When Sarah was 24 years old, she was a single mother of two young children, one of whom had significant special health care needs. Days before Mother’s Day and just a few months after escaping from her abusive partner, she doubled over in pain and had to be hospitalized. Within hours, she discovered that she was at risk of sudden death.
Unbeknownst to her, Sarah was near the end of her first trimester, but instead of the embryo developing in her uterus, it was developing at the end of her fallopian tube. She had an ectopic pregnancy and her tube nearly ruptured.
She needed an immediate abortion. Without one, her doctor said the tube would rupture and she would bleed to death.
“I was surprised,” he told CBS News. “…But, you know, if I hadn’t been able to get that, I would have died and my children would have been left with an abusive father who also didn’t know how to take care of these multiple special needs. I have no idea what would have happened to my children if I died.”
Sarah is one of many who have experienced this type of pregnancy and whose life was saved by an abortion procedure.
But the Supreme Court’s decisionthe landmark case of 1973 that protected the has created an area of serious unknowns when it comes to medical emergencies like Sarah’s.
“In my years as an OB/GYN, I’ve seen things that I didn’t know were medically possible that complicate pregnancies,” Dr. Amy Addante told CBS News. “…There are many other extremes of pathology that may definitely require a person to no longer be pregnant in order for him to preserve her own health.”
Dr. Louise Perkins King, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of reproductive bioethics at the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, told CBS News that the list of things that can go wrong during a pregnancy “is incredibly long.” She experienced it herself.
When she was pregnant, she developed HELLP syndrome, a severe form of pre-eclampsia that causes the liver to fail, the number of platelets to drop, and spontaneous bleeding to occur. If not treated quickly, it is also associated with stroke and even death.
“Pregnancy is dangerous, especially when carried to term,” he said.
Along with ectopic pregnancy and HELLP syndrome, pregnant women can also develop hypertension, seizures, diabetes, liver disorders, heart problems, pulmonary (lung) function problems, sepsis, and complications during childbirth. Sometimes these conditions are life-threatening.
“Pregnancy takes a huge toll on the body. And because of that cost, each person should be able to decide for themselves if they want to go through with all of thoseKing said. “Almost everyone will experience something from their pregnancy that puts them at some kind of risk or discomfort.”
Many pregnancies remain healthy and relatively uncomplicated throughout their term, Addante said, but complications are very common, and when they do occur, Addante said, “they can be very extreme.” Certain problems, such as ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure, also put subsequent pregnancies at risk.
From themany women have taken to social media to share their own experiences.
“We were desperate with a baby we had been desperately looking for,” wrote Amanda Huber, the widow of professional wrestler Jon Huber, on Twitter about a pregnancy she had in October 2015. “Something felt wrong.”
Huber went to the hospital and waited for hours to be seen. When they finally did an ultrasound, she listened to his “peanut” heartbeat. Then the doctor told her that it was an ectopic pregnancy and that her tube had ruptured. She was bleeding.
“I had to end this much wanted pregnancy. This pregnancy whose heartbeat I even heard. A pregnancy that would never, ever, NEVER be a fucking baby,” she wrote. “A pregnancy that would leave my 3-year-old son without a mother and my widowed husband.”
He immediately went into emergency surgery. The doctors said that if his bleeding had not stopped within an hour, she would have lost her ovary. After a few hours, she would have needed a hysterectomy. If she had waited 12 hours, she “would have died.”
A few years later, Huber suffered a miscarriage that her body was unable to expel. Her fetal tissues had to be removed. No,could develop.
“The moral of this story,” Huber wrote: “Abortion is fucking health care. I shouldn’t have to share my trauma for everything to be ‘ok’.” I’m sure I’ll hear ‘but your story is the exception’ and I don’t want to hear it. I’m white and rich, of course I’m the exception.”
Dr. Addante said pregnancy complications like these arise from a myriad of factors, including individual health history and lack of access to general medical care. Systemic issues such as proximity to care, racial bias, and economic status have long prevented many from accessing the help they need.
Those affected by these injustices will feel the damage much more keenly than those with more resources, Addante said.
“[The overturning of Roe] going to make pregnancy more dangerous,” she said. “We already know that pregnancy in the United States is not so sure as it is in most of the rest of the developed world.
In 2020, 861 women in the US they died while pregnant or within 42 days after, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a maternal mortality rate of 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. the it was more than double the national average: 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births.
And doctors CBS News spoke with predict these numbers will only increase.
“Many, many people will die,” King said.
Said the rollovercreates a complicated situation for doctors. Some state laws only allow abortions when a pregnant person’s life, not just her health, is in danger.
“But how do you define that?” she said. And if a doctor misjudges what the state will allow, he could face legal action.
“Either they’re going to intervene early and face all the consequences I’ve described … or they’re going to wait to intervene and maybe lose a patient, which meanssaid the king.
Medical emergencies are not the only concern. Both doctors said the mental health consequences of being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy can be dire.
They pointed to the well-known Turnaway study, which spent years tracking the consequences for those who had or were denied access to an abortion. Those who were denied abortions were more likely to see an increase in poverty and debt, reported additional health problems, and were more likely to remain in contact with violent partners while raising children alone.
King added that she “never met any person” who casually chose to have an abortion. “These families need support… They don’t need additional legal impositions on their ability to make the right decisions for them.”
Seeing the legal turnaround has made both doctors feel angry and betrayed.
“This should make everyone feel a deep outrage and a deep sense of betrayal,” King said. “…As a human being, I have fewer rights if I am of reproductive age and a person with a uterus to control my body than if I were dead.”
Addante said, “It is a betrayal of my oath.”
“When I became a doctor, I swore to help people to the best of my ability,” he said. “And now I have my abilities limited by someone who did not take the same oath… It is a betrayal of the patients who have entrusted their care to me.”
That sense of anger and frustration is also felt by those who have had abortions in the past. Sarah, now 40, has a box of mementos from the pregnancy that threatened her life. Inscribed “In Loving Memory,” it’s filled with pictures the doctor gave her, a pregnancy test, and a birthstone necklace.
She also continues to grapple with the issues of ectopic pregnancy, something she said shows how worrisome pregnancy is for health, and the risks faced by those who no longer have a choice.
“People like me will die,” he said. “People who have incomplete miscarriages, fetuses that die, things like that, they’re basically sentenced to death because no one is going to touch them.”