texas-abortion-ban-woman-travels-to-save-twin
(Getty)

A Woman Wanted an Abortion to Save One of Her Twins. She Had to Travel 1,000 Miles.

“There was no decision, really, because the baby wasn't going to survive... I’m not going to leave my son without a mom.”

Early one Friday morning, about six weeks into her pregnancy, a woman started throwing up and didn’t stop for more than 36 hours. She tried drink after drink—ginger ale, tea, Pedialyte—to rehydrate, but the woman kept vomiting. Once chills started to wrack her body, she decided enough was enough. The woman, who VICE News is calling A. for privacy reasons, needed to go to the emergency room. 

A., who already has a toddler son, had already been nervous about being pregnant in her home state of Texas. Although A. and her husband had planned for this pregnancy, A. worried that if anything went wrong, Texas’ ban on abortion would prevent her from getting help. 

Advertisement

At the emergency room, A. learned that there was a reason why she was throwing up so much: She was having twins. 

One of the fetuses initially looked slightly less developed than the other, A. told VICE News, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything was wrong. But ahead of a scheduled ultrasound in her twelfth week of pregnancy, the 35-year-old told her husband, “I just feel something's wrong.”

A series of tests gradually revealed that the smaller fetus, who A. nicknamed Baby B, had several severe abnormalities. There was a problem with the brain, some organs were outside of the abdomen, and the fetus seemed to have Trisomy 18, a rare chromosomal disorder that is also nearly a guaranteed death sentence. “This baby isn’t going to make it to birth,” A. said her doctor told her. If a fetus with Trisomy 18, which is also known as Edward syndrome, does make it to birth, they tend to live about eight days. If they live past a month, just 10 percent live past a year.

“Every other doctor, every genetic counselor, they were all unanimous that every day that Baby B continued to grow, that he was putting his twin and myself at further risk,” A. said. Three days after the Trisomy 18 news, A. couldn’t stop vomiting. She went back to the ER. 

In Texas, nearly all abortions are now banned thanks to a trio of overlapping abortion bans. A. calculated that she had three options: She could wait for the pregnancy to end naturally, she could wait until she was so close to death that her doctors would be legally able to end it, or she could leave Texas and undergo a procedure known as a “single twin reduction” in a state where abortion isn’t banned. Through that procedure, she would abort the fetus that likely had Trisomy 18, while continuing her pregnancy with the healthy fetus.

Advertisement

She decided to get the abortion.

Before the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, the vast majority of abortions took place at or before the thirteenth week of pregnancy. But there are a number of devastating fetal abnormalities that can only be detected through testing after that first trimester of pregnancy. People who desperately want to continue their pregnancies, like A., may end up facing a wrenching decision—and, now that Roe is gone, struggling to navigate a bewildering array of obstacles to get an abortion that they would rather not have to undergo in the first place.

“Abortion is merciful in some instances. Frankly, in a lot,” A told VICE News in an interview. “There was no decision, really, because the baby wasn't going to survive. There was no chance. And we had another baby to think about, we had me to think about, and, of course, my family. I’m not going to leave my son without a mom.”

Technically, abortion is now banned in Texas under three separate laws. Under a 19th-century law that went dormant under Roe, abortion is punishable by two to five years in prison. Under a law enacted in 2021, people who help others get an abortion past roughly six weeks of pregnancy can be sued for tens of thousands of dollars. Finally, under a law that was triggered by the downfall of Roe, performing an abortion can be grounds for a lifetime prison sentence.

There are limited exceptions for medical emergencies. The trigger law only allows for abortions in circumstances where a pregnant person is facing “a risk of death” or “a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” That language, versions of which can be found in abortion bans across the country, blocks doctors from being able to act preemptively to help patients with dangerous pregnancies, doctors have told VICE News. Instead, they say they are forced to wait and watch as their patients inch closer to death.

Advertisement

Only one medical provider brought up the term “single twin reduction.” But when A. tried to ask for more information, the provider said she couldn’t say more.

A. understood that her medical team was trying to obey the law and keep themselves safe. But it was still maddening to feel like the state government was crouched in the exam room, making medical decisions for her.

“We have to scramble. We don’t even know what we’re doing and we have to make plans,” A. wrote in her journal. “I feel blind and confused and scared and I hate all of this. I want my baby to be OK and he will never, never, never be OK.”

