Jaci Statton was overjoyed when she found out she was pregnant with her fourth child. She and her husband had picked out names and bought baby clothes, and their three kids were excited to welcome a new sibling.
But their happiness turned into horror when Statton started bleeding heavily in her first trimester. She rushed to the emergency room, where doctors told her she was miscarrying and sent her home. The next day, she saw her OB-GYN, who performed an ultrasound and delivered devastating news: Statton had a partial molar pregnancy, a rare condition where the placenta develops abnormally and can cause cancer.
Statton’s pregnancy was not viable, and she needed an abortion to save her life. But she lived in Oklahoma, a state that had effectively outlawed all abortions except in cases of life endangerment or rape or incest with a police report. Her doctor told her she couldn’t help her there, and that she had to go to another clinic with better equipment.
Statton was confused and scared. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t get the care she needed in her own state. She felt like she was being punished for something that was out of her control.
“I felt like I was being treated like a criminal,” Statton told TODAY. “I felt like I had done something wrong, when I hadn’t.”
Statton’s ordeal was not unique. According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma and the University of California, San Francisco, many pregnant people in Oklahoma who need abortions for medical reasons face confusion, delays and denials of care due to the state’s restrictive laws.
The study interviewed 27 health care providers who had encountered patients with pregnancies complicated by fetal anomalies or maternal health conditions that required abortion care. The providers reported that they often faced legal barriers, ethical dilemmas and logistical challenges when trying to help their patients.
Some providers said they were unsure about the scope and interpretation of the laws, and feared legal repercussions if they performed abortions. Others said they lacked the training, equipment or referral networks to provide adequate care. Some said they faced stigma and harassment from anti-abortion activists or colleagues.
One provider said they had to send a patient with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy to another hospital because they didn’t have the necessary medication to treat her. Another said they had to transfer a patient with severe preeclampsia to another state because they couldn’t induce labor before viability.
The study also found that some patients were denied abortions even when they met the legal exceptions. For example, one patient with a fetal anomaly that was incompatible with life was told by a hospital administrator that she had to wait until the fetus died before she could get an abortion.
Another patient with a molar pregnancy that could cause cancer was told by a hospital staff member that she had to “sit in the parking lot” until her condition worsened enough to qualify for an abortion.
The study concluded that Oklahoma’s abortion bans create “a climate of fear and uncertainty” among providers and patients, and undermine the quality and safety of reproductive health care in the state.
“Oklahoma’s abortion bans are not only unconstitutional, but they are also cruel and dangerous,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, one of the authors of the study and a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF. “They force pregnant people to endure unnecessary suffering and risk their lives for no medical reason.”
Statton was one of those people who had to risk her life. She eventually found a clinic in Kansas that could perform an abortion for her, but she had to travel four hours each way, pay $1,200 out of pocket, and leave her kids behind.
She said the procedure was quick and painless, but the emotional toll was immense. She still grieves for the baby she lost, and struggles with anger and guilt.
“I feel like I was robbed of my pregnancy,” Statton said. “I feel like I was robbed of my choice.”
She hopes that by sharing her story, she can raise awareness about the impact of abortion bans on people like her, and inspire others to fight for reproductive rights.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through,” Statton said. “I want people to know that abortion is health care, and that we deserve access to it.”