As soon as Dr. Mae Winchester performed an ultrasound on Tara George, she knew her baby was in trouble.
During that July ultrasound, Winchester noticed that there was no amniotic fluid around the baby. More tests that day and the next morning indicated that the baby had kidney failure and multiple heart defects.
Medical records describe it in cold scientific terms: the child had “fatal fetal abnormalities.”
That harsh reality sent Winchester, Tara, and her husband, Justin, into a fight to get proper medical help, a battle that would pit them against Ohio’s strict anti-abortion laws and the hospital where Winchester works.
In April, Tara, 34, and Justin, 33, were thrilled to learn she was pregnant. They sent ultrasound photos to friends and family and named the baby Griffy. Justin, a sports podcaster, bought his son one with the logos of his beloved Cleveland teams.
“All I could think about was watching sports, taking her to games, having fun, someone to play with,” Justin said. “Just doing everything a father would do with his son. We were very excited.”
“We already picked the date for the baby,” Tara said. “We were really looking forward to it.”
Tara was 20 weeks pregnant when tests revealed the baby had kidney failure and heart defects. She and Justin made a painful decision.
One option was to continue the pregnancy. The baby could be stillborn, but even if it was born alive, it would only last a few hours, Winchester said.
Carrying the baby to term put Tara’s life at risk: she has a blood clotting disorder and an autoimmune condition that puts her at high risk for bleeding, clotting and preeclampsia, all of which can be fatal complications.
“When you have a baby that’s never going to come out, a baby that might have a difficult couple of hours in their life, we really have to think about whether we’re going to put Tara’s life at risk for that.” Winchester, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, told CNN.
The other option was abortion. After careful consideration, Tara and Justin chose to terminate the pregnancy, both to protect Tara’s life and to prevent Griffyn from suffering.
“I can only imagine being born and not having any functioning organs at all, that would be horrible,” Tara told CNN.
Winchester told Tara that she thought she could have an abortion at home in Ohio, even though a few weeks earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled in Roe v. The rejection of Wade led to the passage of a law that prohibited abortion before six weeks of pregnancy. .
But he says he consulted with an attorney at the hospital, saying Tara could not have an abortion because of Ohio’s new law.
“When I had to call Tara and say we couldn’t do it, that was really hard,” Winchester said.
“It was terrible, because they told us no, because the next step was to think, OK, who will help us?”. said Tara. “Where do we go from here?”
“I’ve literally never felt more fit in my life,” Justin added.
Winchester and Georges asked CNN not to name the hospital. CNN reached out to the hospital, and a spokesperson said they “do not comment on a patient’s care.”
After Winchester was told that the hospital’s attorney had ordered her not to perform an abortion, she contacted colleagues in nearby states to find the closest place where Tara could get the procedure. That process took several days, partly because abortion laws in neighboring states were changing.
“He had to wait,” Winchester said. “And if something happened to him during that wait, that would make me feel terrible.”
In the midst of their grief, Tara and Justin drove nearly three hours to Michigan and spent two days getting the procedure done. Justin told jokes and sang songs to keep Tara’s spirits up, but he knew it was no use.
“It was terrible,” he said.
They had to pay for a hotel and lost days of pay for their work as a hairstylist and as a quality manager in a steel factory.
But worst of all, Tara said, was how “scary” and “worrying” it was to be in an unfamiliar hospital with doctors they had never met.
Six days later, on August 2, Tara had an abortion in Michigan.
CNN asked Ohio Senator Kristina Roegner, the state’s leading anti-abortion law sponsor, for comment on Tara’s situation. He didn’t answer.
A spokeswoman for Ohio Right to Life, which lobbied for Ohio’s anti-abortion law, responded to CNN’s request for comment on Tara’s situation.
“Ohio Right to Life offers our sincerest condolences to the couple,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Whitmarsh wrote in an email to CNN. “However, the answer to a child’s suffering is never to deliberately kill it. We don’t kill humans just because of a disease… It is inhumane to treat an unborn child because of a disease and as if they were a pet to be ‘swaddled’.
“That’s absolutely incredible,” Tara said in response to Whitmarsh’s statement.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Justin added.
“I don’t think anyone, Ohio Right to Life or the government, should be expected to make these life-changing decisions for people,” said Jessie Hill, an attorney who has fought Ohio’s anti-abortion law. the courts
In her email, Whitmarsh said the mother’s protections are “very clear” under Ohio law and that “the mother’s life is undeniably protected by law.”
Hill, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and an expert on reproductive rights, said that’s wrong.
Ohio law allows abortion to “prevent the death” of the mother or “when there is a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
But Hill says the law doesn’t spell out exactly what constitutes a “serious risk,” so doctors and hospitals don’t know under what medical circumstances abortion would be legally permitted.
Because there are strict penalties for violating the Ohio law — a doctor can face the loss of a medical license, monetary damages and jail time — Hill said doctors and hospitals don’t even come close to violating it.
“Doctors don’t know if he’s sick enough,” Hill said. “There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear about this right now.
For example, the Ohio law mentions that preeclampsia poses a serious risk to the mother, but does not say whether the mother must have preeclampsia or be at high risk.
The law says that “nothing less than full-blown preeclampsia is going to be enough to make a doctor feel comfortable, because that’s not what the statute calls for,” Hill said, adding that it’s a “reasonable reading.” high risk is not enough to warrant an abortion, “if the law requires preeclampsia, that suggests that staying out of preeclampsia is not enough.”
Tara and Justin say they’re sharing their story to help women in states like Ohio who may have a high-risk pregnancy, but don’t have the resources.
“We were lucky enough to lose our jobs, get a hotel, travel out of state. Not everyone can do that,” Justin said. “I’m really afraid for any woman who doesn’t have family or support, who doesn’t have a vehicle… What is she supposed to do?
Other women have also come forward to tell their stories.
Last week, model Chrissy Teigen opened up about her 2020 pregnancy with her son Jack.
“It became very clear in the middle that she wasn’t going to survive, and neither was I going to survive without some kind of medical intervention,” Teigen said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He then explained that he performed an “abortion to save the life of a child who had no chance”.
In July, Marlena Stell told CNN that she had to walk around with the remains of a dead fetus inside her for at least two weeks because of Texas’ strict anti-abortion laws.
Earlier this month, Kailee DeSpain told CNN that she, like Tara, was at high risk for pregnancy complications and was carrying a child that would not survive long outside the womb. DeSpain was unable to get an abortion in Texas and had to drive 10 hours to New Mexico to get the procedure.
On September 14, an Ohio judge temporarily blocked the state’s abortion law, restoring access to abortion in the state for 14 days, up to 20 weeks after conception.
Justin and Tara still want to have a family, but Ohio’s changing laws make them “nervous” and “unsure” because they “don’t know what the laws are.” [will] look,” said Tara.
“All our family is here, our friends are here, our work is here,” he said. “[We’re] hoping that something will change for the better, let’s stay here.”