficult to get an abortion, while 35% say their greater concern is that some states are making it too easy to get an abortion.”

As more Americans learn about the victims of Dobbs and abortion bans, those numbers might shift even more in favor of allowing women to control their own bodies and make life-changing decisions for themselves.

It will be too late for victims such as Zurawski, but elections can have consequences and spare millions of women like her from a similar fate in the future.