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After being denied life-saving abortion, Oklahoma woman files hospital complaint

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After being denied life-saving abortion, Oklahoma woman files hospital complaint

Sep 13, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Carmen Forman
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After being denied life-saving abortion, Oklahoma woman files hospital complaint
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An Oklahoma woman is asking federal health agencies to investigate the Oklahoma Children's Hospital after she said medical staff at the facility denied her a life-saving abortion. (Photo by Kyle Phillips/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma woman who says she was turned away from a local hospital system when seeking an abortion due to life-threatening pregnancy complications has filed a federal complaint against OU Health.

Just a few months into her pregnancy, Jaci Statton, of Meeker, found herself suffering from vaginal bleeding and nearly fainting due to intense pain.

She had a partial molar pregnancy, a rare medical condition that meant her fetus would not survive. As a result of the condition, Statton, 26, had cysts inside her uterus and was at risk of bleeding to death if they ruptured.

But because an ultrasound technician at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital said he detected fetal cardiac activity, Statton said she was denied an abortion.

State GOP elected officials enacted a strict, near-total abortion ban after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned long-standing protections for women seeking the procedure.

Hospital staff told Statton’s husband to bring her back to the facility if her symptoms worsened, she said.

“They did tell him that they couldn’t touch me until I was crashing, and that I should wait in the parking lot until I was about to die,” Statton said.

Statton and the Center for Reproductive Rights are asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to launch an investigation into the incident. They want federal officials to find that the hospital violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act when denying Statton an abortion.

OU Health spokesperson David McCollum did not comment specifically on the complaint.

“Our physicians and staff remain steadfast and committed to providing the highest quality and compassionate care for women of all ages and stages of life,” he said in a statement. “Our health care complies with state and federal laws and regulatory compliance standards. Our physicians and staff are aware of and follow state and federal laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights officials hope that seeking federal action can prevent similar situations from happening to other Oklahomans seeking life-saving abortions.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid funds to provide the treatment necessary to stabilize a patient seeking care for an emergency medical condition. CMS includes pregnancy termination as an example of “stabilizing treatment” hospitals can be required to provide, according to the complaint.

If there is a federal investigation into Statton’s complaint, OU Health could be fined or asked to take corrective action.

Although the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled a woman has the right to seek an abortion when it is necessary to preserve her life, Center for Reproductive Rights officials say there’s still confusion about when doctors can perform the procedure in life-threatening medical situations.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office plans to issue updated guidance on when medically necessary abortions are legal in emergency situations, but a spokesperson said there’s no timeline on when that information will be released.

Oklahoma’s abortion ban makes it a felony to perform an abortion that’s not necessary to save a woman’s life. Although the woman seeking an abortion cannot be punished, a doctor performing the procedure could face prison time.

The impact of these abortion bans is extensive, said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Patients are forced to continue dangerous pregnancies that put their health, lives and future fertility at risk,” she said. “Hospitals are turning patients away, even in medical emergencies.

“What these laws are forcing physicians to do is weigh the very real threats of criminal prosecution against the health and well-being of their patients.”

After being turned away from Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, Statton terminated her pregnancy at an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas.

“The entire three hours up there, we worried would I even make the drive,” Statton said.

In her complaint, she said she still has not physically recovered from the ordeal.

Statton still has pain on the right side of her abdomen, where the cysts were concentrated, and she feels fatigued, according to the document.

In May, Statton underwent a procedure to close her fallopian tubes to prevent future pregnancies “because she believes that it is too risky to become pregnant again in Oklahoma,” the complaint said.