Woman says she was forced to travel for an abortion despite her fetus's fatal condition
Heather Maberry's unborn child was diagnosed with anencephaly at 20 weeks.
A Kentucky mother of three says she was forced to travel out of state for an abortion despite her fetus being diagnosed with a fatal condition.
After Heather Maberry, 32, a substitute teacher from Stanton — about 100 miles southeast of Louisville — and her husband, Nick, got married last year, they were excited to try for a baby and expand their family.
Maberry said she first found out she was pregnant in October 2022, only to eventually miscarry, and then discovered she was pregnant again two days before Christmas last year.
"I've always wanted another baby," she told ABC News. "We were super excited, but we were also very nervous because we had just lost a baby. So, we just kept trying to take care of me the best we could."
It was a difficult pregnancy for Maberry. She was at first diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, which is a severe type of nausea and vomiting that occurs during pregnancy. She was put on several medications before she began to feel better, medical records viewed by ABC News show.
Maberry and her husband found out they were going to have a girl, who they named Willow. Then came the 20-week ultrasound, during which Maberry's OBGYN told her the fetus had anencephaly, confirmed in medical records viewed by ABC News.
Anencephaly is a serious birth defect, which occurs when the brain and skull do not fully develop. Babies with the condition are either stillborn or die within a few hours or days of being born.
It is estimated that 1 in about 4,600 babies in the United States are born with anencephaly every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It felt like hell," Maberry said of hearing the diagnosis. "It just felt like somebody was beating me down. I mean, that was just the worst feeling in the world. The worst news any parent could ever get."
A second opinion at another hospital confirmed the diagnosis. Maberry was aware of Kentucky's strict abortion laws that went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Abortion in Kentucky is almost totally banned with very limited exceptions.
In February 2023, the state's highest court allowed a separate so-called "heartbeat" law to remain in place, which prevents abortions from occurring after cardiac activity can be detected.
"Generally, the clinical recommendation would be for a patient to decide what they want to do in that scenario, but with the caveat that one outcome is likely going to be a stillbirth or fetal demise," Dr. Sadia Haider, an OBGYN at Rush University Medical Center who did not treat Maberry, told ABC News. "The patients can choose what they want to do in this scenario, whether they will continue the pregnancy, deliver, and about fetal demise versus choose to terminate…Most places prior to Roe being overturned would have offered those, even in restricted states."
Haider said it does not matter if there's a fetal heartbeat or not because the fetus will unfortunately die either during birth or shortly after being born.
"In this scenario, it's irrelevant whether there's a heartbeat or not because anencephaly basically means there's no brain development or no brain, essentially like no neurologic development, which is essential for survival," she said.
Maberry asked if an abortion could be performed, but her doctor told her he could not perform an abortion for her or induce her because of the law. ABC News reached out to the doctor's office for a comment on their care for Maberry, but did not hear back.
"The only option I had here was to continue carrying her with the same outcome for another you know, 17, 18 weeks," she said. "I said, 'I physically can't and mentally can't continue carrying her knowing that she's never gonna breathe, we're never going to have a life with her.' So, we came to the decision that we were going to try to get an abortion."
Maberry said she called the National Abortion Hotline, which referred her to an abortion clinic in Chicago. Originally, she was quoted $3,300 for the procedure. However, she said the hotline, as well as other abortion funds, helped cover the cost of the procedure.
The funds also helped cover the cost of hotels and food for herself and her husband, Maberry said. Without the help, she estimates they would have needed to pay $6,000 to $7,000 out of pocket.
During the abortion, which was confirmed in medical records viewed by ABC News, Maberry learned that her daughter had other deformities, including missing some of her toes.
Maberry said prior to this experience she didn't believe in abortion for herself, but didn't think it meant other people shouldn't be able to have the procedure.
She said she is not mad at her doctor, but she is angry at the law and the legislators in Kentucky who supported the bill that led to her being required to leave her state to receive care.
"I mean most of them are men," she said. "They are never going to have to carry a child. They're never going to have to be in the position, they're never gonna be the one that was carrying that baby and had to go through hell."
Kentucky lawmakers who have supported the bans have called abortion "a stain on our country" and have said abortion is against their religious beliefs.
Haider said not offering abortion services in several states is putting a significant burden on patients, especially for those who receive those fatal diagnoses.
"There's so much involved in choosing to continue with pregnancy, choosing to go through the delivery as far as like physically, emotionally and otherwise," she said. "And allowing patients to have a choice in how long they have to continue this for -- given the negative outcome that they're gonna face -- is really important."
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