Dr. DeShawn Taylor is beyond mincing words about what will be a very bleak landscape in her own state of Arizona, and 25 other Republican-controlled states, when the Supreme Court likely ends Roe V. Wade, as the law of the land in America early this summer. Justice Samuel Alito‘s leaked majority opinion eviscerating and overturning Roe V. Wade, will leave half of the country’s women without any option of abortion beyond six weeks of pregnancy. Most of the states make no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Some ban abortion from the moment of conception. Most only leave minor exceptions to save the life of the mother.
Depending on the state, doctors and women themselves could be charged with crimes, even homicide, and sentenced to prison if they participate in an abortion. Dr. DeShawn Taylor, an OB-GYN, a clinical professor, and the owner of the Desert Star Family Planning Clinic in Phoenix, is very clear about what the loss of reproductive choice means. “The idea that these restrictions (on abortion) are about the life of a mother is a lie. They (the GOP lawmakers) don’t care about women’s health. Maternal mortality has increased in all the states that already have many restrictions on abortion,” she points out. “They want to take us back to a place where women are barefoot, pregnant, in the home, and be damned if you die, because people are going to die.”
In fact, seven out of eight of the states with the very highest mortality rates for pregnant women in the US are Republican controlled. Louisiana, Georgia, and Indiana, have the highest rates of death for pregnant women in the US. Then if that news isn’t bad enough, the US has by far the highest maternal mortality rate of 10 developed countries.
In 2018, 17 pregnant women died for every 100,000 live births — a number that is double that of other high-income countries including Canada, Great Britian, Australia, Germany, and France. And our maternal death rate has already been rising since 2000. Dr. Taylor and other doctors warn that being pregnant will be even riskier to women once Roe V. Wade is overturned. “There can be things that develop during pregnancy that can be dangerous, and it can be dangerous for women to continue those pregnancies,” explains Dr. Krishna Upadhya, Vice President of Quality Care and Health Equity at Planned Parenthood. “Not having access to abortion means they will have to continue those pregnancies, no matter what the consequences.”
She isn’t kidding. Pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, placental abruptions, placenta previa, and cardiac conditions are so potentially deadly, that an abortion is often the only way to save the mother’s health or life, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Dr. Taylor, who founded her independent clinic in 2013 to provide safe abortions, reproductive healthcare, gender affirming healthcare, and miscarriage care, doesn’t know exactly how long it will take for Arizona to ban all or most abortions once Roe V. Wade is overturned. Arizona has a complete abortion ban on its books, which could trigger immediately, and the Republican-controlled legislature also passed a law called SB 1457, signed by Governor Doug Ducey in 2021, which bans abortions based on genetic conditions in the fetus like Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis, and it is also currently on hold.
If Arizona’s abortion ban becomes law Dr. Taylor concedes that she will no longer be providing abortion care to the millions of Arizona women. “I have no interest in going to jail, I won’t do illegal abortions,” but she fears for the people who would have been her patients. “While the leaked opinion wasn’t surprising, it was still jarring. I felt extreme anger and despair,” she told HollywoodLife in an exclusive interview.
“I’m worried that people will not get the treatment they need even if they run into wanted pregnancy complications (with these abortion bans.) It’s highly likely that emergency rooms will also turn women bleeding from miscarriages away, no matter how much they are bleeding,” she says, explaining that doctors in hospitals will fear being prosecuted if they help women who are miscarrying. “People can bleed to death and women will also die from ectopic pregnancies, even if these pregnancies are not ever going to go to term,” she says. She explains that an ectopic pregnancy is never viable and will eventually rupture in the space that it is lodged in [usually in a woman’s fallopian tube] and that will cause internal hemorrhage, which could cause death. That’s the only resolution to an ectopic pregnancy. “It’s going to get really messy,” she says.
Full abortion bans and the possibility of jail times, were not what Dr. Taylor anticipated when she decided to move to Arizona from California, where she trained at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California (UCLA) in Los Angeles. Her mom was planning to retire in Arizona and so she applied for the position as Medical Director at Arizona’s Planned Parenthood, in 2009. She recalls that there were no, yes that’s right, no abortion restrictions in the state at the time.
The Governor was a Democrat, Janet Napolitano, who soon after was appointed the Secretary of Homeland Security by then President Barack Obama. However, she was succeeded in Arizona by a Republican Governor and not long after that, the Republican dominated legislature passed the first restrictive laws infringing on abortion providers. Nonetheless, Dr. Taylor founded the Desert Star Family Planning Clinic in Phoenix in 2013.
“I had developed a really strong conviction about how I wanted abortion care to be provided and how I wanted people to feel,” she says. That was to provide excellent, high quality, and compassionate care. At the time, Desert Star was one of almost 20 clinics providing abortion in Arizona. Now, she says, there are just four or five independent clinics servicing the women in the state, who need an abortion.
