A Tennessee woman needed an abortion and couldn’t get help nearby. Then she went viral on TikTok
At her prenatal checkup last week, Allie Phillips was told by her obstetrician that she would need to travel out of state if she wanted to terminate a non-viable pregnancy.
The pregnancy didn’t catch her by surprise. Ms Phillips, 28, and her husband had been trying for a baby and were delighted when they found out her daughter would become a big sister.
During an ultrasound last Monday, her doctor first told her that the baby on the way had issues with her kidneys, bladder and amniotic fluid and referred Ms Phillips to a high-risk pregnancy specialist. The diagnosis that followed was even more devastating: Baby Miley had only two heart chambers and suffered from a rare brain defect known as holoprosencephaly.
“I just lay there and I stared at the screen because they had the image stopped where her brain was,” Ms Phillips tells The Independent. “I was just staring at it, trying to understand, ‘What do I do now? Is she going to live?’”
Miley is not compatible with life, doctors told Ms Phillips. Because Tennesse is among 13 states in the US with a full abortion ban, doctors could not offer resources for Ms Phillips to terminate her pregnancy — even while she waited for an inevitable miscarriage that would only cause her more psychological distress and put her at risk, as well as prolong the fetus’ suffering.
Healthcare providers told Ms Phillips and her husband that Miley would only deteriorate further the longer she was in the womb. Even if she challenged the 3 percent odds of survival at birth, she would go straight into hospice.
“They didn’t think waiting to have a stillborn was healthy for me. Physically, mentally,” Ms Phillips said as she fought tears. “To continue my pregnancy and wait for her to die, that’s an awful way to wake up every day. Thinking, ‘Is my baby gonna die today?’”
Ms Phillip’s story, which she first shared with her followers on TikTok, has reignited a debate about the dire state of reproductive healthcare in America following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overturn Roe v Wade.
Left with no option but to leave her daughter in Tennessee to access abortion care out of state, Ms Phillips had to go through the overwhelming process of getting quotes from clinics across the country to find an affordable option. Thanks to donations she received through a GoFundMe account to cover the expenses, she will be travelling to New York to say goodbye to Miley.
Amid the challenges, Ms Phillips has also encountered the support of strangers who are following her story. Her TikTok discussing Miley’s diagnosis has reached more than 200,000 views and 23,000 comments.
‘I will not give birth to Miley for her to gasp for air for 20 minutes’
After sharing her story online, Ms Phillips was bombarded with messages accusing her of “murdering” her baby. Other users condemned her for “giving up” on Miley. Nothing could be farther from the truth, Ms Phillips says.
Following her ultrasound on 20 February, Ms Phillips was warned that her daughter had some complications but she remained hopeful that doctors would be able to find a treatment.
When her obstetrician told her there was no amniotic fluid in the womb, she tripled her water intake to ensure that Miley would be okay. Ms Phillips looked up a wide range of conditions online that could have explained her baby’s kidney issues and was ready to undergo any treatment that was needed.
So, when she arrived at the appointment with a high-risk pregnancy obstetrician on 24 February, Ms Phillips was holding onto hope that everything could be fixed.
“[The technician] took pictures and looked around at everything,” Ms Phillips recounts. “I asked about the amniotic fluid and she said, ‘There is some, it’s not much though.’”
“And I said, ‘Well, at least there’s some now, there wasn’t any four days ago.’ I looked at my husband and I was like, ‘Well, see, it’s a good thing she has fluid.’ Not for a moment the entire week did I think something was going to be wrong with her heart and brain. I thought, ‘OK, kidneys. Kidneys and fluid. That’s it.’”
The technician briefly left the room to bring the doctor in, who then pointed at a line in the middle of the baby’s skull that showed Miley’s brain had not split appropriately, Ms Phillips said.
“They showed me that there were only two chambers that had formed when there should be four,” she told The Independent.
The baby was the size of a 15-week-old fetus at 19 weeks, and she is not expected to grow any bigger. Her health issues, doctors told their mother, left no place for treatment.
“She [told me], ‘Unfortunately, I can’t give you any resources on anything here … You would have to look out of state for that,’” Ms Phillips recounted overcome with emotion. “She said, ‘These birth defects … there are no treatments for them right now, there’s nothing that I can do. There’s nothing that any doctor can do that would help.”
As she was leaving the clinic, Ms Phillips was given ultrasound pictures of Miley.
Earlier this month, she and her husband had taken a snapshot of her grinning five-year-old daughter wearing her ‘Big Sis’ shirt and holding a board announcing Miley’s expected birth.
“So little, so sweet. A baby girl we shall meet July 2023,” it read.
Just days before the tragic news, Ms Phillips says she had a dream about bringing a perfectly healthy baby girl home.
“I just came in my room and I lay in my bed and I went to sleep. I tried to convince myself that maybe when I woke up, it was just a bad dream,” she told The Independent.
