OMAHA, Neb. — Danielle Deaver was about 22 weeks into her pregnancy when doctors told her she wouldn't be able to carry to term and her child would die soon after birth. Then to her surprise, she learned doctors couldn't end her non-viable pregnancy because of a new Nebraska law barring late-term abortions.
"It wasn't an abortion," Deaver said in an interview Sunday. "We wanted this baby."
The law bans abortions after 20 weeks based on the disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain after that point. It prevented doctors from medically inducing Deaver to go into labor, and they told her she would have to go into labor naturally.
Ten days later, on Dec. 8, she gave birth to a baby girl named Elizabeth who died in her mother's arms after 15 minutes.
"It was very frustrating and added to our grief because the waiting compounded everything," said Deaver, who suffered three miscarriages before giving birth to a healthy boy in May 2008.
Deaver, 34, of Grand Island, said the law should at least have an exception for women diagnosed with non-viable pregnancies. She said she hadn't yet decided whether she would ask lawmakers to change the law or challenge it in court.
But her case highlights a problem with the law because it doesn't include an exception for non-viable pregnancies or similar medical situations, said Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. "There are many different outcomes to pregnancy and Danielle's tragic circumstance was not provided for in the legislation," June said Sunday. "That law tied the hands of her doctors from providing her the health care she wanted and needed."
Nebraska's law, which took effect Oct. 15, outlaws abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain after that point. It is a departure from the standard of viability, established by the 1973 landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, which allows states to limit abortions in cases where there's a viable chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks.
Nebraska is the only state to have a ban on abortions tied to fetal pain, although other states, including Kansas and Iowa, are considering similar measures.
While some doctors contend that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it knows of no legitimate evidence showing a fetus can ever experience pain. It says a fetus' brain begins its final stage of development between the 20th and 40th weeks of pregnancy, and that certain hormones that develop in the final trimester also must be present for it to feel pain. It's not known exactly when those hormones form.
Deaver, whose story was first reported Sunday by the Des Moines Register, said she didn't know about the law until her doctors informed her they couldn't medically induce her labor and end the non-viable pregnancy because the fetus still had a heartbeat. She declined to give her position on abortion, saying it was irrelevant to her situation.
Nebraska Right to Life executive director Julie Schmit-Albin said Sunday that the law is meant to protect all unborn babies. Her group pushed for the law last year in the state Legislature.
"We acknowledge the tragedy that occurs with a poor prenatal diagnosis for the baby. But isn't it more humane for the baby to die in a loving manner with comfort care and in the arms of her parents than by the intentional painful death through abortion?" she said.
The measure was introduced by Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, who didn't immediately respond to a phone message or e-mail seeking comment.
Flood told the Des Moines Register that he believed the law worked as intended.
"Even in these situations where the baby has a terminal condition or there's not much chance of surviving outside the womb, my point has been and remains that is still a life," he said.