In early May, Texas resident Gabriella Gonzalez traveled to Colorado for abortion care. The journey out of state is a familiar one for Texans, who have lived under a draconian six-week abortion ban since 2021, long before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, and a criminal “trigger law” that imposes up to life in prison for providers, since August. Like so many Texans, the 26-year-old mother of three was forced out of her home state for health care. Upon her return, Harold Thompson, her 22-year-old ex-boyfriend who is believed to have impregnated her and who did not approve of her abortion—sought revenge. During an argument at a gas station in Dallas the morning after she returned, Thompson placed Gonzalez in a choke hold and then fatally shot her once in the head and several times thereafter.
Court records show that Thompson, who is facing a murder charge, had a history of abusive behavior toward Gonzalez: He had “violently” beaten her several times during the pregnancy, including an attempt to strangle her and an incident that left her with a black eye. Thompson had also threatened to harm Gonzalez’s family and children, leading her to be “very fearful” of him. Dallas police had issued a warrant for Thompson’s arrest for domestic assault before the shooting, but Gonzalez’s mother says her family never heard back after multiple attempts to contact the authorities. Gonzalez was working to end the tumultuous relationship before her death, and her choice to seek an abortion was part of that effort. “He was so angry that she wanted to get away from him,” her sister, Mileny Rubio, told a local news outlet. “She would always tell me that she wanted to leave, but that she couldn’t.”
The killing of Gonzalez reminds us of what many reproductive health advocates have long warned about when it comes to the intersection of pregnancy, abortion bans, and intimate partner violence: Homicide is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in the United States, and like other causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, it disproportionately affects women of color. Pregnant people are more likely to face intimate partner violence (IPV), and those who have experienced violence are more likely to have an unintended pregnancy and to seek an abortion. At the same time, those who have experienced violence by an intimate partner have a higher chance of unintended pregnancy and seeking an abortion. And according to the landmark Turnaway Study, led by Diana Greene Foster at the University of California, San Francisco, those who are denied abortion care are more likely to stay tethered to violent partners than those who are successful at terminating their pregnancies.
What this tells us is that amid the post-Roe wave of extreme abortion bans, victims of IPV are more vulnerable than ever. In Texas, this problem is acute: Survivors of IPV experience reproductive coercion at a rate three times greater than the national average. The state also does not provide exceptions for rape or incest in its abortion law, further harming victims. As leaders of domestic violence advocacy groups have cautioned, state abortion bans will only serve to empower and embolden abusers.
A recent example of how abortion bans with “bounty hunter” provisions can be weaponized by abusers also comes out of the Lone Star State. In March, Marcus Silva, a Galveston County man, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his ex-wife’s friends for allegedly helping her obtain a medication abortion, seeking more than $1 million from each woman. The lawsuit, which is riddled with flagrant accusations of murder, catalyzes a chilling effect on anyone who wishes to help a friend or loved one access care. It was later revealed that Brittni Silva, like Gonzalez, was seeking to escape the grip of an abusive partner: In a countersuit, the defendants, Brittni Silva’s friends, accuse Marcus Silva of subjecting his ex-wife to “serial” verbal and emotional abuse, which culminated in police involvement and an eventual divorce, and allege that he sought to conceal the fact that he knew of his ex-wife’s abortion, in an attempt to extort, control, and inflict harm on her.
The increased dangers to pregnant and abortion-seeking people post-Roe don’t stop at intimate partner violence, especially in states like Texas, where carrying a pregnancy—amid a maternal mortality crisis—is a perilous endeavor. Despite vows to do so, Republican lawmakers have failed to offer any clarification on vague emergency medical exceptions in its abortion laws—forcing high-risk patients to approach the brink of death before a physician will intervene. Each week seems to bring a new, horrific story featuring a Texas patient nearly dying from sepsis, hemorrhaging, or other near-fatal ailments arises from the state, highlighting how wary doctors in Texas are erring on the side of extreme caution to protect their own livelihoods in the face of lawsuits and jail time, while placing patients in grave harm. Despite vows to do so, Republican lawmakers have failed to clarify the vague emergency medical exceptions in abortion laws—forcing high-risk patients to approach the brink of death before a physician will intervene.
As a longtime reproductive rights reporter in Texas, I often find it difficult to reconcile our Republican leadership’s “pro-life” values with their actual failure to protect the life of people who they have forced into pregnancy and childbirth. Exacerbating this disconnect is witnessing a continual flood of deadly mass shootings—which tragically include young children, most strikingly in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 elementary school students last May. And yet, Republican lawmakers—who purport to champion the lives of children—have made little tangible progress on curbing access to guns, which allow for permitless carry. It is true that guns are less regulated than reproductive health care in Texas right now. A fact made even more chilling when we consider that gun reform is essential and inextricably linked to the safety of pregnant people, in particular.
Witnessing deadly mass shootings—which tragically include young children—exacerbates this disconnect. Republican lawmakers have not made any progress on curbing access to guns; in Texas, it’s still legal to carry a gun without a permit.
Texans are left with a perfect storm of lax gun laws, extreme abortion bans, and the threat of escalated partner violence, a vortex of antithetical and dangerous policies that contribute to a climate of fear. Whether it is state-sanctioned abuse in medical settings or abuse from a controlling, vengeful partner, the threat to bodily safety has never felt greater for pregnant and abortion-seeking Texans.