In 2010, Nebraska became the first state in the country to enact a 20-week abortion ban based on the scientifically dubious claim that fetuses can feel pain after that point. That helped encourage an increasing number of other state legislatures to do the same, and “fetal pain” became a successful tactic for chipping away at the protections under Roe v. Wade. Now, nine states have 20-week bans on the books, and lawmakers in an additional three — West Virginia, South Carolina, and Mississippi — are currently attempting to follow suit.
But Danielle Deaver, who lives in Nebraska with her husband and 5-year-old son, has a message for those lawmakers. In an op-ed published in the West Virginia Gazette, the Nebraska resident implores state officials to prevent other women from being subject to the hardship that she faced under this particular abortion restriction. “Prevent women from living my tragedy,” she implores.
Deaver became pregnant the same year that the Nebraska legislature banned abortions after 20 weeks. At first, that state law appeared to have no impact on her whatsoever — she writes that she and her husband were “overjoyed” to welcome another child into their family. But even though her pregnancy initially proceeded normally, something went terribly wrong. At about 22 weeks, her water broke, and there wasn’t enough amniotic fluid to ensure her unborn daughter would survive outside of the womb.
The Deaver family made the difficult decision to induce labor immediately and put their daughter to rest. But her doctor, along with his legal counsel, decided he couldn’t perform the procedure because he could have been prosecuted under the 20-week ban. Deaver wasn’t technically sick enough to qualify for one of the exceptions under the state law, so she spent 10 painful days waiting for her labor to begin naturally — and for her daughter to die. After taking just a few gasps of breath, the Deavers’ child was gone.
“I want my daughter’s life — and the tragic circumstances surrounding her death — to stand for something. Please right the wrong that Nebraska did to me and stop House Bill 4588,” Deaver writes, referring to a 20-week ban that’s currently advancing in the West Virginia legislature. “This is not about politics, it’s about leaving the practice of medicine up to doctors and most importantly, it’s about trusting women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
Although fetal pain laws are advancing across the country, there are signs that the American public doesn’t support them. This past fall, voters in Albuquerque resoundingly rejected a ballot initiative that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks in the city.
On Monday, a poll found that the majority of West Virginia voters oppose the proposed 20-week abortion ban once they understand why women like Deaver may need later abortion care. That aligns with previous research confirming that when Americans understand a little more about the context surrounding 20-week abortion bans, they don’t want to deny women access to abortion services in these type of tragic situations. Although abortions that occur after 20 weeks are already very rare, they tend to occur in situations when something goes terribly wrong and families are deciding how to handle their child’s end-of-life care.