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Texas Trial Changes The Story Of Abortion Rights In America

“The entirety of abortion rights history is a history of doctors appearing in court to represent their own interests and the interests of pregnant people,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin.

But in July, in a Texas courtroom, the case for abortion was made by women themselves who had been denied abortions and sued the state to clarify the exceptions to its ban, which makes it illegal to perform an abortion unless a patient is facing death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

The aspiring mothers described in vivid, harrowing detail how the state’s abortion ban had endangered their health, traumatized them, and, in the case of Samantha Casiano, forced her to carry and give birth to a baby girl without a formed skull or brain only to watch her die a tortured death four hours later.

“She was gasping for air,” Casiano testified on the witness stand. She described how her baby turned purple and her eyeballs were bleeding. “I just kept telling myself and my baby that ‘I’m so sorry that this has happened to you.’ I felt so bad. She had no mercy. There was no mercy there for her.”

Casiano had been denied an abortion months earlier after she found out her baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition. She had wanted her daughter, whom she named Halo, to be spared from suffering and to “go to rest sooner.” She described abortion as an act of compassion, mercy, and love.

For decades, anti-abortion groups have deployed ultrasound fetal images and grisly photos of what they say are aborted fetuses on highway billboards, protest signs, and online ads to garner sympathy for “unborn children” and advance their religious and political aims.

Women have long shared abortion stories privately, and at public speak-outs, through #ShoutYourAbortion and the nonprofit group WeTestify. But the formality of the Austin courtroom focused unblinking attention on their experiences. The black-robed judge and court stenographer leaned in to hear plaintiffs as their testimony under oath was recorded for a national television audience. It put anti-abortion activists on the defensive, said legal scholars.

Soon after the Supreme Court held that women had the right to abortion in 1973, the anti-abortion movement began a concerted effort to narrow that newly established constitutional right. Movement leaders spoke in gruesome detail about abortions later in pregnancy, coining medically inaccurate phrases, such as “partial-birth abortion,” that infused the language of the abortion debate with emotional and provocative imagery.

New abortion laws changed their lives. 8 very personal stories
New abortion laws changed their lives. 8 very personal stories
“Usually, the story is women versus fetuses, and that people having abortions are selfish or don’t care,” Ziegler said. “But these women in court are saying, ‘What was best for my child was the abortion. I was denied that, but so was my child.'”

Some Catholics and conservative Christians who oppose abortion proffer the notion of “natural womanhood,” Ziegler said — the religious belief that God created women to complement men, and “that abortion is forcing women to be like men” and “disrupts nature.”


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