It took about 10 days for A. and her husband book an abortion in Colorado, now one of the most abortion-friendly states in the country, and travel there. A. hails from family money, lives in a metropolitan area, and is well-connected enough that she was able to ask an out-of-state doctor friend help arrange her abortion. Her toddler has a nanny and her mom flew in to help babysit, leaving A.’s husband free to travel with her. 

“Money was not an issue. Time was not an issue. Travel was not an issue. We're by a major airport. Again, we’ve got child care covered,” A. said of herself and her husband. “All of those things, and it was still stressful. It was still hard to get answers. We’ve both got graduate degrees. He's a Ph.D. And we were still struggling to figure stuff out.”

Paranoia gnawed at A. Even though it is legal for patients to cross state lines for an abortion, her husband has no such protections; because he was helping her get the procedure, he could be in legal danger. Abortion foes have already started to murmur about blocking what they call “abortion tourism,” and law enforcement surveillance of every pregnancy is poised to deepen as new restrictions mount. When A. and her husband arrived at the airport, with A. visibly pregnant, she couldn’t stop wondering if people suspected what they were up to. 

Advertisement

A. is deeply attuned to state politics and policy. In addition to her journal, A. provided VICE News with copious records to back up her account and itemized every expense, down to a 25-cent pill. Texas’ abortion laws haunts her journal; even before she found out about Baby B, A. is alternately fearful and furious over it. Shortly after discovering she was pregnant, A. wrote in her journal, “I hope (especially with the fall of Roe v. Wade) that this pregnancy is as uncomplicated and normal as” her last pregnancy.

A.’s abortion was scheduled for the day after she arrived in Colorado. “I try to take comfort in the fact that all he will ever know or have known is the coziness, warmth, and security of being in his mommy’s belly,” she wrote of the fetus she was about to abort. “I love you so much, little one. And I’m so, so sorry that we will never know you and that something as small as a genetic mutation means that you have no future. You will always be with me.”

A. signed the consent form for the procedure at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was all over by 3. In total, between the flights, the hotel, and the child care, and the abortion itself, A. traveled more than 1,000 miles and spent almost $3,000 on a half-hour procedure. 

She sobbed afterward. 

Still, A. was certain that she had done the right thing. After she and her husband left the facility where A. got the abortion, they walked through a garden and breathed in the crisp fall air. A. felt the finality settle over her. 

Advertisement

“It felt like a huge weight had been lifted, because it was done,” A. told VICE News. “We had done the best that we possibly could at that point, for both babies and for myself.”

The abortion ended the fetus’ development, but she didn’t deliver it. Instead, that fetus remained inside A.’s body, no longer threatening her or the other fetus, until her delivery. Within 48 hours of the procedure,  A. started to feel much better physically. The nonstop vomiting finally eased.

“It’s hard to be as sad as I would like to be and to actually go through and properly grieve this whole process, because I'm so furious at how much additional stress that we were forced into, how unnecessary this whole process was,” A. said. “We had a baby that had no chance of survival, and the only thing that could occur by not having that abortion was to put its twin and myself at more risk. They can call themselves ‘pro-life’ all they want. But if they're going to kill three people because they refuse to allow the termination of one, I don't see I don't see anything about life in that.”

A few weeks after the abortion, A. decided to go public with her story on a private social media profile. She deliberately didn’t say that she had already had the abortion, but she outlined the choice—or lack of—that Texas had left her with. Despite her fears over being targeted by the government, A. wanted to explain why she was no longer having twins; it had become painful to break the news to everyone who wanted to celebrate. 

Advertisement

And, she thought, her story could change the minds of her Republican relatives ahead of the midterm elections.

“Some of these folks are just completely out of the loop of reality. But they know me. There are people who have grown up with me. So putting a face to this, I felt, was really important,” A. said. “If I get in trouble, it's probably better me than somebody else, frankly, because I can afford the legal costs.”

The response from her family and friends stunned her: A few people, who A. called “dyed-in-the-wool Republicans,” reached out to say that they planned to support Democrats after hearing her story. A relative who A. had barely met told her that they had donated to ActBlue in A.’s name. 

A. is still struggling to get truly excited about her soon-to-be baby. She’s deleted anything twin-related from her baby registry and thrown out the blue paint samples she had picked out for the twins’ room. Although she wants three kids,  she can’t fathom getting pregnant again while still living in Texas. But she also doesn’t want to leave.

“I have a lot of resources,” A. said. “I feel like I would leave people who don't have that behind. I think it's important that I stay and try and help people in this state, just because I have that ability to do so.”