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The Limits of Choice: Three Women Share their Late Abortion Stories

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Jessica Cruikshank – Lima

In the fall of 2017, Lima residents Jessica Cruikshank and her husband Will went for a routine nine week ultrasound for their second pregnancy. It was just a few minutes into the exam that Jessica noticed a change in her ultrasound technician’s demeanor, and they were told that something was wrong with their baby.

Her obstetrician gynecologist (OB-GYN) said that it appeared to be anacephaly, a rare fetal condition in which a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp is missing. For confirmation of the diagnosis, the Cruikshanks were referred to a MFM doctor in Toledo at 13 weeks.

“That was absolutely the longest month of our lives,” Jessica says. “We are stuck in limbo not knowing what was going to happen within our family.”

Unfortunately, the MFM doctor confirmed the diagnosis. Jessica, Will and their doctor proceeded to go through their options moving forward. They discussed carrying the pregnancy to term, in hopes of donating the baby’s organs. That wasn’t an option, because, due to these babies not developing a skull, many die during the trauma of birth.

When Jessica brought up the option of terminating, the doctor, associated with the Catholic health system, wouldn’t discuss the topic. 

“We weren’t even allowed to ask questions of ending the pregnancy, or if you know a doctor that we could talk to,” Jessica says. “We left that appointment completely heartbroken and with so many unanswered questions.”

In their search for a second opinion, Jessica had a hard time finding a doctor that was not affiliated with a religion based hospital with whom they could discuss ending the pregnancy early. Only after she joined an anacephaly support group on Facebook was she referred to a doctor in Columbus.

“This man was very caring and took the time to answer all the questions we had. We discussed the option of ending the pregnancy,” she says. “We decided as a family that it would be more humane to end the pregnancy the next week.”

Together, Jessica and Will made the decision to induce labor as opposed to having a dilation and extraction (D&E) procedure.

“I wanted the chance to meet my baby and say goodbye,” Jessica says. “After baby was born we learned she was a girl. We were able to spend two days with her and my husband and I were so grateful. We were able to name her, have a blessing, and read to her.”

Jessica doesn’t regret the choice she made, but sees it as the best, most humane decision they could make for their family. In the end, like Chelsea, she feels lucky. They were 14 weeks along when they induced labor, while most moms don’t find out about anacephaly until their 20 week anatomy scan.

With the heartbeat bill being signed into law, Jessica fears for other women who will face the same terminal diagnosis of their babies and encounter obstacles in making the right decision for themselves. She imagines the financial burdens of traveling out of state, and of these out-of-state doctors not being in network with their health insurance. She sees women enduring the stress of traveling away from their homes to receive the healthcare they need.

“The heartbeat bill isn’t going to stop someone who thinks they’re making the best decision for their baby and their family,” she says. “Instead, these moms are going to go out of state or even out of the country. These moms will not only deal with the unimaginable stress of a terminal diagnosis of their baby, but will also be told they can’t make whatever family decision is best for them.”

Still an active member in the anacephaly support group, Jessica says she sees new members joining daily — “new moms who know their babies will die and just want help.”

“Every day a new Mom is saying she can’t find the healthcare she needs,” she continues. “Shame on you Ohio, instead of supporting these grieving moms you are doing nothing but punishing them.”

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