To avoid getting into a time-consuming and costly legal mess, a Louisiana hospital's lawyer told a doctor not to perform surgery when a woman who was 16 weeks' pregnant had a miscarriage.
Instead of a relatively simple 15-minute procedure, the woman had to endure a painful hours-long labor to push the dead fetus out of her body.
The US Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs Wade on June 24 has led to flickering access to abortion in Louisiana because of a statewide trigger ban. The ban has taken effect twice and been blocked twice by a court so far.
In a lawsuit filed against the state by the patient, her doctor Valerie Williams provided an affidavit that illustrated how an abortion ban could delay or deny healthcare for women suffering miscarriages.
In her affidavit, Williams said that in early July when the abortion ban was in effect, the patient broke water, and it was too early for the fetus to be viable.
Williams said she was told not to perform a surgical procedure known as D&E (dilation and evacuation) by the hospital, and she had to watch while her patient "was forced to go through a painful, hours-long labor to deliver a nonviable fetus, despite her wishes and best medical advice".
Williams said that the patient took hours to deliver the placenta, began hemorrhaging and lost nearly a liter of blood before she could stop the bleeding.
"She was screaming — not from pain, but from the emotional trauma she was experiencing," Williams said in the affidavit. "There is absolutely no medical basis for my patient, or any other patient in this state, to experience anything like this. This was the first time in my 15-year career that I could not give a patient the care they needed. This is a travesty."
Her affidavit also described a patient who became pregnant despite using birth control and sought an abortion soon after the Supreme Court decision.
"She told me that she hoped the pregnancy was ectopic so she could get treated in Louisiana, rather than having to leave the state," Williams said, referring to a pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus and must be removed.
"It is horrific that patients are hoping to have a life-threatening health complication so that they can get appropriate care," she said.
However, even ectopic pregnancy won't necessarily guarantee timely care in abortion-ban states. In Central Texas, a physician was allegedly instructed to not treat an ectopic pregnancy until a rupture occurred, which puts patient health at serious risk, according to the Texas Medical Association (TMA).
In a letter to the regulatory Texas Medical Board about two weeks ago, TMA officials, citing the above case as an example but not providing names, said they have received complaints that hospital administrators and their legal teams are stopping doctors from providing medically appropriate care to patients with some pregnancy complications due to an abortion ban.
They asked the board to "swiftly act to prevent any wrongful intrusion into the practice of medicine".
Many pregnant women are finding out how difficult it has become to obtain medical care under abortion bans. One Houston woman suffered a miscarriage and had to carry the dead fetus inside her body for two weeks before getting proper care.
Marlena Stell, a beauty YouTuber with 1.47 million subscribers, tearfully shared her ordeal on her YouTube channel.
She moved to Houston from Washington state last year. She found out that the fetus was dead in a routine ultrasound check when she was 9 1/2 weeks' pregnant last fall. She first cried, then asked for a standard D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure.
D&C is also used for abortion. Due to Texas' abortion ban, the doctor told her that she had to get another ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage before any medical care could be provided.
Stell said she felt violated and angry at having to undergo an intrusive and emotionally devastating transvaginal ultrasound before she could get medical care. In days waiting for care, she wondered if her body would naturally miscarry or if she would get an infection carrying a dead fetus inside her body.
By the time she was arranged to have the procedure, it had been two weeks since she found out the fetus was dead. She was met with abortion protesters when she went to the clinic for care; she was angry and scared.
"I was so angry I was treated this way because of the law passed by men who have never been pregnant and never will be but are telling me how I am supposed to get help and made me feel like I did something wrong," she said. "It's not right. I shouldn't beg to get medical attention."