Remember Terry Schiavo, the woman who spent 15 years in a vegetative state while her husband and parents battled over whether to keep her on life support? Her case prompted a lot of people to establish Advance Directives to make their wishes clear in the event that they could no longer make their own medical decisions. But an ongoing case in Texas is bringing new attention to how much (or how little) power Advance Directives actually have.
In the early hours of November 26, Erick Munoz found his wife Marlise unconscious in their home in Texas. He performed CPR and called 911, but her brain had already been deprived of oxygen for over an hour. Marlise and Erick are both paramedics, and had discussed their wishes not to be kept alive by artificial means. While it’s not clear whether Marlise had an Advance Directive, it really doesn’t matter, because she was 14 weeks pregnant – and that means the state, not Marlise or her family, gets to decide what happens to her.
Texas (and 11 other states) automatically invalidate a woman’s Advance Directive if she is pregnant. 14 states abide by the Uniform Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (URTIA), which requires that a pregnant woman be put on life support if it is probable that the fetus could be carried to term. (Only 4 of those states make an exception if carrying to term will cause the women physical harm or untreatable pain.) Some states use a ‘fetal viability standard’ to determine whether to honor a woman’s wishes, and 14 states have no language on the subject, leaving room for ambiguity and protracted legal battles. Only 5 states allow women to specify different directives based on whether or not they’re pregnant.
It’s important to understand that these laws don’t result in a hospital visit from a government official whose job it is to determine whether a woman’s wishes should be honored. What they really do is control doctors and hospitals by threatening legal action if patients’ wishes are honored. (The consequences of that threat were made terribly evident earlier this year in the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland.)
Today, Marlise Munoz remains on life support, against her wishes and those of her husband and family. No one knows how long her fetus was without oxygen or nutrients, and it will be another 6 weeks before doctors can determine whether and when it can be delivered.
You can learn more about Advance Directives and end-of-life rights in your state here.
First, I want to salute friend and reader Alicia, who is at the North Carolina capitol today. She’s part of the protest against the last-minute attachment of anti-choice provisions to an already-insane anti-Sharia-law bill. The provisions will make it all but impossible to get a legal abortion in North Carolina.
Alicia, we’re all there with you. Thank you for raising your voice.
Now I have a bit of exclusive Vagina News for you, from my first foray into investigative journalism.
Remember the fight to get Facebook to effectively moderate content that advocates violence against women? Remember how the thing that finally worked was showing advertisers that their ads were appearing next to this content, prompting them to pull ad money from Facebook? Well this week, Facebook announced a decision…
To pull ads from pages that advocate violence against women.
A lot of people, myself included, thought that SUCKED. But before reacting, I decided to find out if there was more to it. So I reached out via Twitter to Women, Action, & Media – the organization partnering with Facebook on this issue – to get the scoop.
Here’s what they said.
As you may already know, I try not to get wrapped up in talking about every insane state attempt to restrict reproductive rights, because I wouldn’t have time to, like, pee.
But in light of the news in recent weeks (specifically out of Texas and Ohio,) it’s important to talk about. Here are two concise ways to learn about these efforts in the big picture.
The fight over abortion access in Texas continues, and it is big. There is no better demonstration of Republican legislators pushing an ignorant ideology against the will of the people – and at midnight tonight, we find out who wins.
The bill in question is being promoted by a female legislator – State Representative Jodie Laubenberg – who thinks rape victims don’t need access to legal abortion because “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.”
Cleaned out. Texas women are being governed by someone who thinks rape kit = abortion.
If you’re not up on the details of this story, WATCH THIS VIDEO.
– Diana Greene Foster, a demographer and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, has completed a study on what happens to women who are denied abortions. (Aside from a similar study in the 60s in Czechoslovakia, this is surprisingly unprecedented.) The article is long and detailed and excellent. Spoiler Falert – it doesn’t bode well for mother or child.
– Another study (thanks Jason!) shows that 1 in 6 women who seek treatment at clinics specializing in bone fractures have been abused by intimate partners – and that’s a low estimate. “Neck and head injuries are the most common for women who have experienced domestic violence, he said. Also common are “bruising or broken jaws, teeth being knocked out, black eyes.”… By the time a woman receives broken bones, she’s at sharp risk of being killed by her partner. That’s why orthopedic surgeons need to get better at noticing the signs, he said.”
– To lighten things up a bit, 6 female scientists to tell you friends and family about. We don’t know about these women because institutional sexism prevented them from being recognized alongside their male peers. (Like, Nobel prizes being awarded to all the men around them, but not to the women… That kind of thing.) Let’s help right that wrong by learning and talking about them.