Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas SB8 into law. The law prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected, a stage when many people are unaware they are pregnant and are therefore unable to make a choice. The law also institutes an innovated, new enforcement strategy allowing anyone to sue abortion providers and to recover up to $10,000.
Republican state lawmakers in Texas made abortion restrictions a top priority item for their legislative session. Governor Abbott framed his support for these actions as rooted in a fundamental concern about protecting life. Last week, Governor Abbott also issued an executive order prohibiting all government entities in the state from mandating masks. With me now to discuss this new law is Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB-GYN abortion provider in Texas and a board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health.
Dr. Moayedi, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Dr. Moayedi: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa. It's an honor.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Oh, I feel very much the same way honored to have you, particularly given this new context in which you're attempting to do your work. Before we get into the details, can you just describe for us a bit what you've seen happen over time, over the past few years, maybe the past 10 as a doctor and an abortion provider in Texas?
Dr. Moayedi: Yes, so I have been providing abortion care whether it's as a physician or as a clinic worker since 2004 here in Texas. Quite a while and I've seen a lot of changes over the past decade. The trend has been every legislative session to introduce new extreme laws that attempt to chip away at the right to access abortion. This has been the strategy for over a decade, each session to introduce some new way of putting a barrier up, making the time take longer, making it be a certain type of physician, a certain type of procedure, so really nitpicking at each detail of an abortion visit to try and block every step.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is that kind of legislative action about each aspect of a medical procedure common in other medical procedures, for example, say kidney dialysis?
Dr. Moayedi: Of course not. I as an OB-GYN couldn't speak to the regulations around kidney dialysis, but I can tell you the regulations around all other aspects of gynecology and obstetrics, and I don't see this anywhere else. We don't see this kind of attention paid to the health and wellness and outcomes of birthing people in our state for sure. We don't see this attention to health and outcomes for people diagnosed with gynecologic cancers in this state, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer.
The legislator does not spend each session worrying about the health of reproductively capable people at other stages in life, certainly.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As an OB-GYN, can you talk to me a little bit about what the dangers of pregnancy are, especially for some particular populations of people?
Dr. Moayedi: We know that, of course, pregnancy is a normal process. I don't want to focus so much on pathologizing it, people have normal healthy pregnancies all the time but as an OB-GYN, I'm also there with folks when things go terribly wrong. We can see death and harm from pregnancy happening at all stages of pregnancy, first trimester, second trimester, third trimester, and certainly, we see the majority of deaths happening after birth.
In Texas specifically, but around the country, this disproportionately impacts Black communities, brown communities, other people of color, queer communities, and so people that are disproportionately already marginalized in our state, disenfranchised from so many other aspects of our government and our electoral process are also being impacted by health outcomes throughout pregnancy.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk a little bit more about the bill itself. It has been described as the heartbeat bill, what do you think of that? What is the purpose and is it an accurate description?
Dr. Moayedi: Thank you so much for asking that question. The purpose of naming it the heartbeat bill is to really sensationalize what's happening to evoke an emotion in people but you're exactly right, it is not a medically accurate term. What we're talking about is very clearly a complete ban on abortion. That is what this bill is and it is being called a heartbeat bill so that legislatures, the governor can correlate it with saving life.
However, this stage of pregnancy that we're talking about if we really want to get into the weeds of it, we're not talking about when a heart has been developed, we're talking about very early embryonic human development when the cardiac cells are there, and they are beating and they are forming a heart, they're starting to form a tube and to fold and to make chambers, but that hasn't happened yet.
We're talking about before even a heart has formed. I really want to name something very real as I get into those weeds of what a heartbeat even means. It doesn't matter when the heartbeat starts. It doesn't matter when the organs develop. It doesn't matter what the overwhelming scientific evidence proves as far as abortion care being exceedingly safe or around abortion restrictions actually causing harm to public health.
We know that this isn't about human development. It's not about safety. It's not about efficacy. It's not about health care, and it's certainly not about saving the lives of babies in Texas. I'll say that we recently have a study published out of the University of California showing that exposure to fatal police violence during pregnancy increases the likelihood of preterm birth, and that's real facts.
If Texas lawmakers actually cared about the health and wellness of embryos in Texas, they should have spent this session preventing those murders, preventing murders like Botham John, Tatyana Jefferson, and Sandra Bland here in our state from happening. That's how they really could have used science to help our communities. Instead, they're wasting our time talking about heartbeats.
Melissa Harris-Perry: State violence is a reproductive justice issue. I so appreciate the way that you connected that for us. When you're talking to your patients as a provider at this point, how are you going to be talking to them about what their options are?
Dr. Moayedi: [sighs] It's going to be hard. Unfortunately, it's not something we're new to here in Texas. About a year ago now, the governor shut down abortion care in our state under the guise of a public health emergency. That day, when our services were shut down was at that point the worst day of my career. We spent time every night calling patients telling them we weren't open yet trying to connect them with services across the country.
I have colleagues in Alabama, and Chicago, in DC that were seeing patients that I had cared for, but I couldn't complete their procedures because of the law. That's really what I fear is going to be happening, but people show up and I'll tell you a story. Last session, a bill was introduced here that really we thought was the most extreme, but as I said, every session they surprise us.
That bill called for essentially, the consequence would be the death penalty for people seeking abortion and for physicians providing that care. Now that bill didn't make it very far. Some Republicans said it was just way too extreme. They didn't want to punish pregnant people but that week they were discussing the bill, I still had patients show up, and I remember a patient told me, "Doc, they're going to give me the death penalty for this and I don't care I have to get this abortion." That really punched me in the gut.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for that story and for the ways that it clarifies just how urgent this question is. Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi is an OB-GYN abortion provider in Texas and a board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health. Please take good care of yourself in the coming weeks.
Dr. Moayedi: Thank you so much, Melissa. Have a great day.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.