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Q&A: Louisiana woman who had to travel for abortion says experience was a 'nightmare'

Nancy Davis 082622
Paul Braun/WRKF
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Nancy Davis, left, stands with her partner and lawyer in front of the Louisiana legislature on Aug. 26.

Nancy Davis made national headlines this summer after she was denied an abortion at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge — despite carrying a fetus with no brain or skull that would not survive birth.

In early September, Davis, a mother of three, finally had her procedure at a Manhattan Planned Parenthood clinic. Public health reporter Rosemary Westwood recently spoke with Davis and her attorney, Ben Crump, about what Davis has been through, and why she’s sharing her story.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rosemary Westwood: Nancy, first, how are you feeling today?

Nancy Davis: I'm feeling pretty good.

RW: Can you tell us how you eventually ended up at a Planned Parenthood in New York for your procedure? 

ND: Yes, ma'am. Well, for one thing, the doctors in Louisiana, my doctor in Louisiana, was clearly scared of prosecution and maybe being fined. So, therefore, I went somewhere where the laws were clear, and they were confident to do the procedure and provide top-notch care.

RW: And why New York? Was that just the most convenient for you? Did you have support there? 

ND: Well, the doctors in New York were very, very confident. They reached out; they provided awesome hospitality. So that's why I chose New York.

RW: I think at that point, it had been at least a month since you'd had the diagnosis. That's a long time to wait for this procedure. So how did it feel walking into the clinic that day?

ND: It felt horrible. I mean, it was devastating. You know, it was traumatizing to even make that decision as a parent, you know?

RW: And what about since then, how have you felt since you were able to get this procedure?

ND: I feel as though we made the best decision for our baby as well as ourselves.

NW: And readers have probably heard your story, but why did it feel to you that the best decision was to have an abortion?

ND: Well 10 weeks into my pregnancy, my baby was diagnosed with a lethal and fatal condition called acrania, in which those babies died within minutes or they died stillborn. So the only thing that came to my mind whenever we assessed the situation and analyzed it, was that I was carrying my baby to bury my baby. So that's why we made the decision.

RW: And attorney Crump, you're a civil rights lawyer, and people might not typically equate that with abortion rights. Since you've been representing Nancy, you've helped raise the profile of her case, you both appeared on the Dr. Phil show. And I wondered why you wanted to represent Nancy, and what you are hoping to achieve by making people aware of her case?

Ben Crump: I understood that Nancy was very symbolic of many of the Black women in the state of Louisiana. Louisiana has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country. Disproportionately, Black women die during childbirth in the state of Louisiana.

Nancy Davis, this young Black woman who was told that her baby was going to die, she could not have an abortion because the state of Louisiana enacted very vague and ambiguous laws to have a chilling effect — not only on medical doctors, or administration of abortions, but it had a chilling effect on the women of Louisiana. And I would imagine a great effect on Black women in Louisiana.

And so we wanted to use whatever influence we had to let Nancy Davis know that she was not alone — and that she could transform this tragic circumstance into one of triumph, where she could help other women, especially Black women, in the state of Louisiana, and all across America. And that's why we got involved. When Nancy called us, we said, “We will not let you be by yourself.”

RW: Do you think abortion rights are civil rights?

BC: I absolutely think that abortion rights are similar to civil rights. My mother, God bless her, is as pious of a Christian as anybody else. But even my mother says, “That's my beliefs.” I don't want to have to force my beliefs on somebody else. Every woman should be able to choose for themselves.

I do think abortion is involuntary servitude on a woman, who by law cannot make the decision for herself and her body. And if you don't believe in abortion, then don't have an abortion. But people want to have a right to choose, and we should respect the woman's right to choose.

RW: And Nancy, what about you? You've spoken to so many journalists by now. I mean, first I'm just wondering what that media attention has been like during a time that you've said has been traumatic and really difficult for you.

ND: The media attention has been fine. You know, we're just sharing our truth with everyone. So that's what makes it so, so much easier.

RW: And what do you hope will come from this? You've spoken about not wanting others to go through what you're having to go through. What do you want people to take away from learning about what's happened to you?

ND: Well, one thing that I've learned from dealing with this situation is that people have control over people's lives, and can put other people's lives in danger. You know, it shouldn't be that way. So I would like to bring consciousness and awareness to this issue. And just help as many women as I possibly can who are in the same or similar situations as myself.

RW: And do you want legislative change? You were both before the Louisiana State Capitol calling for a special legislative session. We haven't seen that happen yet. But Nancy, particularly you, what do you want the legislature to do? What do you want politicians in Louisiana to do?

ND: I would like them to make the laws less vague and more clear, to where these doctors are not confused, or frightened.

RW: And attorney Crump?

BC: Exactly as Nancy said. You have to have laws that are clear and unambiguous. You want it to be where the laws are protective of citizens, not causing them to be in more peril. And it's not very difficult to do. Make it a bright line where people know that, “OK, I can help this woman, I can help my patients.” And doctors don't have to risk losing their medical license or being put in jail just because they are trying to honor their oath to help patients.

I think Nancy is extraordinary. When you think about how she could have just went and had the procedure and remained silent. But she said, “No. (I’m going to) use my story to help make greater change and awareness so people won't have to go through what I went through.”

It is just inhumane what this law inflicts upon women in the state of Louisiana.

RW: And Nancy, just one final question for you. I'm wondering if there's anything else you want people to know about what the last couple of months have been like for you and for your family?

ND: It’s almost hard to put in words. It's been a nightmare. That’s the best way I can describe it. It has been a nightmare.

RW: And is it over? Do you feel that nightmare?

ND: Most of it is. Now that I've received the care, I'm just trying to to move forward on a positive note and to help as many women as I possibly can.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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