(NewsNation) — As states pass abortion bans, women with pregnancy complications are finding themselves in life-threatening situations with uncertain guidance.
A growing number of physicians and families tell similar stories as a post-Roe fear comes to pass: Pregnant women with dangerous medical conditions are showing up in hospitals and doctors’ offices only to be denied the abortions that could help treat them. Some doctors in states with restrictive abortion laws say they’ve referred or suggested more patients go elsewhere than ever. Some women are facing harmful, potentially deadly delays.
Nearly all abortions are banned under Texas law, which does include an exception for life-threatening conditions. But it doesn’t spell out exactly what qualifies as life-threatening.
It wasn’t until three days later that Eid developed signs of infection, including a high fever, that doctors were able to perform an abortion. But it was too late to prevent her from developing sepsis, and Eid wound up in the ICU.
She survived. But her case isn’t unique.
Doctors say they’re forced to balance medical judgment with potential punishments, including prison time. Although even the strictest laws allow abortion to save a mother’s life, a weighty question lingers: How close to death must the patient be?
In West Virginia, the recent general ban on abortion has exceptions for “certain medical conditions” and “medical emergency” as well as rape and incest with specific criteria.
An Ohio woman said she began experiencing heavy bleeding during a miscarriage but was sent home by the hospital. Later she was rushed to the ER and a dilation and curettage procedure, also called a D&C, was eventually performed to stop the bleeding.
A Missouri woman whose water broke at 18 weeks had to travel to neighboring Illinois — away from the support of friends and family — to get care.
Another Texas woman who was miscarrying was told the symptoms of infection she was showing weren’t the right ones to allow for an exception to the state’s abortion ban. She had to wait for an ethics panel to decide if her case qualified as life-threatening.
While many doctors have raised the alarm about the potential danger of abortion bans with vague language around medical, others don’t believe there is cause for concern.
Dr. Paul LaRose, a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said he thinks the issue is overstated and those raising concerns are exaggerating.
“Or they may be misinformed,” he said. “Most pro-life physicians would take care of the mother and do what’s necessary without purposely taking the life of the unborn baby.”
But other experts say women’s lives are being put on the line as doctors, hospitals and lawyers struggle to determine what conditions qualify for an exception and which could lead to jail time for a doctor who violates the law.
Experts say it’s hard to pinpoint data on abortion denials when serious complications arise. Employers often discourage health care workers from speaking about them, though. The Associated Press reached more than a dozen doctors and patients who shared stories of such denials.
And many doctors and researchers agree that evidence, even if largely anecdotal, shows a widespread problem. In Texas, for example, a doctors’ association sent a letter to the state’s medical board saying some hospitals refused to treat patients with major complications because of the state’s abortion ban.
And at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers who invited health care workers nationwide to anonymously send examples of poor-quality care caused by abortion restrictions say they were surprised by the initial volume of responses. Twenty-five submissions came in the first six weeks. Among them were descriptions of patients sent home after their water broke in the second trimester who later returned with serious infections. One told of an ectopic pregnancy that was allowed to grow on a scar left by a previous cesarean section – which can cause uterine rupture, hemorrhage and death.
According to the CDC, sepsis is the second leading cause of death for pregnant women.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.