In April, Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law one of the most extreme abortion bans in recent memory. The Center took action in July to stop the most dangerous piece of the legislation: a ban on abortion at a time when many women undergo critical prenatal testing to evaluate their own health and the status of their pregnancy.
This law is reckless and threatens women’s lives—not to mention the fact that it’s utterly unconstitutional—and it absolutely does not make women’s health care safer, no matter how vehemently extremist legislators insist that is their intent. Perhaps only a woman’s story can demonstrate just how hazardous and hostile this law really is.
When Jen Hercegovac found out that she and her husband, Sasha, were expecting another child, they rejoiced first and then began to plan their new future. With two boys—three and two years old—already in tow, she knew her car would no longer cut it, so they bought an SUV. And there wouldn’t be enough time to run her small business, an afterschool enrichment program for young kids, so she sold that as well.
When Jen got an ultrasound at around week 18, a test that is vital in screening for problems, it revealed a troubling condition—a hole in the wall of the fetus’s heart. They processed the information from the ultrasound, consulted with their doctors, did some research on their own, and decided to see a cardiologist. “We thought it wasn’t going to be a problem,” says Jen.
Their doctor also ordered an amniocentesis—a medical procedure used in prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities and fetal infections. Jen knew that the results of an amnio can take as long as two weeks, so she scheduled that immediately. Meantime, she went to the cardiologist.
The news was not good. A cardiogram revealed that the heart’s ventricles were too small and in the wrong place. Blood wasn’t getting to the lower extremities, inhibiting development.
Jen and Sasha were shaken but undaunted. “The baby was most definitely going to have multiple heart surgeries at infancy, but we were hopeful,” says Jen. “He wasn’t going to play football, but with the right surgeries he could still live a long time.”
Their hope would not last.
The diagnosis was DiGeorge syndrome—a problem that occurs when a small piece of a specific chromosome doesn’t develop. The consequences can be tragic. After Jen and Sasha found out about the syndrome from the amnio, they spent every free minute trying to understand what they were anticipating. In the end, two statistics proved insurmountable: Fifty-five percent of fetuses afflicted by DiGeorge die within a month of birth. Eighty-six percent die within six months.
“It was more humane to not put a baby through that,” says Jen. “The baby would have had too much trauma and pain in its life.” The pain for Jen and her family would be equally horrific. “There’s a big difference between carrying a baby during pregnancy and carrying a baby in your arms.”
She scheduled the abortion the next day, just past her 21st week of pregnancy. Under Arizona’s cruel, callous new law, she wouldn’t be able to save a baby from a miserable, agonizing existence or prevent the suffering of her children.
Jen had no idea about the new law when she was trying to understand her options. “I don’t think it’s fair,” she says. “Really, I think the law is ridiculous. You can’t push this kind of testing, get this kind of information, any sooner.”
Thinking about the ban that extremist legislators have imposed raises a question in Jen’s mind: What if?
“I imagine how things would be different. I was past that deadline,” she says. “I picture how hard it would be to go through giving birth to a baby that goes through all those surgeries. Having to explain it to your friends, to your children. And the baby goes through all this pain and then dies.
“I think about young women, too. I can’t even imagine having to force someone to go through with it,” says Jen. “This clearly shouldn’t have to be.”
But each year almost 100 women in Arizona, after confronting fetal abnormalities or dangerous health issues, make the decision that the pain and the trauma for the whole family would be too great. And they need every last minute after the ultrasound to collect all the important information and understand every possible consequence.
“I hope they take that in consideration and give us back the time we need.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights is fighting hard to overturn this flatly unconstitutional law and make certain that the health, lives and personal decision-making of women in the state are fully protected.