Abortion patients say current laws posed barriers to care even before Roe’s fall

By: - June 30, 2022 5:26 pm

Abortion-rights activist Jamie McIntyre reacts to the 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which overturns the landmark abortion Roe v. Wade case in front of the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The court eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Marcella Peltz decided to have an abortion in November 2017.

It was not a choice she wanted to make. Peltz and her then-fiancé had long planned to have a child. They had already decided on a name – Thea Brook – and had a gender reveal party celebrating her pregnancy.

But when Peltz went in for an ultrasound at 19 weeks, the doctor discovered a tumor growing at the fetus’ neck. The growth, called a cervical teratoma, could make it impossible for a newborn to breathe at birth.

The doctor who discovered the tumor told Peltz that neither he nor the religious-affiliated health care provider she was visiting – believed in abortion. He wanted Peltz, who lives in Council Bluffs, to come back for another consultation in two weeks. By that time, she would be 22 weeks pregnant – two weeks beyond Iowa’s 20-week ban on abortion.

Instead, she visited Planned Parenthood, and then the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for more information. By then, the fetus had developed hydrops fetalis, buildup of fluids in developing organs.

She had two choices: Get an abortion in Iowa, or wait until she was 26 weeks pregnant and get an ex utero intrapartum treatment or EXIT, in which doctors would attempt to remove the tumor while the fetus was still in the womb. No Iowa clinics perform the procedure, so she would have to travel out of state for the service. If any complications arose, she would have to extend her stay.

Peltz chose to get an abortion at 21 weeks of pregnancy, which is allowed under Iowa state law if doctors determine the procedure necessary to save the mother’s life. Navigating current restrictions on abortion access hurt her, Peltz said, and new measures, like a six-week or blanket ban on abortions would hurt mothers even more.

“I’m given a pass by all the judgmental people, or people that don’t think it’s okay because they said it’s medical and that of course that would be allowed,” Peltz said. “My abortion was elective. And that is so important for everybody to know how hard I had to work to get an abortion of a baby that I wanted so badly.”

Abortion is not an easy choice, women who had the procedure told reporters Thursday at a Planned Parenthood news conference. Banning abortion would make that choice no less difficult, but much less safe, they said.

The women shared their experiences in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. The Iowa Supreme Court also ruled this month that Iowa’s state constitution does not hold a fundamental right to abortion.

These court decisions mean that Iowa and states across the nation can restrict or outright ban abortion. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced plans Tuesday to seek reinstatement of the state’s ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Courts blocked the law from taking effect in 2018 and Reynolds now wants the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider. The move comes less than two weeks after justices returned a case challenging Iowa’s 24-hour waiting period for abortions back to a lower court.

“It’s difficult even to get our heads around the fact that an extremely safe medical procedure has now been made effectively illegal in a large part of the country,” said Sarah Stoesz, Planned Parenthood North Central States president and CEO. “And it will be an even larger part of the country in the coming weeks and months as state legislatures take actions as we have already been seeing even in our region with Governor Kim Reynolds in Iowa.”

Reynolds on Wednesday said she does not plan to call a special legislative session this summer to pass further abortion legislation following the courts’ decisions, according to The Des Moines Register. She has not announced any plans to seek further abortion restrictions during the 2023 session, which starts in January.

Other states, including Nebraska, are considering holding special legislative sessions to pass abortion restrictions this year.

Abby Waller of Nebraska had an abortion in January 2020. She had to choose to get an abortion when her pregnancy was not determined viable. She testified in front of the Nebraska Legislature earlier this year to defend the right to an abortion.

“I wanted lawmakers representing me to understand that people don’t just decide ‘Well, I’m going to have an abortion today,’” Waller said. “No. They don’t do that. It’s essential health care and every person’s circumstances are unique.”

Even current restrictions on abortion access hurt women, abortion advocates said. The current health care and adoption systems are not set up to adequately provide for mothers and children in the difficult situations that lead to abortions, speakers emphasized in the news conference.

Mothers forced to carry a pregnancy to term when they wish to stop it would cause severe harm to both the parent and child, Kelsey Machado, 27, an Iowan, said. She had an abortion when she was 16, when she was in a toxic relationship.

Having a child would have forced her and her child into a dangerous situation. The only way to escape those circumstances, Machado argued, is for abortion to be legal and easily accessible.

“I am often paralyzed by that thought of what my life would be like, because frankly it terrifies me,” she said. “I can tell you I would be living in poverty, and I’m very afraid I would be experiencing a lot of abuse.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.