Oklahoma woman with non-viable pregnancy told to wait in parking lot ‘until you bleed out’ due to abortion ban

The exact cause of pre-eclampsia is not known (Getty Images)

Jaci Statton, a 25-year-old mother of three from Oklahoma, was expecting her fourth child when she noticed she was bleeding during her third trimester. At an appointment with her OB-GYN, she learned she had a partial molar pregnancy that was non-viable and potentially cancerous.

When she tried to seek treatment for the life-threatening condition, in a state where abortions are banned, she was told by doctors to wait in the hospital parking lot until she was “bleeding out” for them to legally treat her.

In an interview with People published on 4 May, Statton recalled how excited she and her husband Dustin were when they learned they were having a baby. The couple had been married for two years and already shared three children: two seven-year-olds from Jaci’s previous marriage and an eight-year-old from Dustin’s. After a blood test confirmed she was pregnant, the parents started picking out names and buying items for their baby.

In February, Statton was doing the dishes in her kitchen when “all of a sudden I felt really sick and I looked down and saw blood soaked through my jeans,” she told People. The family rushed to a nearby Catholic hospital. There, she was told she likely had a miscarriage and that she should follow up with her doctor.

The next day, her OB-GYN discovered she had a non-viable, partial molar pregnancy – when two sperm fertilise the egg instead of one. In a partial molar pregnancy, there is too much genetic material for the embryo to develop and it may result in a rare form of cancer called choriocarcinoma, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other complications can include severe bleeding, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia that can lead to organ failure.

In Statton’s case, her bleeding was caused by a rupturing of one of the pre-cancerous cysts in her uterus. “My doctor said, ‘We’re in a Catholic hospital so I’m not supposed to talk about this,’” she recalled. “‘But your baby will not make it, and this is very dangerous. You only have one option, and we can’t do that here. I’m getting you transferred somewhere else.’”

Statton was transferred to the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, where she would undergo a dilation and curettage, also called a D&C. The surgical procedure involves removing tissue from the uterus, a common type of surgical abortion. However, the ultrasound tech opposed the procedure because he detected fetal cardiac activity. "I remember hearing the doctors arguing with him,” she said. “They kept saying, ‘You need to look again.’”

Over the course of one week, Statton was transferred to three different hospitals. The last hospital, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, told Statton that her condition had worsened but there was nothing they could legally do. “We can’t keep you here just for nausea and we can’t even help you if you start bleeding again,” she recalled doctors saying. “Unless it’s a huge emergency, unless you are crashing in front of us or your blood pressure goes up so high that you’re having a heart attack, we can’t help you.”

“The best advice we can give you, is to go sit in the parking lot until you bleed out, and we will be ready to help you when that happens,” they said.

By early March, Statton was advised to travel out of state for her medical abortion. She and her husband drove three hours to a reproductive health clinic in Wichita, Kansas, where she was finally able to receive the D&C procedure.

“All of the feelings finally caught up with me in there, and I cried," she said about being taken to the procedure room. “The doctor came in, the nurses came in and they just sat with me and hugged me, held my hand and assured me that it was okay. They told me, ‘You’re not making the wrong decision. If you don’t do this, you’re going to die.’”

In Oklahoma, there is a total ban on abortion with very limited exceptions. It’s these conflicting exceptions and guidelines on when an abortion is appropriate that has caused confusion amongst both health professionals and patients.

On 25 April, the pro-choice group Center for Reproductive Rights published a study that surveyed Oklahoma hospitals and their policies for medical abortions. Researchers reported that “not a single hospital in Oklahoma appeared to be able to articulate clear, consistent policies for emergency obstetric care” in the case that it’s necessary to terminate a pregnancy to save the life of a pregnant patient.

Three hospitals had indicated they have policies for these situations but refused to share any information about them; four stated they have approval processes that clinicians must go through if they deem it necessary to terminate a pregnancy; and three stated that their hospitals do not provide abortions at all.

The only exceptions for providing an abortion in Oklahoma are to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest that has been reported to law enforcement. One sweeping abortion law also threatens up to five years in prison for anyone who administers, prescribes, or advises any woman on an abortion.

In March, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling that patients have a right to life-saving abortions, whether there’s an emergency or not. The decision was made two weeks after Jaci Statton suffered from a non-viable, partial molar pregnancy.

The Independent has contacted the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, and Jaci Statton for comment.