Oklahoma Woman Denied Abortion Care Due Despite Medical Emergency
Category: News & PoliticsVia: jbb • 3 weeks ago • 0 comments
By: Stephanie Emma Pfeffer (Peoplemag)
Jaci Statton knew something was wrong.
The 25-year-old mom from Meeker, Oklahoma, was early in her first trimester of pregnancy when she noticed she was bleeding.
"I was doing the dishes when all of a sudden I felt really sick and I looked down and saw blood soaked through my jeans," Statton, who has two children and shares another with her husband Dustin, tells PEOPLE. She started screaming for him.
The couple, who has been married for two years, had just learned in February that they were pregnant. While they hadn't been trying to conceive, they weren't opposed to having a baby. Their attitude was: "If it happens, it happens," Jaci says.
They quickly got used to the idea. "We were excited," says Jaci, a stay-at-home mom who owns a fishing business with Dustin. "We started talking about baby names. We'd even started buying baby stuff."
Now, it seemed like the baby's health was in danger.
The couple grabbed their three kids and headed to the closest emergency room, which happened to be at a Catholic hospital. There, Jaci was told that she was likely having a miscarriage, and that she should go home.
"I think they probably should have done more rather than just sending me away, but I understood why they couldn't," she says.
"Oklahoma has three abortion bans in effect, and each of them has different language in describing the medical exceptions," says Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "It's resulted in extreme confusion about what constitutes a sufficient health condition for a doctor to provide a medically necessary abortion."
courtesy jaci statton
Jaci made an appointment the next morning with her OB-GYN, who did an ultrasound and blood tests. It was then that they learned the crushing news: Jaci's pregnancy was non-viable. Known as a partial molar pregnancy, her embryo had too many chromosomes, preventing it from developing properly. It often happens when two sperm fertilize one egg. Complications include a placenta filled with cysts, preeclampsia, or even a rare form of cancer in which the irregular tissue continues to grow even after the pregnancy ends. In Jaci's case she was bleeding because one of the pre-cancerous cysts in her uterus had ruptured.
Yet even though her pregnancy was not a viable one and the fetus would not develop properly, Jaci could not get help.
"My doctor said, 'We're in a Catholic hospital so I'm not supposed to talk about this,'" Jaci says. "'But your baby will not make it, and this is very dangerous. You only have one option, and we can't do that here. I'm getting you transferred somewhere else.'"
Over the next week, Jaci became even more ill as the transfer paperwork was being processed. "It had gotten so bad that I couldn't eat, I could hardly walk. I was really lethargic." Then, she started bleeding again. "It scared me. It scared Dustin. He took me to the ER at Oklahoma University Medical Center where my papers were being put in for the transfer."
After getting more bloodwork done, Jaci was seen by two doctors who said she needed a D&C (dilation & curettage) to remove the harmful tissue from her uterus.
But apparently the ultrasound tech disagreed. "I remember hearing the doctors arguing with him. They kept saying, 'You need to look again.'" They had done a blood test and her pregnancy hormone, HCG, was extremely high, another sign of a partial molar pregnancy. But the ultrasound tech, whom Jaci says was on call and not trained in OB, insisted that there was cardiac activity. The procedure did not move forward.
Emily Wales, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, speaks to abortion rights advocates outside the Oklahoma Capitol.Sean Murphy/AP/Shutterstock
By then it had been one week since Jaci first learned about her non-viable pregnancy. "I was then transferred to Oklahoma Children's Hospital, where another ultrasound showed that the baby had gone from looking like a bean to a narrow, long shape. And you could see the pre-cancerous pockets all the way around."
"A team of doctors and specialists came in and told us, 'There's nothing that we can do according to Oklahoma law. We can't even really touch you,'" Jaci recalls. "They were giving me medicine every 30 minutes to help with my nausea but said, 'We can't keep you here just for nausea and we can't even help you if you start bleeding again. Unless it's a huge emergency, unless you are crashing in front of us or your blood pressure goes up so high that you're having a heart attack, we can't help you."
Essentially, Jaci was not "sick enough," says Muqaddam.
"What has happened in Oklahoma is that doctors are extremely confused about what condition is bad enough to provide an abortion," says Muqaddam, who worked on the No One Could Say report showing that all Oklahoma doctors and hospitals are hamstrung by these laws.
"And the effect of this confusion and chaos is combined with extraordinarily draconian penalties," she explains. "So if a doctor makes the wrong decision, they could be subjected to five-year prison sentence or lose their medical license."
"Doctors are being put in this position of weighing their own liberty and safety against what should be patient-centered medical care and ethical medical care," she says. And the result of that is that patients like Jaci will continue to suffer."
Jaci learned that she could get help terminating the non-viable pregnancy in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. Doctors offered to send her medical records. "We will do anything on our end to help you with that," she remembers them saying, adding that they were all kind and she holds no grudges.
"I was trying not to die. I was so out of it. I was hearing the words, but nothing was sticking. I just remember looking over at my husband and his head was in his hands and he was crying, 'Why won't they help you?'" He asked to speak to the ethics board at the hospital but his request was denied.
Jaci remembers the doctors' ultimate word: "The best advice we can give you, is to go sit in the parking lot until you bleed out, and we will be ready to help you when that happens."
Of course Jaci and Dustin could not sit in a hospital parking lot indefinitely. At the same time, they were worried if they drove home, which was an hour away, they wouldn't be able to get back to the hospital quickly in case of emergency.
Someone in the medical field arranged for Jaci to end her partial molar pregnancy at a clinic in Kansas. (For safety reasons, the person cannot be identified.) On March 10, Jaci and Dustin drove three hours to a reproductive health clinic in Wichita, where Jaci met with a state-mandated counselor who discussed all of her options — and then surprised her by throwing her paperwork in the trash.
"I asked her, why did you throw the papers away, don't I need them? And she pulled a huge trashcan out and says, I want you to look at this.' And it was completely full. She said, you're not alone. This whole trash can is filled with papers of other women that also did not have a choice."
Finally Jaci was taken back into the procedure room. "All of the feelings finally caught up with me in there, and I cried," she says. "The doctor came in, the nurses came in and they just sat with me and hugged me, held my hand and assured me that it was okay. "They told me, you're not making the wrong decision. If you don't do this, you're going to die."
"I sat in there — and this is one of the parts that makes me upset and really the most mad about all this: I was in a completely different state. I didn't know this doctor. I didn't know any of the nurses. My family wasn't allowed. I should have been able to get care at home. Still, I'm very thankful for the women that are in that clinic."
Ultimately Jaci's D&C was successful, but her situation caused long-term damage. The pre-cancerous tissue is growing again because her HGC hormone levels were so high that her body was still making the tissue even after the procedure.
"If she had received care when this was diagnosed, she would never be dealing with these HGC levels," explains Muqaddam. "It might take a very long time for her levels to come down, which means that the doctors will have to be really attentive to whether the pre-cancerous tissue is going to recur. A partial molar pregnancy needs to be addressed immediately because otherwise, the tissue continues to grow and increased the likelihood of recurrences."
Jaci says she's trying to schedule another surgery to remove the tissue. But she also plans to get her tubes tied to prevent future pregnancies.
"After you have any type of molar pregnancy, you can have one again really easily," she says.
"If I was to get pregnant, I don't think I would be okay. Before, Dustin and I were really ready. But now, we can't imagine even the thought of going through anything like that again."