But all of them will have to stop providing abortion care if Roe V. Wade is overturned and Arizona’s law banning abortion in almost all cases, is ‘triggered.’ That will mean that Arizonans who can’t afford a child, aren’t mentally prepared to have a child, or whose own health can’t support a pregnancy safely — will have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to Mexico, New Mexico, California, or another state, where safe abortions are still legal. It’s unclear at this point whether “medical abortion,” in which two prescription pills, Mifepristone and Misoprostol are administered, will still legally be possible in Arizona.
There will be no exceptions in Arizona, like most of the other 25 Republican-controlled states, for rape or incest, no matter how young a pregnant girl may be. “There will be people who are forced to continue pregnancies and it will be the people who are already struggling. People who are from lower economic status,” she says. These are people who don’t have the financial means and ability to flee to another state. She is certain that there will be lots of women who try to self-abort with herbs and other various concoctions, even if they aren’t effective.
There will be some exceptions to save the life of the mother, but Dr. Taylor fears that doctors and hospitals will be afraid to undertake a lifesaving abortion, in case they face jail time and/or lose their medical licenses. “Will we have to wait until a woman is on her deathbed before we can intervene?” Dr. Taylor wonders. But there is no guarantee that doctors will be able to tell exactly when a woman who is in medical distress, gets to the point of being near death. None of the new state laws provide a guideline, and medical situations can be unpredictable. That’s why even formerly healthy women having wanted pregnancies will end up dying.
Dr. Taylor has herself saved the lives of multiple pregnant women by providing a necessary abortion. She explains that women who have heart or cardiac issues often want to risk a pregnancy and feel fine in the first trimester. It’s the second trimester that these women start to get elevated blood pressure and start having trouble breathing.
“Young women with potential heart failure have a very high likelihood of dying in childbirth,” explains Dr. Taylor. “The medical term is cardiomyopathy, where there is a defect in the heart muscle and it can’t sustain the stress of all the changes that happen in a body to prepare someone for the massive blood loss that happens during delivery. So if they continue the pregnancy, their heart will fail.”
Taylor tells the story of a young mother of two who was 22 weeks pregnant and had initially refused an abortion because of her religious beliefs. (She suffered an infection called endocarditis which damaged her heart while she was pregnant.) The woman ended up in the cardiac intensive care unit on a heart lung bypass machine and she was dying. The doctors in the hospital were afraid to give her an abortion.
“For me, I was under the belief that we have to do what we can to try to save this woman’s life. If we have it within our power to save this woman, we need to save her,” says Taylor. A medical associate of Taylor’s spoke with the woman, “It was like, do you really want to leave your children motherless, because you are dying and we can help you?” The woman changed her mind and decided that she very much wanted the abortion.
Taylor was able to complete her abortion in five minutes, she relates, and the woman began to improve immediately. “The fetus was killing her.” Two days later, the woman went home to her family. That is one example of a situation where in a post Roe world, a deathly ill pregnant woman might not be saved in time, if her doctors feared prosecution.
Then there are cases where women have incomplete miscarriages and start bleeding. “If we don’t treat them (if there is still a faint fetal heartbeat) these people can start hemorrhaging and can bleed to death. says Dr. Taylor. “It’s highly likely that the emergency rooms will turn bleeding woman away, no matter how much they are bleeding.”
Then there are cases where pregnant women learn they are carrying fetuses with severe abnormalities or lethal genetic conditions, well after six weeks of pregnancy. Now, these women will no longer be able to end these heartbreaking pregnancies. Dr. Taylor once had to deliver a baby, when she was a medical intern, that had a brain that never developed. It’s a condition called anencephaly. She explains that when the brain doesn’t develop, neither does the skull structure. So the head is bony.
During the delivery, “The woman’s vagina tore the entire way as the sharpest parts of the baby’s head hit it. That made an impression on me, and I thought, if I can avoid this for somebody, I’m going to learn how to do it,” she recounts. “With all the bleeding that happened and the repair of the vagina that was necessary, I was like ‘nobody should have to go through that.'”
But they will now, in about 26 states, once Roe is overturned. No matter what happens, Dr. Taylor vows to keep the Desert Star Clinic open to provide miscarriage management, gender affirming care, and reproductive health checkups and treatment. She plans to help in whatever way she can to get out the vote for the 2022 midterm elections including for the state legislature, governor, and attorney general.
After all, it’s the Republican controlled legislature and governor who have put the anti-abortion laws in place in Arizona. “We have a chance to unseat some of these people,” she hopes. “Hopefully, the overturning of Roe V. Wade will be a catalyst for votes. In fact, we need legislation that makes abortion healthcare protected. Abortion isn’t an ideology, it’s a form of pregnancy related care.”
For now, while abortion is still legal, Dr. DeShawn Taylor will keep providing the abortion care that Arizona women need.