Woman says Texas abortion law prevented her from getting timely miscarriage care

Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 11:27 AM EDT
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(CNN) - In the three weeks since the Supreme Court overturned a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, uncertainty is growing about how the ruling will affect other pregnancy-related issues like fertility treatments, contraception, even miscarriage.

A woman in Texas said after finding out she had a miscarriage, her doctor refused to perform the necessary medical procedure, which means she carried her dead fetus for two weeks until she found a doctor who would help her.

Marlena Stell and Ab DeSilva have always wanted a little brother or sister for their daughter, Adelina. Instead, what they said they got was a nightmare because of a Texas anti-abortion law.

“I get so angry that I was treated this way because of laws that were passed by men who have never been pregnant and never will be,” Stell said.

Her nightmare started out as a dream come true. After months of trying, she became pregnant late last summer.

“We were super-excited because we didn’t think I could get pregnant,” Stell said.

An ultrasound at 7 and 1/2 weeks showed all was well. But at an ultrasound two weeks later showed something different.

“She said there is no heartbeat. There is no viable pregnancy,” Stell said.

Stell asked her doctor for a standard treatment: a surgery to remove the fetal remains. She said her doctor refused.

That surgery, commonly known as a D and C, is the same procedure used to abort a living fetus.

“She said, ‘Well, because of the new law that’s passed, you’re going to have to get another ultrasound for me to be able to even do anything for you,’” Stell said.

She said she was overwhelmed emotionally and physically. “The pain would get so severe, it would be hard to walk,” Stell said.

She went to get a second invasive ultrasound at an imaging center, describing it later in a YouTube video: “Someone shoves a wand in my in my sensitive area and tells me, ‘Hey, you lost your baby’ again. I shouldn’t have to go through that twice.”

She added, “It was gut-wrenching, sorry, ‘cause you already know what you’re going to see. It’s just like, seeing it twice, being told that you’re not going to be a mom.”

It was still not enough to get her doctor to give her medical care. Stell had to get yet another ultrasound showing her dead fetus.

She was walking around carrying a dead fetus “and just emotionally carrying it around and just knowing that there’s nothing you could do. It just feels very ... it’s like I can’t grieve or move past it because I’m just walking around carrying it.”

Dr. Lillian Schapiro, who has been an OB-GYN in Atlanta for more than 30 years, said carrying around a dead fetus is also dangerous to the mother.

“She can develop an infection that can make her sterile and never able to have children again,” she said.

Or even worse. “When the baby dies inside, the baby starts to release parts of its tissue that can get into the mother’s blood supply. It can cause organ failure. It can cause death,” Schapiro said.

In Texas and some other states, a doctor who does the right thing and surgically removes a dead fetus could be vulnerable to an expensive lawsuit.

“Any private citizen can walk into court and say ‘I think Dr. Smith performed an abortion,’” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

Citizens are incentivized to bring such cases. They can win more than $10,000.

And even when doctors can prove the fetus was dead, the doctor still has to be responsible for their own legal fees.

“They’re going to lose even though they win, and that’s the chilling effect. They face this specter of potentially endless, ruinous litigation, that they just can’t stop, they can’t avoid, they can’t pre-empt,” Vladeck said.

Stell did finally manage to find a doctor to perform her D and C, but it took two weeks. She said she worries the nightmare could happen to her again.

Stell said she isn’t trying to get pregnant again.

“I’m worried about getting infected, have something happen to me. And then my daughter’s left without her mom,” she said.

Now they’re contemplating moving away from Texas, away from their extended family, just so they can try to get pregnant again.

Texas filed a lawsuit last week challenging an executive order by President Joe Biden giving hospitals the right to pre-empt state abortion restrictions when there’s an emergency.

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