Danielle Deaver Denied Abortion Even as Uterus Crushed Fetus

Danielle Deaver's water broke at 22 weeks, and she was denied induction.

ByABC News
March 11, 2011, 2:24 PM

March 14, 2010— -- Danielle Deaver was 22 weeks pregnant when her water broke and doctors gave her a devastating prognosis: With undeveloped lungs, the baby likely would never survive outside the womb, and because all the amniotic fluid had drained, the tiny growing fetus slowly would be crushed by the uterus walls.

"What we learned from the perinatologist was that because there was no cushion, she couldn't move her arms and legs because of contractures," said Deaver, a 34-year-old nurse from Grand Isle, Neb. "And her face and head would be deformed because the uterus pushed down so hard."

After having had three miscarriages, Deaver and her husband, Robb Deaver, looked for every medical way possible to save the baby. Deaver's prior pregnancy ended the same way at 15 weeks, and doctors induced her to spare the pain.

But this time, when the couple sought the same procedure, doctors could not legally help them.

Just one month earlier, Nebraska had enacted the nation's first fetal pain legislation, banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation. So the Deavers had to wait more than a week to deliver baby Elizabeth, who died after just 15 minutes.

"They could do nothing to make it better but tell us to wait, which made it worse," Danielle Deaver said. "Every time I felt movement, I was terrified she was hurting and trying to push the uterus away from her."

Abortion opponents have hailed the law, and legislators in 12 other states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Oregon -- are considering similar restrictions.

They say the law is based on medical evidence gained since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that led to legalized abortion in 1973. But abortion rights advocates say the motive behind the laws is to challenge legalized abortion in the United States Supreme Court.

In her case, Danielle Deaver insisted, "We didn't want an abortion."

She said her doctors consulted attorneys about exceptions in the law because of the risk of infection that might destroy her chances of ever getting pregnant again.

"What we wanted," she said, "was our labor induced so that I would go into labor and give birth to her and the outcome of her life would not have been different."

"My health was at risk, as well," she added. "We decided going forward it [premature labor] would be inevitable and we wanted nature to take its course. We were told we couldn't do that."

Taking the lead from Nebraska this week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 94 to 2 to similarly ban abortion later than 20 weeks of gestation in what it called the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act." Bill 1888 will go on to the state Senate.

"It's a very sad situation all around," said Rep. Pam Peterson, who sponsored the Oklahoma bill. "It's about the humanness. These unborn babies are in excruciating pain in the abortion process at 20 weeks."We know they feel pain early on -- there is medical evidence."

She also said that the fact that Deaver's baby was reported by her mother as "perfect and beautiful in her arms" showed the "discrepancy" in the medical advice she was given that the skull would have been crushed.

"Thirty-eight years ago when Roe v. Wade passed, we didn't have the scientific evidence, but now this bill has caught up with the science," said Peterson. "Back in 1973, we were told they were a clump of cells and we didn't know the difference. Now we do fetal surgery and give anesthetics."

U.S. law considers viability to be between 22 and 24 weeks, but states mark the point when abortion can be banned.

The research on fetal pain is conflicting. Some research indicates that nerve endings that form early in development enable the fetus to feel pain.

Dr. Kanwaljeet, "Sunny" Anand, principal investigator at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, who testified in 2004 regarding the federal partial birth abortion ban, said that at 20 weeks gestation, a fetus would experience "severe and excruciating pain."