by Charlottesville, VA-based emergency room nurse Kellen Squire
The realities of a post-Roe world are coming hard and fast. Even for those of us who trumpeted warnings for years about the ramifications of Roe being rescinded… I don’t think even the most pessimistic among us are prepared for what we are about to go through.
It needs to be made clear that nothing that is about to happen was ever necessary.
It was the result of tireless work done by the same people who lauded Donald Trump for paying his mistresses to have abortions: six Supreme Court justices who were willing to throw away jurisprudence, legal reasoning, and even common sense to exercise sheer power and effectively rule as an unelected legislature, attempting to reshape the landscape of the United States of America against the will and wishes of the vast majority of it’s citizens. Rescinding the rights of millions of Americans simply because they could.
I want to warn you now – this post is gut wrenching. It will not be easy to read. Below are four stories from frontline providers, using their firsthand experience to try and let you know what is about to occur in your state, in your community, in the days ahead… harbingers of hundreds- thousands! – more stories just like them to come.
But even these are only a mere glimpse at the heartache and suffering ahead.
In Mobile, Alabama, a 32-year-old mother of three presents to her local emergency department with pelvic pain and spotting while 17 weeks pregnant. It had been a difficult pregnancy; she’d been having debilitating morning sickness for the last two months, and had coupled that with a COVID infection in between, the combination of which had almost hospitalized her.
Three hours into her wait to see a provider, she rushed to the triage bathroom – and then began screaming. The triage nurse and an EMT were quickly summoned to discover that she had miscarried while waiting to be seen. A stretcher was rolled into triage, and she was carefully lifted onto it. The ER staff rolled her into a semi-private room – the only one available – as she sobbed uncontrollably, both in pain and sorrow. A lifetime of plans for her future had evaporated on a dirty toilet in a busy ER waiting room.
The ER staff attended to her as best as they could… not knowing that both the patient, and every one of them, would soon be subpoenaed. The local district attorney, who described himself as a “staunch and unapologetic pro-lifer”, had said publicly he intended to use the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that Americans had no inherent right to privacy to “finally hold these women accountable for the evil they do.” Now, every single woman that miscarried in his district was a suspect- and every medical provider that assisted them was a potential accomplice- and he felt it was his “duty as a Christian and a Republican” to not rest until he found someone, anyone, who he could indict.
Luckily- if you can call that luck – the patient made it to an emergency department before she miscarried. Had she miscarried at home, she would have been left on her own to try to fight the weight of the local district attorney to prove, in the middle of her pain and misery and taking care of three other children, that she wasn’t somehow personally responsible for the tragedy she was going through – or face losing her kids and going to jail.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, a 27-year old woman from Texas presented to the level-one emergency department there, rolling back and forth, wrapping her arms around herself, and sweating profusely. She was not able to give a full account to the triage nurse of what was wrong with her- but the triage nurse noted her pulse was alarmingly high, and blood pressure alarmingly low. She was rushed into a treatment room, where a coterie of nurses, technicians, residents, and the attending doctor began to work feverishly to discover what was wrong.
She is quickly discovered to have had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy – and the race is on to save her life. A half a dozen units of blood and a touch-and-go emergency surgery later, and the patient is recovering in the ICU, where the consensus is that had she come in mere minutes later, she would have died. While the care team is congratulated on saving the woman’s life, they are unaware of the storm brewing in the state the patient was a resident of.
When the patient had begun to have symptoms of pelvic pain and spotting, she visited what had been advertised as a women’s health clinic. Instead, she had been tricked into visiting a crisis pregnancy center, staffed by people with no medical training whatsoever and armed with a purpose to further their own agenda. With no medical training whatsoever, they completely missed the early warning signs of ectopic pregnancy, told the patient her symptoms were a hundred percent normal, and sent her on her way with pamphlets on going to church, shaming her for engage in pre-marital sex, and what her pregnancy meant to God.
As her condition progressed and worsened, having been told they were normal by the crisis pregnancy, she began to have serious doubts about being pregnant and suffering through symptoms that were quickly becoming debilitating. She decided to drive to visit a friend in Suffolk, Virginia, where abortion was still legal- but only got as far as Charlottesville before she had to pull off and find the nearest emergency department.
Unfortunately, she’d made a public Facebook post about being pregnant, and then a short while later looking for a friend to drive her to Virginia… noticed by a few of her Facebook contacts who decided it was their mission to report her. One had a friend who worked at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and since HIPAA did not apply to them, they were more than happy to share the details of the patient’s visit to the local authorities… who then embarked on a journey to force a woman who had come within minutes of dying to prove that she had, indeed, been close enough to death to deserve to make her own medical decisions.
