As soon as Dr. Mae Winchester did an ultrasound on Tara George, she knew her baby was in trouble.
During that July ultrasound, Winchester noticed there was no amniotic fluid around the baby. Further tests that day and the next morning indicated that the baby was suffering from kidney failure and had multiple heart defects.
The medical records state it in cold scientific terms: the baby had “fatal fetal abnormalities.”
This harsh reality sent Winchester, Tara and her husband, Justin, into a fight to get her the right medical care — a fight that would pit them against Ohio’s strict anti-abortion law as well as the hospital where she works. Winchester.
In April, Tara, 34, and Justin, 33, were thrilled to learn she was pregnant. They sent ultrasound pictures to friends and family and named their baby Griffyn. Justin, a sports podcaster, bought his son onesies with the logos of his beloved Cleveland teams.
“All I could think about was watching sports, taking it to games, having fun, playing with someone,” Justin said. “I’m just doing everything a father would do with his son. We were so excited.
“We had already chosen a date for the baby shower,” Tara said. “We were really looking forward to it.”
When tests showed the baby was suffering from kidney failure and heart defects, Tara was 20 weeks pregnant. She and Justin had a painful decision to make.
One option was to continue the pregnancy. The baby could be stillborn, but even if born alive, he would survive a few hours at most, Winchester said.
Carrying the baby to term puts Tara’s life in danger: she suffers from a blood clotting disorder and an autoimmune disease, which put her at high risk of hemorrhage, clotting and preeclampsia – all life-threatening complications.
“When you have a baby that’s never going to survive, a baby that’s going to be facing a potentially very difficult few hours of life, we have to really think about whether we want to put Tara’s life at risk for that,” Winchester, assistant professor at the 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 keep Griffyn from suffering.
“I can only imagine being born and not having functioning organs like that at all — that would be horrible,” Tara told CNN.
Winchester told Tara that she thought she could have an abortion at her home in Ohio, even though a few weeks earlier, following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a law had come into force prohibiting abortions from the sixth week of pregnancy. .
But she says she consulted with a hospital attorney, who said Tara couldn’t have an abortion because of Ohio’s new law.
“When I had to call Tara and tell her we couldn’t do it – it was really difficult,” Winchester said.
“It was awful because not only were we told no, but the next step was to think, OK, well, who’s going to help us?” said Tara. “Where do we go from here?”
“I’ve literally never felt more helpless in my life,” Justin added.
Winchester and the Georges asked CNN not to name the hospital. CNN contacted the hospital and a spokesperson said they “do not comment on the care of any specific patient.”
After Winchester said the hospital’s attorney had ordered her not to perform the abortion, she reached out to colleagues in neighboring states to find a location as close as possible where Tara could have the procedure. This process took several days, in part because abortion laws in neighboring states were in flux.
“She had to wait,” Winchester said. “And if anything happened to him during this waiting period, I would feel very bad.”
Amid their grief, Tara and Justin drove nearly three hours to Michigan, where they spent two days getting surgery. Justin was telling jokes and singing songs to keep Tara’s spirits up, but he knew it was no use.
“It was devastating,” he said.
They had to pay for a hotel and lost days of wages due to her work as a hairdresser and her work as a quality manager in a steel mill.
But the worst part, Tara said, was how “scary” and “worrying” it was to be in an unfamiliar hospital with doctors they had never met before.
Six days later, on August 2, Tara received the abortion in Michigan.
CNN asked Ohio Senator Kristina Roegner, the state’s top anti-abortion law advocate, to comment on Tara’s situation. She did not answer.
A spokesperson for Ohio Right to Life, which has lobbied for Ohio’s anti-abortion law, responded to CNN’s request for comment on Tara’s situation.
“Ohio Right to Life sends its deepest condolences to the couple,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Whitmarsh wrote in an email to CNN. “However, the answer to a child’s suffering is never to kill him deliberately. We do not kill human beings simply because of a disease they have… It is inhumane to treat an unborn child as if it were a pet to be “slaughtered” because of a sickness.
“It’s absolutely appalling,” Tara said in response to Whitmarsh’s statement.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Justin added.
“I don’t think anyone, whether it’s Ohio Right to Life or the government, should presume to make these really personal decisions that change people’s lives,” said Jessie Hill, an attorney who fought the anti-abortion law. of Ohio in the courts.
In her email, Whitmarsh said the protections for the mother are “extremely clear” under Ohio law and “the mother’s life is undeniably protected by law.”
Hill, a Case Western Reserve University School of Law professor and reproductive rights expert, said that was incorrect.
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 explain exactly what is considered a “serious risk,” so doctors and hospitals don’t know under what medical circumstances an abortion would be legally permitted.
Since there are such strict penalties for violating Ohio law — a doctor could face the loss of their medical license, damages and jail time — Hill said that doctors and hospitals were reluctant to break it.
“Doctors just don’t know how sick enough the disease is,” Hill said. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear around it right now.
For example, Ohio law lists preeclampsia as a condition that poses a serious risk to the mother, but it does not say whether the mother must have preeclampsia or simply be at high risk.
The law “could imply that anything short of full-fledged preeclampsia won’t be enough for the doctor to feel comfortable proceeding with because that’s not what’s named in the law,” it said. said Hill, adding that “it’s a reasonable reading ‘that being at high risk isn’t enough to warrant an abortion’ because if the law requires preeclampsia, that kind of suggests something that doesn’t fit not to preeclampsia is not enough”.
Tara and Justin say they are telling their story to help women in states like Ohio who may also be experiencing potentially dangerous pregnancies, but don’t have the resources they have.
“We were lucky enough to be able to miss work, we could afford to have a hotel, to travel out of state. Not everyone can do that,” Justin said. “I’m very scared for any woman out there who may not 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 halfway through that he would not survive and neither would I survive without any medical intervention,” Teigen said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She explained that she then had “an abortion to save my life from a baby who had absolutely no chance”.
In July, Marlena Stell told CNN she had to walk around for at least two weeks with the remains of her dead fetus inside her 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 wouldn’t survive long outside the womb. DeSpain was unable to get an abortion in Texas and had to drive 10 hours to New Mexico for surgery.
On September 14, an Ohio judge temporarily blocked the state’s abortion law, restoring access to abortion in the state for 14 days until 20 weeks after fertilization.
Justin and Tara still want to start a family, but changing Ohio laws make them “nervous” and “unsure” because they “have no idea what the laws are.” [will] look like,” Tara said.
“All of our family is here, our friends are here, our jobs are here,” she said. “[We’re] I’m just trying to hope that something will change for the better so we can stay here.