TEXAS– One woman faced the heartbreaking reality of carrying her baby, who had a severe skull defect, knowing that her daughter’s life would be short-lived.
Another woman experienced a distressing situation where she began to exhibit symptoms similar to the life-threatening condition her unborn baby was facing. In a challenging and emotional situation, an OB-GYN found herself traveling out of state in secret to terminate her wanted pregnancy due to a devastating diagnosis of a fatal fetal anomaly.
These stories shed light on the profound pain, difficult decisions, and significant impact that such circumstances can have on individuals and families.
The women who were denied the option to terminate their pregnancies in Texas, a state with stringent abortion laws, are now seeking an emergency hold on certain abortion restrictions through a legal action.
They are joining an existing lawsuit initiated earlier this year by five other women who also faced obstacles in accessing abortions, despite their pregnancies posing health risks or endangering their lives. A total of over a dozen Texas women have now become plaintiffs in the lawsuit led by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The state’s law prohibits most abortions, with a narrow exception for cases where the mother’s life is at risk, which lacks clear definition.
The severe penalties imposed on doctors who perform abortions, including the risk of imprisonment and substantial fines, have created a situation where many healthcare providers are reluctant to even discuss or provide abortion services.
“Our hope is that it will allow physicians at least a little more comfort when it comes to patients in obstetrical emergencies who really need an abortion where it’s going to effect their health, fertility or life going forward,” Molly Duane, the lead attorney on the case, told The Associated Press. “Almost all of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit tell similar stories about their doctors saying, if not for this law, I’d give you an abortion right now.”
This lawsuit has become a model for abortion rights advocates nationwide, offering a way to challenge the restrictive abortion laws that various states have implemented following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.
According to an analysis by KFF, 16 states, including Texas, prohibit abortions in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, while six states have no exceptions for the mother’s health.
The Center for Reproductive Rights is considering filing similar lawsuits in other states, as they have received communications from women across the country sharing their own experiences.
Since the initial lawsuit was filed in March, approximately 25 Texas women have reached out to the organization.
The women who have joined the lawsuit initially experienced joy upon discovering their pregnancies, but their situations quickly turned into devastating ordeals.
Jessica Bernardo and her husband had struggled with infertility for years before finally achieving pregnancy with their daughter, Emma, in July.
However, their joy quickly turned to heartbreak when they received devastating news about Emma’s health. At 14 weeks into the pregnancy, test results indicated that Emma likely had Down Syndrome, but that was not the only concern.
The specialist informed them that Emma had an underdeveloped heart and a rare and life-threatening condition called fetal anasarca, which leads to fluid accumulation in the body.
The specialist’s prognosis was grim, and he delivered the heartbreaking news that Emma would not survive. Bernardo vividly remembers the moment, as the doctor handed her a tissue box.
Instead of just discussing Down Syndrome, she learned that her daughter had little chance of survival.
Furthermore, the doctor cautioned Bernardo to be watchful for symptoms of Mirror syndrome, a rare condition where the mother experiences similar health problems as the fetus.
High blood pressure and coughing were signs to be vigilant about, as they could indicate the onset of Mirror syndrome.
Jessica Bernardo and her husband struggled with infertility and sought medical help to conceive. Finally, in July, they were overjoyed to learn that Jessica was pregnant with their daughter, Emma.
However, their happiness quickly turned to distress when Jessica began experiencing severe and frequent coughing episodes, sometimes accompanied by vomiting. Around 14 weeks into the pregnancy, test results indicated that Emma likely had Down Syndrome.
Seeking further guidance, Jessica consulted a specialist who delivered devastating news: Emma’s heart was underdeveloped, and she had a rare and life-threatening condition called fetal anasarca, characterized by abnormal fluid accumulation in the body.
Recalling the moment, Jessica remembers being handed a tissue box by the doctor. She had anticipated the possibility of Down Syndrome as the worst news, but instead, she was informed that Emma would not survive.
The doctor expressed the heartbreaking reality to Jessica and her husband.In addition, the doctor cautioned Jessica about Mirror syndrome, a rare condition where the mother exhibits similar health issues as the fetus.
She was advised to be mindful of symptoms such as high blood pressure and continued coughing, which could indicate the onset of Mirror syndrome.
With Bernardo’s blood pressure numbers climbing, her OB-GYN conferred with the hospital’s ethics board to see if she could end the pregnancy but was advised Bernardo wasn’t sick enough. Bernardo spent $7,000 traveling to Seattle for an abortion a week later.
Even if Emma made it through the pregnancy, doctors would have immediately needed to drain excess fluids from her body, only for her to survive a few hours or days, Bernardo said.
“Reading about everything they would do sounded like complete torture to a newborn that would not survive,” she said. “Had I not received an abortion, my life would have very likely been on the line.”
Other women facing similar situations have not had the financial resources to travel outside of the state.
Samantha Casiano, a 29-year-old living in eastern Texas, found out halfway through her pregnancy last year that her daughter, Halo, had a rare diagnosis of anencephaly, where much of the skull and brain is missing.
Her doctor told her she would have to continue with the pregnancy because of Texas law, even though her baby would not survive.
With five children, including a goddaughter, at home she quickly realized she could not afford an out-of-state trip for an abortion.
The next next few months of her pregnancy were spent trying to raise money for her daughter’s impending funeral, soliciting donations through online websites and launching fundraisers to sell Mexican soup.
Halo was born in April, living for only four hours. “I was so full of heartbreak and sadness, all at the same time,” Casiano said.
Women in the lawsuit say they could not openly discuss abortion or labor induction with their doctors, instead asking their doctors discreetly if they should travel outside of the state.
Dr. Austin Dennard, an OB-GYN in Dallas, kept her own abortion experience hidden out of fear for her medical license and potential harassment.
However, inspired by a patient who joined the lawsuit, Dennard decided to share her story publicly. She hopes to break the silence surrounding abortion among medical professionals.
Despite the challenges, Dennard is expecting another child later this year, advocating for reproductive rights and open conversations about abortion.