CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.- Madison Underwood was lying on the ultrasound table, nearly 19 weeks pregnant when the doctor walked in to announce her abortion had been aborted.
The nurses followed suit and began wiping the warm ultrasound gel off her exposed abdomen as the doctor leaned over her shoulder to speak to her fiance, Adam Queen.
She recalled that she had gone quietly, her body still walking. What do they mean, they can’t have an abortion? Just two weeks earlier, she and her fiancé had learned her unborn child had a condition that did not allow it to exist outside the womb. The doctor said, if she tried to get pregnant to full term, she could get very sick, or even die. Now, she’s been told she can’t have an abortion she doesn’t even want, but needs.
“Did they just let me die?” she remembers wondering.
In the blur around her, she heard doctors and nurses talking about a clinic in Georgia that could do the procedure right now because the legal risk of doing it in Tennessee was too high.
She heard her fiance’s curse, and in his voice filled with disappointment, told the doctor how stupid this was. She heard the doctor agree.
Just three days before, The US Supreme Court has overturned the constitutional right to abortion. Tennessee law passed in 2020 banning abortions at about 6 weeks of pregnancy has been blocked by court order but could go into effect.
Miss Underwood never thought any of this would affect her. She is 22 years old and excited to start a family with Mr. Queen, 24.
She and Mr. Queen went back and forth for several days before deciding to abort the pregnancy. She is afraid of abortion. She cried in the trailer to the clinic. She had heard of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade but thought that because she scheduled the abortion before the decision and before any state injunction took effect, the proceedings would be over. allow.
Tennessee allows abortion if a woman’s life is in danger, but Doctors fear making those decisions too soon and facing prosecution. Across the country, The legal context has changed so fast, some abortion clinics have refused patients before the law officially goes into effect or while legal battles take place in state courts.
The centuries-old ban hanging around on the books were activated, but then quickly disputed. In states where abortion is still legal, Waiting times at clinics spiked when women from states with bans look for alternatives.
It was in this chaos that Miss Underwood was sent home, still pregnant and reeling. What will happen now? The doctor said she should go to Georgia, where abortion is still legal until 22 weeks, even though that state has a ban that will go into effect soon.
Read more about abortion issues in the US
How does her fiancé get time off work to make the trip? How do they earn hotel money and gas money? How long did she live until she got sick herself? A new, scarier question came to her: What if she felt a kick?
‘I want a girl’
Mr Queen said he realized his fiancée was pregnant before she did.
She woke up almost every morning for a week and started asking for Chinese takeout, which she usually hates. One night in May, after his shift as a manager at a Dollar General store, he brought her home a pregnancy test. He hopes and prays it will come back positive.
“I am ready to start our little family together and roll the ball,” he said.
To save money, they live with his mother, Theresa Davis, and stepfather, Christopher Davis, on the family farm in Pikeville, a town located in a green valley about an hour from Chattanooga.
Miss Underwood crept into the upstairs bathroom. This was her first pregnancy test, and she didn’t want to mess it up. She spent 15 long minutes staring at the television in her bedroom, waiting.
Her phone rings and she glances at the test, picks it up, and shakes it. A line shoots across it in the positive column. Within seconds, she stopped breathing.
“I hope it’s a boy,” her fiancé said.
Her heart rate increased rapidly. She laughed.
“I know you want a son! You’ve got a girl,” she said, laughing. “But you know I want a girl.”
Mr. Queen had a child with a previous girlfriend, and part of his income goes to child support. He and Miss Underwood have been dating for the past four years; he proposed during a trip to Virginia Beach earlier this year.
On Mother’s Day, the couple revealed the pregnancy to both their mom and dad through a cleverly wrapped “Best Nana Ever” gift basket. At first, they faced some difficulties because of their pre-wedding pregnancy, but with the wedding date set at the end of June, and the thrill of a new baby, everyone overcame it.
During her first check-up at a free local clinic, they learned she was 13 weeks pregnant and due on November 23. The happy couple left the date.
Mr. Queen works full-time, but his fiancée has no health insurance. They waited to get Medicaid approval so she could make an appointment with a licensed obstetrician. Miss Underwood does her usual chores, taking care of her three cats, fish and other pets, and feeding the neighbor’s goats.
Mr. Queen’s mother, Mrs. Davis, hung ultrasound pictures in her bedroom. She was staring at them when she realized something.
“I called Madison and said, ‘Is your baby a cat?’, she said. “Because the head looks like it has ears.”
At Miss Underwood’s next appointment, a nurse promised more ultrasound images for the family to take home. The nurse inquired, measured and confirmed the due date. But then she was “really quiet,” Ms. Underwood said.
