A devastating new story in the Washington Post details how Florida’s 15-week abortion ban almost killed a woman, despite the fact that the ban nominally has exceptions in place for the health of the pregnant person. The reporting comes as the state works to finalize a ban after six weeks of pregnancy, which likely presidential contender Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to sign.
In mid-December, Anya Cook was nearly 16 weeks pregnant when her water broke—long before a fetus could survive outside the womb. Cook went to an emergency room in Coral Springs, Florida, where the doctor said she was experiencing a rare complication that occurs in less than one percent of pregnancies called pre-viability premature rupture of the membranes, or PPROM. Once the amniotic sac breaks, there’s a risk of infection, which can be life-threatening even in pregnancies several weeks further along than Cook’s, per the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
Typically, doctors would induce labor or perform an abortion, but the ER doctor said they couldn’t induce her due to the state’s abortion ban, so they sent her home. A nurse gave her antibiotics and promised to pray for her. The next day, Cook ended up miscarrying her daughter, who she’d planned to call Bunny, in the bathroom of a hair salon. Her husband Derick had to sever the umbilical cord by pulling it apart with his hands. Cook told the Post that blood splattered across the floor, and according to medical records, she lost roughly half the blood in her body over the course of the day.
Paramedics rushed her to the hospital to stabilize her and remove any remaining pregnancy tissue from her uterus. The OB/GYN on call that day told Derick that Anya could die in the operating room. “I will do my very best,” the doctor said. “But the rest is up to God.” (The doctor shared this information with Anya’s consent.) She was hospitalized for six days.
Like many health exceptions to abortion bans, Florida’s did not prevent this woman from almost dying. The Florida law allows abortions after 15 weeks in order to “save the pregnant woman’s life” or “avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” You can see how, in this case, Cook’s life was not immediately in danger after her water broke, but just the next day, she lost life-threatening amounts of blood. A hospital spokesperson said that Cook “did not necessitate an abortion in the emergency department.”
Former Florida state senator Kelli Stargel (R), a co-sponsor of the 15-week ban, told the Post there was no reason to add a specific exception for PPROM. The current rules are sufficient, she said, because: “The bottom line is we value life, and we would like to protect life...We don’t want to give a gaping exception that anyone can claim.”
The Post story details how Cook’s friend, Shanae Smith-Cunningham, also had her water break early in December, but at about 19 weeks. A different Florida hospital sent her home two times as her cervix was only minimally dilated and her regular OB/GYN suggested she leave the state to get an abortion. Smith-Cunningham was scared for her life after hearing what happened to Cook. “If no one induces me, I’m going to die,” she said to her husband. The third time she showed up, her cervix was fully dilated and she delivered the fetus hours later.
Both women are Black and their stories come shortly after the news of record maternal mortality rates in the U.S.—and the death rates for Black women are shamefully nearly three times higher than white women. And for every person who dies from pregnancy, another 70 women come close to dying.
Hospitals turning people away mid-miscarriage sadly isn’t a new phenomenon as Catholic hospitals have been doing that for decades, but this kind of horror has become more common since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which led to abortion being banned or mostly banned in 14 states. Florida will soon make that number 15.
Both women had been undergoing fertility treatments and they still want to try again—and could soon be doing so under an even stricter law. Cook said, “Getting pregnant now feels like a death sentence.”
As a six-week ban hurtles forward, it appears DeSantis is happy to let his constituents die, nearly die, or suffer greatly simply for the sake of his presidential ambitions.