Georgia’s abortion law could limit treatment for pregnancy complications, some patients and doctors fear – WABE

It has been more than a month since a federal court enacted Georgia’s House Bill 481 abortion law, which bans almost all abortions at six weeks gestation, when ultrasound machines can detect electrical impulses in the womb and before many people know they are pregnant.

The law is already stoking fears in Georgia that it could also make it harder for some patients to access miscarriage management, since the treatment uses the same procedures as abortion.

Sitting in her office at work in Lithonia, Mykal Fraser recalls when something suddenly went wrong with her first pregnancy.

“I sneezed and my water broke,” she said. “My amniotic fluid came out.”

That was some years ago. She was only four and a half months pregnant.

In the emergency room, the doctors had bad news. Fraser would probably lose the baby – the baby she and her husband wanted so badly.

To save it, her gynecologist put her on bed rest at her home in Stone Mountain. Her mother came to keep her company and to help.

“And then a week later,” Fraser said, “I went to the bathroom and saw that my umbilical cord was hanging out.”

She ran back to the hospital. This time the news was even worse.

The fetus had died. And doctors told Fraser she was at high risk of bleeding, infection, sepsis, bleeding and death.

“And I have to act fast,” she said, “so I have to make a split decision about what I want to do.”

She could opt for a surgical abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation, or D&E, or have labor induced to deliver the dead fetus.

“I knew what delivery was, right? I knew I would be awake, I knew I would push and I knew people would be in the room — and I knew I didn’t want that,” Fraser said. “I was already devastated by the loss and just wanted it to be over. And so there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to have an abortion. No doubt because the other way was inhuman for me.”

She decided to travel to a surgical center for the abortion to remove the fetal tissue from her uterus.

Mykal Fraser, 48, at her workplace with her face covered. She survived life-threatening pregnancy complications and chose surgical miscarriage treatment. (Jess Mador/WABE)

Now, that choice may not be available to some miscarriage patients, said Lisa Haddad, OB-GYN in Atlanta, who also teaches at Emory University School of Medicine.

She said the language in the new abortion law is too vague and confusing, especially for providers treating emergency complications.

“Well, where can you intervene?” Haddad said. “Do you have to wait until there is no heartbeat before you can go and save the mother’s life? If this is a prenatal pregnancy, do you have to wait until she actually shows signs of infection before you can do anything, or if she’s septic, wait until she’s to the point where she’s critically ill?

The law provides for exceptions for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies as well as pregnancies that are considered “medically hopeless”.

But Haddad, a plaintiff in the ACLU of Georgia lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion law, said it lacked detail and created too many gray areas for doctors.

“I mean, that’s not proper medical care,” Haddad said. “And being put in that situation where you can’t decide what’s right for your patient, which you swore you did, you took an oath that you’re going to do what’s best for your patient, but you can’t do that , which puts you in a terrible conflict. And I think a lot of people aren’t going to want to keep caring [in Georgia]. So that will specifically impact those people who already have limited access to care.”

Anti-abortion advocates dismiss these concerns as overblown.

Cole Muzio is President of the Christian organization Frontline Policy Action. He said the law is designed to prevent abortions.

“This does not harm women who miscarry or have some type of medical emergency,” he said. “This law is absolutely clear that this applies to abortion and we are making sure heart beating lives, including young women, are protected.”

And so far, no cases of patients or providers accused of violating the law have been reported in Georgia. But there are examples in other states, like Texas, where some hospitals and doctors have turned away patients with pregnancy complications for legal reasons, putting them at further medical risk.

But, Fraser said, it’s not just the physical toll that abortion bans can take on pregnant patients with complications. That’s why, she said, she decided to go public with her own story — to speak out against Georgia’s abortion restrictions.

“I just think it’s a slippery slope once we start passing these kinds of laws, and I think we’re not taking into account the spiritual well-being of women in my situation or any other situation when we’re going to have these types of laws.” Put regulations and restrictions on women,” she said. “I think it’s just a grave injustice.”

Fraser said she knew abortion was the only choice she could live with after her miscarriage. And she wants other people in Georgia to continue having the same option.