Texas Hospital Denied Woman Emergency Abortion Despite Life-Threatening Ectopic Pregnancy

“Does this have anything to do with the abortion law?” the woman says she asked her doctor. He didn’t respond.

Texas Hospital Denied Woman Emergency Abortion Despite Life-Threatening Ectopic Pregnancy

In February, a 25-year-old woman in Texas was denied an emergency abortion even though she had an ectopic pregnancy that threatened her life, the Washington Post reports. College student Kelsie Norris-De La Cruz’s experience is the latest, harrowing example of the state abortion ban’s medical emergency exception failing to actually help people.

Norris-De La Cruz told the Post she was excited to learn she was pregnant in January, but things took a turn for the worst the following month when she began to experience severe cramping and bleeding. Shortly afterward, doctors at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital informed her she likely had an ectopic pregnancy, which is a nonviable, potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a fertilized egg develops outside the uterine wall, often in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies account for between five and 10% of all pregnancy-related deaths, and the only treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is an abortion.

Still, the hospital sent Norris-De La Cruz home to see if she would simply miscarry or see if the embryo would move elsewhere as her pregnancy developed. Within a month, when her health worsened and cramping became so painful that she could barely stand, Norris-De La Cruz returned to Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. A doctor determined that she should have an emergency abortion immediately, but two OBGYNs refused to sign off on the procedure, which Texas state law requires before emergency abortions are performed. Health care providers in violation of the state’s total abortion ban—which offers only an ambiguous, highly inaccessible exception for threats to the pregnant person’s life—face the threat of life in prison, a $100,000 fine, and loss of their medical license. 

Norris-De La Cruz recounted a particularly tense exchange with her doctor when she was denied an abortion. “Does this have anything to do with the abortion law?” she says she asked her doctor. When he didn’t answer, Norris-De La Cruz’s mother had to hold her back as she “tried to launch herself at him,” per the Post. “Whenever I fucking rupture, I’m giving my lawyers your fucking name,” she told him.

Medical records reviewed by the Post show Norris-De La Cruz’s doctor wrote that he didn’t “feel comfortable discharging her home” and it wasn’t “in her best interest” to leave the hospital without an emergency abortion. Nonetheless, Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital discharged her. The following day, Norris-De La Cruz received an emergency abortion from a different hospital. The OBGYN who offered her the care said her life would have been “in extreme danger” if she had been delayed any longer. The experience also made Norris-De La Cruz fear the impact being denied care could have on her future fertility. “I was scared I was going to … lose my entire reproductive system if they waited too long,” she told the Post. “I knew it could happen at any moment.”

Presently, about two dozen Texas women are suing the state to clarify the parameters of the medical emergency exception in its abortion ban. The plaintiffs in this ongoing lawsuit, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, accuse Texas’ abortion ban of almost killing them or severely endangering their health and future fertility by denying or delaying their access to emergency abortion care for their dangerous, nonviable pregnancies. In December, a woman named Kate Cox filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to receive emergency abortion care for a nonviable pregnancy that endangered her health; the court denied her, forcing Cox to travel out of state for care.

Norris-De La Cruz’s experience is similar to a different Texas woman who was denied an emergency abortion for her ectopic pregnancy in September 2021, in the immediate aftermath of Texas’ SB8—the notorious bounty hunter law that bans abortion and enforces this through the threat of civil lawsuits. The woman was forced to drive about 15 hours out-of-state to receive emergency care in New Mexico, the Lily reported at the time. 

On Monday, ProPublica published a harrowing inside look at the hospital panels in states with abortion bans that are tasked with determining whether a hospital can legally provide emergency abortion care. “I understand pragmatism,” a Tennessee doctor told ProPublica. Tennessee bans abortion with only a few, very narrow exceptions. “I also don’t want to have a patient die and be responsible for it.”

The experiences of women like Norris-De La Cruz, Cox, and dozens of women suing Texas and other states with abortion bans highlight the potential life-or-death stakes imposed by these laws—and all the difference that even an hour spent consulting with lawyers can make for a pregnant woman’s condition. As Linda Goldstein, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Jezebel last month, “Exceptions don’t work—that’s really the bottomline. … The language is too vague and too difficult for doctors to be able to apply to save someone’s life—and that’s the entire point.”

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