Which is how, a few weeks later, eleven medical staff at the medical center found themselves being served legal paperwork to appear in court in another state – or face extradition. That’s right; even though Texas has a backlog of over 3,500 untested rape kits, they have decided their priority is looking to prosecute women who have abortions and go after abortion providers, even those out of state, even those in emergency services, because they “want to make an example of these women”.
The story quickly garnered national media attention. The Charlottesville City and Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorneys steadfastly refused to cooperate, putting their offices in between the legal storm and the medical professionals that kept their community safe. Unfortunately for them, Jason Miyares, Virginia’s new Attorney General, had ambitions for higher office- he’d made it no small secret he was auditioning for a spot in a potential DeSantis administration – and pledged publicly to cooperate with any extradition request, feigning helplessness to “cooperate with a legitimate law enforcement request”.
While the situation for these medical providers was eventually resolved, it took hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and many months of fighting. The attending physician and three of the nurses involved left the medical field entirely, depriving the area’s only Level One emergency department with a combined eighty years of medical experience between them- and negatively affecting every single person in the central Virginia area.
In Provo, Utah a 17-year old sat sobbing alone in an ER triage bay – her clothing was torn, and a black eye was quickly making itself apparent – waiting to be examined by a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse. The ER staff had spoken to her mother, out of town at a business conference across the country, to get permission to treat her, but even at the breakneck speed her mother was scrambling, she was still twelve hours away.
The SANE nurse arrived, and even though the nurse was exceptionally trained, talented, and considerate of what the patient had been through, the 17-year-old was subjected to the second most degrading violation of her body of her life – the first having occurred only hours before. After the examination was done, the nurse spent a few minutes consoling the patient, before excusing herself and, with the patient’s permission, picking up the phone to call her mother.
The SANE nurse went over what had happened with the patient’s mother, who she could tell was barely keeping it together as she hurried back to be with her daughter. It was too early to know if her daughter was pregnant, the SANE nurse explained, but if she was, to obtain an abortion she would have to try and convince the local police that she had actually been raped. And unfortunately, the nurse said, in her brutally honest experience, this was almost impossible – and came with a set of further trauma of its own – so the mother may want to make arrangements to take her daughter to California.
Finally, in Columbus, Ohio, a 39-year-old woman at her obstetrician for a normal checkup at 20 weeks saw her ultrasound technicians’ face begin to lose all color as she spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time doing what was supposed to be a normal ultrasound. The technician quickly excused themselves from the room, which caused the woman to share a concerned glance with her husband. They had been trying for years to conceive, miscarrying three times previously, and when they’d hit the twenty week mark, after counting each and every day with apprehension, the couple had celebrated. Crying and hugging one another, they finally announced to all their family and friends the joyous news.
But it wasn’t to be. A short while later, the doctor came into the room with a gravity that immediately made the bottom fall out of the pit of the woman’s stomach. The words of the doctor calmly explaining that their child – the one they had hoped and dreamed of having for fifteen years – had a lethal fetal anomaly initially fell on the couple as if the doctor had been speaking Latin. Incomprehensible. Their brains were unable to comprehend it.
It was only when the doctor looked them in the eye, very seriously, and explained that even though the mother’s life was now seriously at risk, abortion for lethal fetal anomalies was now illegal- and that, regardless of what they wanted to do, the State of Ohio had decided that if the woman didn’t die in the process, she would carry to term, undergo delivery, and then watch their child die.
The scenarios I’ve written about here are not going to be hypotheticals for long. They will play out across the country, repeatedly, in days and weeks to come. And these scenarios are exactly why we have screamed, time and time again, that bodily autonomy is a human right. It shouldn’t only matter in extreme situations; it should always matter so that it never has to matter in extreme situations.
There is nothing now we can do to avoid the worst of what is to come. Like so many other crises affecting our country – COVID, climate change, our slipping democracy- we are now unavoidably going to suffer through some truly awful times.
But that doesn’t mean we can give up – we can’t. It doesn’t mean there is nothing that we can do – there is, and we must.
We have to support local organizations, like the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, like Planned Parenthood Virginia, who will be doing the hard work in the days and weeks ahead. We have to try and flip and hold critical races, both for federal candidates- like Abigail Spanberger, whose opponent just said aloud you can’t get pregnant if you’re raped – and state candidates, like Lashrecse Aird, who is running against a Democrat who many are concerned will be okay banning abortion in Virginia as long as he can have his law license reinstated.
And we have to understand this will be a long and hard process. The road ahead has potholes and washouts we can’t even see right now. It will get worse before it gets better. We have to be prepared for that. To make sure the scenarios above happen to as few people as possible. Prepared to stand up to the most vulnerable among us.
We are fighting for the right of every person in this country to control what happens to their own body. Nothing more. Nothing less. And we must not, can not, rest until that immutable right is protected for each and every one of us.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, running against the author of Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound law in the bluest district the Virginia GOP still holds. Donate, volunteer for, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign, today!