WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden said Tuesday that the consequences for women of losing the constitutional right to an abortion “go far beyond the right to choose” as she hosted a conversation with four women, including a Texas doctor, who shared emotional stories of being denied necessary reproductive care.
The first lady invited the women from Texas, Florida and Louisiana to the White House to help highlight the anniversary Saturday of the Supreme Court decision overturning its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to an abortion.
The ruling last June left it up to individual states to set their own abortion policies, and 18 of them — including the home states of Biden’s guests — have put abortion bans in place.
“The consequences of these bans go far beyond the right to choose,” the first lady told the women, as she detailed examples of women being denied access to medication or are being forced to go to other states for care. And some doctors, she added, are withholding treatment “because they don’t know which procedures are legal.”
“And like those who are with us today, far, far too many women are experiencing devastating consequences to their health, their fertility and their lives,” said Biden, who came of age when abortion was illegal before it was became the law of the land in 1973.
One of the women in conversation, Anya Cook of Florida, told the group that a 15-week abortion ban that was in effect in her state last year “very, nearly killed me.”
She had suffered multiple miscarriages, but was on her 18th pregnancy when her water broke early, at 16 weeks. Doctors said her baby wouldn’t survive without amniotic fluid and would die within days.
“Because she was beyond 15 weeks and there was still a heartbeat, they couldn’t touch me or treat me or admit me,” Cook said. “They sent us home to deal with it ourselves.”
She said she became convinced that she wouldn’t survive and went to a “really dark place.” Within days, her daughter was stillborn in the bathroom of a beauty salon. She had lost half the blood in her body, was weak and underwent multiple follow-up surgeries that left her fertility in doubt.
“We don’t know if I can get pregnant now or carry to birth, but the target of our wrath is very well-known: It’s the people who have taken our human rights to health and liberty and personal autonomy,” Cook said. “Someone needs to fight back against these insidious laws in states across the country.”
Dr. Austin Dennard, an OB-GYN in Dallas, decided to have an abortion after an ultrasound showed that her fetus’ brain and skull had not developed. She had to end an earlier pregnancy by an abortion she obtained in Texas, but “this time I would have to flee my own state,” she said.
Dennard worried that the trip for an out-of-state abortion could jeopardize her medical license or invite harassment against herself and her husband, also an obstetrician-gynecologist.
She recently joined a lawsuit filed by other Texas women who were denied abortions, despite pregnancies that they say endangered their health or lives. The women are asking the court to put an emergency hold on some abortion restrictions.
“The state of Texas should not be making these decisions for me, let alone anybody else,” Dennard said at the White House.
Jill Biden said her husband, President Joe Biden, “is doing everything he can to fight back” but that he needs Congress to send him legislation that will “make the protections of Roe v. Wade the law of the land once again.”
Meanwhile, Democrats and the White House see the rollback of abortion rights as an issue that will play in their favor in the 2024 elections.
“I know that it isn’t easy to relive what you’ve already gone through, but stories like yours are how we shed light on the cruel and devastating consequences of those bans,” she told the women.
The first lady’s event is among several events the administration is planning this week to mark one year after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The president, Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the administration’s point-person on the issue, the first lady and Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff, are slated to appear at event on Friday in Washington with several women’s and pro-choice groups.
Harris is also scheduled to deliver what the White House says will be a major speech on Saturday in North Carolina on the Biden administration’s efforts to safeguard reproductive freedom.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly in North Carolina recently overturned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of legislation banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The law is set to go into effect on July 1, and is being challenged in federal court by abortion providers in the state.