Privacy, Please

Jennifer Graham
3 min readDec 12, 2023
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

I’ve been following a story for the past few weeks of a Texas woman seeking an exception to the abortion restrictions in the state of Texas. Her unborn child was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a rare condition that is associated with severe abnormalities. The median survival rate for babies with Trisomy 18 is between 2.5 and 14.5 days, and those surviving days are often excruciating for the baby and the parents. There is no definitive treatment option for babies that survive other than palliative care. This is a devastating diagnosis for parents to receive and for doctors to give.

However, instead of allowing this family to decide what options they have, the state of Texas has decided it is the foremost authority in this matter. When the woman was granted an abortion exception by a judge, the state of Texas, led by Ken Paxton, appealed the decision. A letter sent by Paxton’s office contained a threatening tone to the doctors, hospital, and anyone else who aids in an abortion. The Texas Supreme Court ruled late Friday that they would halt the lower court ruling; they needed more time to weigh in on this matter. She finally had enough of the waiting and traveled to a state that would not question her decision. Just as those plans were set into motion, the Texas Supreme Court made another ruling: she could not seek an abortion exception. It simply wasn’t serious enough, and the doctors didn’t do a thorough enough job of explaining why the exception was needed.

I keep thinking of these parents and how their lives have been upended by this diagnosis. I think of their other children experiencing the grief of a desperately ill sibling. I imagine everyone was excited to have another baby until the most devastating news imaginable wiped that away. In the midst of all of this grief and overwhelming sadness, they were faced with the cold reckoning of the Texas abortion law.

When pro-choice advocates talk about abortion, they often frame it as a decision between the patients and their doctors. It is a privacy issue. The common refrain is that politicians have no reason to be in the room. They need to stay out of the business of people trying to make decisions about their lives. Until now, that has always been more hypothetical than concrete. For almost 50 years, those decisions have been made without the watchful eye of the state. The freedom of that decision has ebbed and flowed with restrictions, but it has still existed. With the ruling in Dobbes, the Supreme Court eviscerated that freedom, and now we see the full might of those consequences.

This woman was 20 weeks pregnant and caring for other children. If the pregnancy continued, there was a real danger that she would suffer countless complications that could endanger future fertility. The likelihood that her baby would survive was very low, and Trisomy 18 survival brings a whole new set of pain and grief to undertake. She made a decision with her family and her doctors. The warning bells have been ringing out for so long about this issue; it should not be up to the state or judges or politicians. The lack of trust we have in parents and doctors is astonishing.

Now, even worse, her pain and grief are now on display for the world to see. Because she had to beg the state of Texas for healthcare and endure so much waiting, her story gained traction. The media picked up the narrative; I listened to three podcasts this week that mentioned the story. This should have been a private matter between a woman and her doctor. Now it is a circus. Will she be in any peril, legal or otherwise, when she returns?

When pro-choice advocates use the word privacy, this is exactly what they mean: women should not have to lay bare their suffering. They should not have to explain, justify, or defend their choices. It is endlessly cruel to force women to account for the decisions they make. When Roe was the precedent, privacy was abstract but assumed. Now, with Dobbes and the new laws, we know it as a concrete concept and one that is in deep peril. I hope that this woman received the care she needed and is able to process her grief. In this post-Roe world, her story will not be the last.