When Jill Perry took a pregnancy test at her hair salon between clients, she was just being thorough. Her period would probably come that afternoon, but she and her husband, Matt, had started to try for a child, so better to be safe than sorry. In a video of the moment, Perry holds the test up to the camera for the audience to see the digital readout. When she flips the test (and its results) back toward her, Perry goes wild. That night, April 19, 2022, Perry surprised her husband with a pair of “dad” shoes.
In May 2022, the pair went to an eight-week appointment, where they learned they’d be welcoming a girl. At 12 weeks in June, doctors performed genetic testing, and all was good. But by the end of June, the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, taking back the constitutional right to an abortion. And unfortunately for Perry, the effects of losing Roe were immediate and horrific.
Within days of the Dobbs decision, the South Carolina legislature banned abortion at six weeks gestation. Perry was waiting for yet another round of testing that couldn’t be done until her pregnancy had progressed; she was assuming the loss of abortion care wouldn’t affect this pregnancy. But at the couple’s 18-week appointment, an anatomy scan showed that the fetus’ heart wasn’t properly developed. Further diagnostic tests confirmed that it was hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a congenital birth defect in which the left heart chambers, depending on its severity, do not develop properly. It can be manageable, but is incurable—even if, in Perry’s case, the child were to undergo at least three heart surgeries before age 8.
A “born and raised Republican,” Perry always supported abortion rights in theory—she just never expected to need (or want) an abortion. “You can be a Republican Christian and still be pro-choice, because it’s compassion and empathy and giving the benefit of the doubt to the human that is going through this, that they have prayed and done the best thing that they knew to do for their child or for themselves,” Perry told Jezebel.
Unexpectedly, the abortion issue became urgently personal for Perry. She described in an interview with me her harrowing journey to terminate her pregnancy in a state that bans abortion after receiving a devastating diagnosis. She was forced carry her unviable fetus, a girl they named Ivy Grace, for 49 days while waiting for an abortion. It didn’t have to be like this. “This has to stay between a patient and the doctor and her relationship with whatever—if she’s religious or not religious—this is between her and what she believes in,” Perry said.
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A month after the initial anatomy scan, at 22 weeks, a second echocardiogram (a kind of heart scan) confirmed the severity of HLHS and added aortic atresia to the growing list of diagnoses. The couple, who both grew up ardently Christian, had both agreed it was best to terminate. But at least 43 abortion clinics have closed since Roe was overturned. Between the dwindling number of clinics and her increasing gestation date, the number of places legally allowed to take Perry’s case was shrinking by the week. At the very end of August an appointment opens up—two weeks from then. “I have to live and work for two more weeks because of the backlog. [We’re] being forced to wait because [we’re] having to leave the state that won’t protect them to go to one that will,” she said.
Perry had to send a mass text to clients explaining that a fetal diagnosis meant she didn’t want to talk about her pregnancy or for them to comment on it. She’s a small business owner; if she doesn’t work, she doesn’t make money. “To be forced to carry to full term, knowing your child isn’t going to make it, is so cruel. I know what that was like, because I did it for two weeks, and I couldn’t imagine doing it for another few months,” she said.
Perry would have to continue to carry a wanted pregnancy that had little to no chance of thriving outside her body. It had already been nearly five weeks since she learned about the HLHS diagnosis. The overall cost would be $10,000 to $12,000 out of pocket, and the clinic directed them to abortion funds and practical support resources to help. “I swear they’re angels on earth. I felt guilty even taking funding,” she told me. “We make a good living together, but we had just bought our house, you know, thinking we’re bringing a baby home. The timing of it was horrible. I kept telling them, ‘I promise you, we’re going to give you all this money back one day because I want other people to be helped.’”
The procedure went smoothly. “I knew I was just giving my daughter the gift of peace and freedom and no pain whatsoever,” she told Jezebel.
That was less than two months ago. Now, Perry sees her harrowing story as a way to make a difference. Despite being a registered Republican, Perry has been working to get Democrat Joe Cunningham, the gubernatorial candidate, elected. Cunningham is challenging Gov. Henry McMasters—the current Republican governor who is itching to ban same-sex marriage again—who signed the six-week gestation ban that made it impossible for Perry to receive care in her home state.
Before she would make the multi-state trek to her abortion appointment, Perry wrote letters to “every statehouse representative” asking them to “understand the nuance and just give women the choice.” And she started the Ivy Grace Project to bring awareness to fetal anomaly diagnoses within abortion care. Talking about Ivy’s diagnosis “is giving her death meaning,” Perry said. “This is helping other women not feeling alienated and alone that they made the best decision for themselves and their children.”
Now, Perry is working to break the stigma behind the word abortion. “All those women in the 50s and 60s that fought for us, how could I not fight for the ones that are coming after us?”