By Ben Olson
When Bonner General Health announced in March that it would cease labor and delivery services, citing the “legal and political climate” of Idaho as a critical reason why it is having trouble retaining health care professionals, it sent shockwaves through our community. Never before have we seen so clearly the consequences of the extremist stance on abortion that Idaho, as well as many other states, has taken since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
The decision in 2022 left the legality of abortion up to the states to decide, and Idaho has taken among the hardest lines in the nation, making it illegal after six weeks unless a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or a life-saving measure.
The problem with these narrow exceptions are in their implementation.
Take the case of Amanda Zurawski, a 35-year-old woman from Austin, Texas, who ran up against the reality of a near-total abortion ban similar to Idaho’s and nearly lost her life because of it.
Zurawski shared her story April 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her testimony, titled “The Assault of Reproductive Rights in a Post-Dobbs America,” is heroic.
After 18 months of “grueling” fertility treatment, Zurawski and her husband were thrilled to be in their second trimester of her first pregnancy.
“Then, on a sunny August day,” she testified, “everything changed.”
Zurawski noticed some unusual symptoms and contacted her obstetrician, who told her to come in as soon as possible. There, she received the news: She had dilated prematurely due to a condition called “cervical insufficiency,” and the loss of her daughter, named Willow, was inevitable.
“It was clear that this was not a question of if we would lose our baby,” she testified, “it was a question of when.”
When Zurawski asked what could be done to ensure the respectful passing of her baby, she received more bad news.
“My health care team was anguished as they explained there was nothing they could do because of Texas’ anti-abortion laws, the latest of which had taken effect two days after my water broke,” she testified.
Although she would lose the baby, the doctors didn’t feel “safe enough to intervene as long as her heart was beating” — or until Zurawski was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider her life at risk and permit “standard health care I needed at that point: an abortion.”
Zurawski was too far away from a “sanctuary state” to travel, so she waited. And waited.
“I cannot adequately put into words the trauma and despair that comes with waiting to either lose your own life, your child’s or both,” she said. “For days, I was locked in this bizarre and avoidable hell. Would Willow’s heart stop, or would I deteriorate to the brink of death?”
Three days later, the answer finally arrived. In a matter of minutes, Zurawski had developed a raging fever and dangerously low blood pressure. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where she learned she had 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,” she said.
She was transferred to the intensive care unit, where medical professionals battled for three days to keep her alive. She then 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’ new abortion bans.”
An abortion would have prevented Zurawski’s unnecessary harm and suffering.
“The barbaric restrictions that are being passed across the country are having real life implications on real people,” Zurawski testified, adding later, “More people have been and will continue to be harmed until we do something about it. … No one should be forced to remain pregnant against their will for any reason — emergency or no emergency.”
Which brings us back to Idaho, where the same restrictive laws are putting the same mothers-to-be in danger.
We will see similar stories in Idaho’s near future, and our conservative lawmakers will treat them just as Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn treated Zurawski — as an annoyance. Both support Texas’ restrictive abortion laws and neither even bothered to attend her testimony.
The reality of living in a state with extremist laws is that we will see people we love suffer and die because of them. Obstetricians will continue to be leery of offering life-saving medical procedures to mothers having pregnancy complications because they don’t wish to be charged with felonies for saving someone’s life.
I’m thankful for Amanda Zurawski’s courageous testimony. She is what a real hero sounds like.
Unfortunately, her words continue to be ignored, but you can watch her testimony on YouTube by searching her name. Her story is one we all need to hear. Whether we agree or disagree with Idaho’s abortion laws, this is our world now — until we take control and change it for the better.
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