“She said it would take a couple of minutes, and the nurse practitioner would come in and she would talk to you and ‘see what we do from here,’ ‘ she said.
For Ms Davis, who accompanied Miss Underwood to the appointment, and had experienced seven miscarriages, the words “sounded alarm bells” in her mind. “That doesn’t sound right,” she told her future daughter-in-law.
At first, the nurse said there was a mild case of a brain tumor, or growth along the back of the baby’s neck, because the neural tubes failed to close during the first month of pregnancy. Encephalocele occurs in about 1 in every 10,500 babies born in the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nurse practitioner told the family it could be corrected through surgery and that there could be an intellectual disability or developmental delay, possibly epilepsy. Miss Underwood and her fiancé were “OK with that,” she said. But she fears the baby will need surgery soon after birth. “I was very scared,” she said.
They also learned that they were having a baby girl. They decided to name her Olivia, after her grandfather, Oliver.
Doctors referred the family to Regional consultant obstetrician, a chain of clinics that specialize in treating high-risk pregnancies. Practice opting out of comments for this post.
There, the family said they learned more sad news: The fetus has not yet formed a skull. Even with surgery, doctors said, there would be nothing to protect the brain, so the girl would survive at most hours, if not minutes, after birth.
Even then, Ms Underwood hopes to be pregnant full term so she can at least meet her baby and donate organs if possible.
“It was the only option,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
But doctors told her that fetal brain matter leaked into the umbilical sac, which could cause sepsis and lead to critical illness or even death. Doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy for her own safety.
“We debated it because I thought, maybe I can beat the odds,” she said. “But then I was scared.” She added, “I want to make sure I don’t regret it. Because of me and Adam, we’re going to have to be the ones to deal with it for the rest of our lives. “
They postponed their wedding and scheduled an abortion at the Chattanooga site of regional obstetric consultants for Monday, June 27.
Caught in a nationwide battle
Prior to June 24, the date of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Tennessee allowed abortions up to 24 weeks, but clinics rarely took any action after 20 weeks, a statement said. member of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, one of the largest abortion clinics. clinic in Tennessee.
Outside of clinics that specialize in abortion, there are only a few medical centers in the state that offer the procedure. The Knoxville Center said it stopped offering abortions on Friday that Roe was tipped off about in anticipation of the Tennessee law change.
That day, Herbert Slatery III, the state attorney general, filed an application with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to lifting the ban almost two years old that stopped an attempt to ban abortion after about the sixth week of pregnancy. The ban was lifted a day after Miss Underwood’s abortion was called off.
Her parents and grandparents, who opposed abortion, took it as a sign to reconsider. They prayed to God to stop the abortion if it didn’t happen, and when it didn’t, they believed she should try to get pregnant to full term.
“We just hope for a miracle,” said her mother, Jennifer Underwood.
They say she should have a baby so that she can see Olivia, say goodbye, and bury her.
She told them no. “I’m doing what I think I can handle,” Mrs. Underwood said afterward, sobbing between words.
Mother of Mr. Queen said she supported the couple’s decision from the start. At the age of 12, she was raped and gave birth to a fetus.
“Religion has nothing to do with it. Sometimes your body just does things with you, and if you have to have an abortion, don’t feel guilty about it,” she says.
When tensions were high between the couple, Mr. Queen quit his job to take care of Mrs. Underwood. His mother raised $5,250 to help with travel costs from the GoFundMe crowdfunding site. Cash will also help pay for the cremation of the unborn baby.
‘Our baby is dying’
The two cars left Pikeville at 2 a.m. in early July, driving 4 hours across state lines and time zones to make an 8 a.m. appointment at an abortion clinic in Georgia. Mrs. Underwood, Mr. Queen and his mother were in a car; Her parents Underwood and one of her brothers followed.
When they stopped at the third K-round of the night, she squeezed her mother and cried. Her parents decided to go with her at the last minute, even if they didn’t fully agree.
At sunrise, the couple sat in a corner booth at Waffle House, his hand massaging her back.
She will have a two-step process called D&E, dilation and evacuation, for two days. First, she will be given medication to dilate and sent to her hotel room to wait. The next day, she will return to the clinic to complete the procedure. The Georgia clinic staff warned the family about the protesters outside. When they entered the parking lot, they were driven by a man with signs of a dead fetus.
“Are you all okay with killing babies?” he shouted into a megaphone.
He approached Miss Underwood’s parents’ car, and her mother rolled down the window.
“We agree with you,” her mother said. “We don’t support abortion, but the doctors say our baby will die.”
“Do you trust doctors more than God?” he answered.
The couple walked side by side on a steep hill to the entrance to the clinic. She wore headphones to drown out the protesters.
Six hours later, they returned. The parking lot is quiet.