Does the Texas abortion ban criminalize miscarriages?

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Claim: Many Democrats believe that the Texas abortion ban, which is one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, also criminalizes miscarriages.

Rating: This claim is MOSTLY TRUE. Though the Texas law also allows for abortion to save the life of the mother, many pharmacies and doctors are hesitant about treating miscarriages, because they are concerned about being charged with a crime. That is because the same drugs used to treat miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are also used for abortions.

Currently, Texas has banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. But after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a Texas law that completely bans abortion will take effect later on Aug. 25. The law, called ​​the Human Life Protection Act, bans abortions in the state, with no exception for victims who become pregnant because of rape or incest. There are exceptions if the mother’s life is at risk. Abortion providers can be charged with life in prison for performing an abortion. 

Because the Texas law characterizes life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, many abortion advocates and health care providers are worried that the Texas law, as well as similar laws in Oklahoma and Alabama, will criminalize miscarriages.  

How would these laws criminalize miscarriages?

Miscarriages are very common — on average, 1 out of 10 pregnancies end in a miscarriage. The drugs used to treat miscarriages, ​​misoprostol and mifepristone, are also used to induce abortions. Those drugs are banned in Texas. Women who do not get treated for miscarriages are at risk of deadly bleeding or developing sepsis, which is fatal if not immediately treated. 

This means that anyone who has a miscarriage or who helps someone with a miscarriage can be charged with a fine or even jailed for using proper and safe treatment. For example, in 2016, a Virginia woman named Katherine Dellis gave birth to a stillborn baby in her home and went to the hospital, she was then jailed for five months for hiding a dead body. 

This also means that doctors who provide treatments for miscarriages can be fined or jailed for helping women. This creates uncertainties around what kind of treatment they should give to women, and can deter them from providing the optimal treatment to their patients. In Texas, women who are miscarrying have reported being denied access to misoprostol at their local pharmacy, according to NPR

What about ectopic pregnancies?

Health providers are also hesitant to treat ectopic pregnancies. Methotrexate is a drug that is banned in Texas for causing abortions, but it is also used to treat ectopic pregnancies. 

An ectopic pregnancy is one where the fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus, like in the fallopian tubes. In those cases, the egg cannot survive, and the growing tissue can result in possibly fatal internal bleeding or serious infections. Around 1 in 50 pregnancies are ectopic. The treatment for ectopic pregnancy is removal of the fertilized egg, which can be considered an abortion. There have been reports of pharmacies in Texas not distributing methotrexate at all, not even for ectopic pregnancies.

Though Texas’s law makes exceptions for the life of the mother, many healthcare professionals are worried about the potential legal liability of treating miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. 

This has led doctors to waiting for women to be in immediate danger before treating them. The Texas Medical Association has reported that hospitals have been turning women away with pregnancy complications. One Texas doctor said he had to wait to treat a miscarriage because the fetus still had a heartbeat, which would make removing it illegal. He had to wait 24 hours for the fetal heartbeat to stop; his patient ended up losing liters of blood and had to be put on a breathing machine.