Case Study of a Pregnant Patient in Texas
Patient traveled more than 1,000 miles
A health system in Michigan treated a pregnant patient from Texas. She traveled to Michigan to end her pregnancy when doctors in Texas turned her away despite their acknowledgement that her fetus had a lethal fetal anomaly and would never live.
“The patient was hospitalized, and doctors said there was no scenario where she’d have the baby she hoped for. The baby would die,” says Lisa H. Harris, MD, PhD, professor and associate chair in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan. “In the U.S., giving birth is many times more likely to result in a woman dying than having an abortion. But in the situation where you will never be able to raise the baby, what does that risk feel like?”
The patient — who wanted a baby — was faced with a terrible choice: Stay in Texas and wait — perhaps months — for the pregnancy to end on its own, potentially jeopardizing her health, or travel more than 1,000 miles to find a doctor who could help her safely end the pregnancy.
“It breaks my heart talking about it,” Harris says. “The whole team cared for this person.”
Unfortunately, Harris and her team could be faced with a similar decision in Michigan. Under the state’s old law, which could go into effect after Roe is overturned, physicians would face criminal charges if they give anyone an abortion. The only exception is an abortion that would preserve the life of a pregnant woman.
“I think we wouldn’t be able to help her under Michigan’s 1931 law,” Harris says. “I may be convinced it’s the right thing to do, and there is no dispute that it’s the right thing, but it would be illegal if our ban goes into effect.”
A Michigan judge placed a hold on the 1931 abortion ban. Two lawsuits — including one from the governor of Michigan — have been filed to prevent the ban from ever taking effect. The lawsuits claim Michigan’s state constitution protects abortion.1 If the legal challenges fail, abortion care would be illegal in Michigan. Then, the closest legal abortion care for pregnant people in Michigan would be to travel to Canada or Illinois.
“We’re getting ready for the birth rate to increase as well, and that takes a lot of preparation because we have a maternity care desert in Michigan,” Harris says. “Already, we’ve had a COVID baby boom, and I’m not sure whether our delivery capacity could increase.”
If the birth rate increases by 5% to 10%, it would be challenging for OB/GYNs and hospitals to handle the increases in maternal care and childbirths, Harris adds.
- Ploeg LV. Michigan judge suspends an abortion ban from 1931. The New York Times. May 17, 2022.