Texas woman forced to carry unviable fetus nearly dies from sepsis because of state’s abortion ban

A Texas woman nearly died due a severe bacterial infection because doctors were legally barred from performing an abortion even though the fetus would not survive. 

Amanda Zurawski and her husband Josh, both 35 and living in Austin, were overjoyed when they found out they were expecting a baby after over a year of fertility treatments. 

Everything changed when Amanda entered the 18th week of her pregnancy. One October day she suddenly experienced abnormal discharge and ‘what felt like water running down my leg.’

Mrs Zurawski rushed to her doctor where she was sure she would hear reassuring words that her unborn baby was fine.

Instead, she was diagnosed with an ‘incompetent cervix’, a condition in which the cervix shortens, weakens, and begins dilating and opening too early in the pregnancy, leading to pre-term birth or miscarriage. 

At this point, the fetus would not be viable outside of the womb and, without the protection of the amniotic sac around her baby, Mrs Zurawski was at especially high risk of developing infection. 

Doctors told her that a miscarriage was inevitable but terminating the unviable pregnancy also was not an option. 

Mrs Zurawski’s story comes amid news that Former Ms. South Carolina, 35, revealed she was forced to carry unviable fetus for seven weeks and fly 500 miles to D.C. for an abortion after Roe v Wade was overturned

In Texas, abortion is illegal unless the pregnant person is facing ‘a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy.’ 

Her life in that moment was not in immediate jeopardy and thus the doctors’ hands were tied. 

Amanda Zurawski and her husband Josh, both 35 and living in Austin wre overjoyed to announce in July that they were expecting their first child after a year and a half of undergoing fertility treatments.

Amanda Zurawski was diagnosed with an ‘incompetent cervix’, a condition in which the cervix shortens, weakens, and begins dilating and opening too early in the pregnancy, resulting in pre-term birth or miscarriage.

Amanda Zurawski was diagnosed with an ‘incompetent cervix’, a condition in which the cervix shortens, weakens, and begins dilating and opening too early in the pregnancy, resulting in pre-term birth or miscarriage.

They gave Amanda and her husband three options:  She could wait however long it took to go into labor naturally, if she did at all, knowing that her baby would be stillborn or pass away soon after. 

She could wait for the baby’s heartbeat to stop, allowing doctors to end the pregnancy or she could develop an infection and become so sick that her life would become endangered.

What was the June SCOTUS decision about and what does it mean for abortion access?

Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization considered whether states can ban abortion before viability, the point at which survival is possible outside the womb, around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The case comes from a blocked 2018 Mississippi law banning procedures after 15 weeks, which abortion rights proponents argued blatantly violated the ‘viability’ standard handed down with the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v Casey.

When the court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, justices returned power to police the procedure to the states.

Now, every state has the authority to set their own laws for abortion access. 

Abortion is now fully banned in over a dozen states with many others setting gestation limits. 

 

The Zurawskis did not know how long their agony would last.  

Mrs Zurawski told People: ‘It could be days, it could be weeks. And knowing that we just had to live with that, it was incapacitating. 

‘I was unable to function. I didn’t work, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep. I was left wanting to either get so sick that I almost died or, praying for my baby’s heart to stop beating — this baby that I had wanted and worked to have for 18 months.’

Texas is one of more than a dozen states that have severely restricted abortion access in most if not all circumstances including rape and incest. 

The law was implemented following the June 2022 decision from the Supreme Court to overturn the federal guarantee to abortion established in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade. 

Anyone in Texas who performs an abortion, including a licensed medical provider,  could be found guilty of a felony and face a life sentence in prison, on top of a $100,000 fine. 

With such high legal stakes on the line, many healthcare providers in the state are unwilling to perform the procedure even if the patient qualifies under the law. 

The language of the law is also vague, causing hospitals and healthcare workers confusion and leaving them to navigate the legal nuances.

Anti-abortion rights groups, meanwhile, deny that the laws are ambiguous, asserting that care should be delivered in such instances. 

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life told DailyMail.com: ‘The doctors could have and should have treated the woman under the life-of-mother exception. NRLC’s post-Roe model legislation does include language that allows appropriate treatment in the case of medical emergencies.’ 

Hospitals now have to hand over the question of whether to end an unviable pregnancy to ethics committees, a panel of in-house legal experts, other healthcare professionals, or some combination of the three. 

Mrs Zurawski told CNN that her doctor said: ‘Well, right now we just have to wait, because we can’t induce labor, even though you’re 100% for sure going to lose your baby. 

‘[The doctors] were unable to do their own jobs because of the way that the laws are written in Texas,’ she said. 

The Zurawskis were sent home after Amanda’s water broke prematurely and were instructed to stay vigilant for signs of infections. 

She soon developed sepsis, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues. 

Her health went into a tailspin immediately. On a 105-degree day, freezing and teeth chattering, the Zurawskis realized her life was in severe danger. 

Mr Zurawski was terrified: ‘To see in a matter of maybe five minutes, for her to go from a normal temperature to the condition she was in was really, really scary.’

Very quickly, she went downhill very, very fast. She was in a state I’ve never seen her in.’

Amanda Zurawski described her harrowing experience in the hospital on a media site dedicated to storytelling around gender issues, the Meteor. 

She developed a raging fever and dangerously low blood pressure and was rushed to the ICU. 

Tests found that both her blood and placenta were teeming with bacteria that had multiplied, probably as a result of the requisite wait for medical care. 

She would go on to stay in the ICU for three more days as medical professionals battled to save her life. 

‘Friends visited every night. Family flew in from across the country. I didn’t realize until nearly a month later that my doctors, nurses, and loved ones feared I was going to die,’ Mrs Zurawski said. 

While she lived to tell her story, Mrs Zurawski fears the consequences of Texas’ draconian law could hamper her from starting a family down the line. The infection caused scarring in her uterus that had to be surgically removed. 

It remains unclear whether she’ll be able to have a baby in the future. 

‘If we had conceived the previous year when we began our journey with infertility, or if we lived in a different state, my healthcare team would have been able to treat me immediately and end my doomed pregnancy as soon as possible, without risk to my life or my health,’ she said.  

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