Who pays the price when lawmakers play God?

Betty BeanKnox Scene

She was 33 when they married. He was 38. They are thoughtful, high-achieving people, and they wanted to start a family right away. And because she was approaching the age when maternal risk factors begin to rise, they hoped for three babies in three years.


The wedding went off without a glitch, but an unanticipated honeymoon glitch served early notice that the best laid plans could go sideways.

They had honeymooned in a South American country that was on the World Health Organization’s Zika Virus Watch List. And despite the fact that they visited in late May, (the seasonal equivalent of late November down below the equator) and the fact that they’d suffered through a record-breaking cold spell that made them wish they’d brought their winter coats, the six-month pregnancy ban still applied.

“Coming through Customs, there were signs everywhere – ‘If you are returning from South America, you should not get pregnant for six months.’ If we had known this, we would have made different honeymoon plans,” she said. “That was the start of understanding how little control I had over my own medical care.”

When they got home, her doctor refused to remove her IUD.

This inconvenience was aggravating, but would soon pale in importance compared to what came next.

She finally got the IUD out, and in December, they rented a cabin in the mountains for the holidays. She went out for a run on Christmas Day and developed an explosive pain in her side when she got back to the cabin. She began to bleed, and they took off for the nearest emergency room. She remembers looking out the car window, feeling every bump in the road, thinking she was dying. When they got to the hospital, she was bleeding so badly that she couldn’t get a pregnancy test. She spent the holiday in the medical center, but it wasn’t until later that she realized she’d had an ectopic pregnancy that had ruptured her fallopian tube.

The following year, she was pregnant. They picked out a girl’s name and she started accumulating “all the little baby things” and making a list of the children’s books she wanted to buy. She called her gynecologist but was told that she needed to wait a little longer before her first appointment.

What had happened in the mountains a year before had gone undiagnosed, so they didn’t know enough to fret about the fact that women who suffer an ectopic pregnancy often have a second one.

She was still waiting on the morning when she woke up at 4:30 a.m. with a searing pain in her side, which she at first didn’t connect to what had happened in the mountains. When she went to the bathroom, there was blood everywhere. Her doctor’s office wasn’t open yet, so she was forced to wait, again. She went to her workplace to let her boss and coworkers know she wouldn’t be in.

Here’s what she said about the experience shortly after it happened:

“It took another five days, during which I almost bled out and died, for doctors to open me up and discover what had happened. It took another five days because they didn’t want to do a potentially fetus-harming scan while I was technically still pregnant. Even though they all agreed the pregnancy was non-viable, they were waiting for my pregnancy hormone levels to go down before treating me.

“In other words, we had to wait for our baby to finish dying before I could receive medical care. I was given no choice in the matter. A year later, I’m still dealing with the resulting health complications (and hospital bills).”

Still with me?

Because her hormone levels didn’t decrease as they were supposed to if she were no longer pregnant, her doctor refused to treat her for fear of being accused of performing an abortion.

They chose to let her suffer.

I should probably let her tell the rest of it herself – and bear in mind that this was 2019. Since that time, she has given birth to a beautiful, healthy, much-cherished two-year-old son. They wish they could give him birth siblings, but the risks are too great, and they may consider other options when they know they are ready.

Here are her views about the politics of childbirth and abortion in 2019:

“Every time someone I care about posts about how awful anyone must be to support the New York late-term law, or how only cruel people could be against the heartbeat bill that is going through the TN legislature right now, you’re talking about me. You’re talking about me when you say anyone with that perspective must be a terrible, hateful, baby-killer.

“I’m not. And if you’re on my friends list, I think you know that about me. It just turns out that pregnancy is sometimes a lot more complicated than we ever knew it could be. And the New York law that you’re railing against may be the law that saves my life if (my husband) and I try to have another child. The Tennessee heartbeat bill that claims to be pro-life is one that could end mine.

“You don’t have to like it. I don’t know of anyone who likes that these situations happen. But before you slam people who think a mother should have options, please think twice, because you’re piling on hurt to an already painful loss when I want to count you as a friend.

“Thanks for reading. And here’s to another year around the sun that I almost didn’t get to have.”

What’s next?

Soon, the doctors who were already so afraid of Tennessee’s “pro-life” laws in 2019 that they nearly allowed this woman to bleed to death rather than risk being accused of ending her pregnancy (even though they knew the fetus was already dead), will likely be faced with an even more draconian choice in similar situations, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court and Tennessee’s so-called “trigger” law.

Here’s what the Tennessee Section of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (TN ACOG) says about the anticipated Supreme Court decision and the trigger law:

“Recent publication of the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft of the opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case has garnered alarm regarding the future of safe, legal abortion access within the Unites States, including across the state of Tennessee.

“The Tennessee Section of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is aware of the state’s “Trigger Bill” (SB 1257) also known as the ‘Human Life Protection Act.’

“This law, which will go into effect 30 days following an overturn of Roe v. Wade, criminalizes physicians for providing lifesaving treatments. More specifically, this law threatens a doctor’s ability to provide care for ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages or abortions for conditions in which a pregnant patient’s health and safety is threatened. (emphasis added)

“TN ACOG is deeply concerned that SB1257 requires health care professionals to wait for a condition to deteriorate so severely that a patient’s death or grave morbidity is imminent, and that its vague language will deter physicians and hospital staff from providing lifesaving interventions altogether.

“TN ACOG is eager to work with our state lawmakers to help find a solution that protects patients from tragic outcomes and ensures physicians can make individualized medical determinations in critical situations without the threat of criminalization.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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