Pregnancy is a life changing time. Everyone has a different journey. Some people feel like their most powerful selves and cannot wait to do it all again. Others experience heartbreaking health crises that make pregnancy impossible to continue. No one should have to start their journey to conceive thinking about the what-ifs and the worst outcomes. But depending on where you live, knowing your restrictions and options in specific rare situations can help you plan and prepare. It may also be relevant to assess your insurance coverage and out of pockets costs associated with certain types of care.
When the pregnant person’s life is in danger
Some preexisting health conditions as well as some pregnancy complications can put your pregnancy health and safety at risk. Expert provider can help manage many of these conditions to allow a pregnancy to progress long enough that the baby is viable (able to survive outside of the womb). But some health conditions and pregnancy complications cannot be managed safely long enough to reach this point. Continuing the pregnancy in these cases would mean certain or high likelihood of death, loss of uterus, or other long-term medical complications — like stroke and other permanent disabilities for the parent.
Recent federal legislation aims to secure abortion rights in all cases when a parent’s life is in danger, but it is in dispute in several states. Even a delay in care in these situations can have devastating short and long-term health impacts.
Before we explain the conditions and complications you should be aware of, there are some steps you can take before you become pregnant to support your health.
Understand the laws in your state
Abortion access varies depending on your state — and in many places your pregnancy trimester, your provider, and your age. In some states, if you’re a minor, you’ll need one or both of your parents’ consent. You can find a state by state breakdown here.
Schedule a preconception visit with your provider
A pre-pregnancy checkup helps your healthcare provider make sure that your body is ready for pregnancy and often includes some health screenings. During this appointment, you can ask your provider any questions you have about your general and fertility health.
Consider pre-pregnancy carrier screening
You may discuss this at your pre-pregnancy appointment. A carrier screen is a genetic test that can help you understand your risk of having a baby with a genetic disorder. And you can request it before you’re pregnant. Carrier screening is one of many tools to help you go into starting or growing your family with more information about your risks and options.
Let’s review conditions and complications that can happen during pregnancy. If you experience one of these, then your state abortion laws could impact your care.
Ectopic pregnancies are early pregnancies that implant and grow in the wrong part of the body — outside of the uterus. The most common location of an ectopic pregnancy is in a fallopian tube, but can happen anywhere within the abdomen, including on the liver or bowel.
Ectopic pregnancies can never result in a healthy pregnancy and lead to severe internal bleeding and death if left to grow. The only medical treatment available is abortion. The earlier these pregnancies are identified by ultrasound, and treated, the safer it is. If you live in a highly restrictive state, it’s important to know how your provider treats this type of situation. Will you have early ultrasounds? Will you have to travel if you need an abortion? Is there a local hospital that has experience navigating the legal difficulties of this situation?
Severe hypertensive disorders
Severe hypertensive disorders of pregnancy most commonly occur later in pregnancy. But, when they happen before viability (around 24 weeks), they are incredibly dangerous for parents. If the pregnancy is not ended, it can result in seizure, stroke, bleeding, and death. The only “cure” for these disorders is immediate delivery. There is no known long-term management option to safely allow the pregnancy to reach viability. Especially for parents with any history or high risk of hypertensive disorders, it’s important to discuss an emergency plan with your provider and any possible preventative steps.
Sepsis and bleeding
Sepsis and bleeding are two other life threatening complications that can happen in early pregnancy where your body starts to miscarry or labor before about 24 weeks. In these situations, a pregnant person can experience their water breaking or heavy bleeding while their baby is still alive. The treatment for these conditions is delivery.
In states that don’t recognize the life of the parent as a valid reason for abortion, this can end in the death of the parent and the fetus. Even delaying care can increase the risk of serious infection (sepsis), need for blood transfusions and surgery, and death. Again, discussing your options with your provider early in pregnancy can help you feel at ease or make a necessary emergency plan.
When the fetus is at-risk or will not survive after birth
Finding out your baby has a complication or severe illness is one of the most devastating pieces of news to receive as a parent. Modern medicine has made enormous strides to treat certain conditions during pregnancy and work miracles for some people. However, there are chromosomal and genetic conditions that make it more likely for a fetus to die during the pregnancy or immediately after birth. There are also complex fetal differences that may survive birth, but not all parents feel they have the capacity to manage medically, emotionally, financially, or physically. Many people choose to end a pregnancy in these circumstances to reduce suffering for everyone and potential medical complications for the pregnant parent.
The impact of abortion bans and restrictions
The abortion bans in many states do not have exceptions for these situations. These laws can be confusing and cause delays in care of the pregnant person. Knowing your state’s guidelines, and where you can travel to safely get the care you need is essential. In some states, specialized OBGYNs, called MFMs (Maternal Fetal Medicine specialists), will help identify and explain what is happening with your fetus, but they may be limited in discussing options. They may be able to refer you for a virtual appointment with an MFM out of state to have a more open discussion inclusive of more care options. Early genetic testing and counseling can leave more options open in states that only restrict abortion after a certain gestational age.
If you find yourself in need of support or information after a devastating diagnosis here are some resources to explore:
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
Ovia’s goal is to support the health and wellness of our members throughout their reproductive health journeys. Ovia cannot, however, encourage or discourage the very personal decision of whether to have an abortion or counsel on whether and how an abortion may be performed in a particular case. Abortion may or may not be legal in your state and in your particular personal situation. None of the information made available through Ovia is intended to provide you with legal advice regarding abortion. Ovia may refer you to third-party websites or publications for additional information on reproductive health issues, including abortion. Ovia is not affiliated with these third parties and is not responsible for any information that they make available to you.