After a discussion with her husband and her parents, Ms Phillips decided to terminate her pregnancy. Both for her and Miley’s sake.
“If there was a sliver, a tiny, tiny sliver chance, if that doctor said there is a possibility, we would have taken it in a second,” Ms Phillips said.
Ms Phillips says that she’s also been given unsolicited advice about continuing her pregnancy to strive for the nearly impossible chance that Miley will be alive, even if for just a few hours, after birth. Tennessee has no explicit exemptions in the ban but includes an “affirmative defense” — meaning the physician must prove that an abortion was medically necessary to save the mother’s life or to spare her from irreversible, severe impairment, instead of requiring the state to prove the opposite.
“I’m not going to give birth to her for her to gasp for air for, what, 20 minutes?” she said.
‘We’re not doing exceptions, it’s abortion for all’
Ms Phillips does not wish her situation on anybody, but is proud that her story has reached so many people.
“As awful as the situation is, I’m glad it’s restarted a conversation because I was in that group of people that was just outraged when Roe v Wade was overturned,” she tells The Independent. “I was in the group of people that was outraged. When Bill Lee banned abortions in Tennessee. I have been an advocate for women’s rights as much as I possibly can.”
In Tennessee, lawmakers approved the abortion ban in 2019, with the law taking effect just 30 days after Roe v Wade was struck down in July 2022. Last week, the state’s Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti urged Republicans to insert exemptions into one of the strictest bans in the country.
Ms Phillips says that while some people online have been empathetic with the circumstances surrounding her abortion, it is pivotal to ensure abortion rights for all women, regardless of their reasons to seek them.
“It gives me an understanding of why,” Ms Miley said. “This was Miley’s purpose. This is why I got pregnant. So this story can be told. And so these laws can change, hopefully.”
She added: “A lot of people in the comments say, ‘I don’t like abortions when people just use them as birth control but I think reasons like this should be accepted.’ I’m like, ‘No, we’re not doing exceptions, it’s abortion for all.’ Abortion is healthcare and they shouldn’t be regulating who can and cannot get healthcare.”
“Also … nobody has been able to give me a single [example of somebody] who actually uses abortions as birth control. Abortions are expensive.”
Ms Phillips says she had that realisation first-hand when trying to find an abortion clinic that offered a price she could afford. She and her mother phoned clinics in Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York to figure out which facility offered the procedure at 20 weeks or longer and at an affordable rate.
The process was exhausting and devastating, Ms Phillips says.
“There was a place in Illinois. They said they could get me in tomorrow and it would be $1,500 and I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s really short notice. What about next week?’” she recalled. “And she said, ‘Well if you come in next week at 21 weeks, it’s $2,500.’ I cannot afford that, that’s how much I make a month.”
She also had very painful conversations, including one in which she asked whether they would take into consideration that her daughter stopped growing at 15 weeks and charged her accordingly — a glaring reminder of the consequences of politician’s decisions over women’s bodies.
Ms Phillips eventually found a clinic in New York that offered her an abortion for $700.
“If by some magical miracle, she hits a growth spurt over the week and shot up five weeks of development in a few days, then it’ll be just over $1000,” Ms Phillips says. “But if she stays at 15 weeks then it’s around $700.00.”
However, she doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to bring Miley’s ashes back home with her. The clinic told her that they would send Miley’s remains to Tennessee so she can be cremated there, but Ms Phillips might not be able to afford it.
In addition to budgeting for her and her husband’s plane tickets, hotel stays and transportation, she says she is also trying to wrap her mind around the paperwork needed to get Miley cremated.
Replying to @roseygirl1989 i cant thank everyone enough for the love and support. Unfortunately its out of our hands now. Miley Rose will now be watching over me instead of me watching over her… #greenscreen #pregnancy #highriskpregnancy #trisomy13 #AXERatioChallenge #nonviablepregnancy #holoprosencephaly #birthdefects #braindefect #rarebirthdefect #heartdefect #kindeydefect #fetaldevelopment #ultrasound #sadnews #pregnancytermination #pregnancyloss #pregnancylosssupport
♬ original sound - Allie Phillips
Even then, she is unsure whether Miley, who is only 5oz, can actually be cremated.
“If they cremate her and there’s nothing to salvage, then you know, I mean, what can you do?” Ms Phillips said through tears. “I don’t know. You know, she doesn’t have the tissue and bone structure.”
People in the New York and New Jersey area have also reached out offering resources for fetal cremation and are actively trying to help Ms Phillips find something that will work out for her. Still, Ms Phillips says she should not have been put in this position in the first place.
While a bill is in the works to give physicians more room to determine when an abortion is needed to save the mother’s life, plenty of gray areas in Tennessee’s trigger law force women seeking abortions to find solutions on their own.
“I really don’t wish this on anybody, ever. This isn’t something that anybody should have to go through,” she added. “Not just losing a child that you wanted, but having to work around some stupid a** politicians’ law because they just care more about forcing women [to have children].”