Marlena Stell’s dreams of having another child fell apart when she found out she had a miscarriage just 9 and ½ weeks into her pregnancy. She went to the doctor’s office and was told the fetus no longer had a heartbeat. She asked the doctor to perform a dilation and curettage (D and C), a standard procedure that removes the fetus following a miscarriage to prevent infection and long-term health problems.
Stell and her husband had their first child in April 2020 and now they are trying for a second. She went through D and C when she experienced her first miscarriage in 2018 in Washington state. She says she felt so much pain that she couldn’t walk, and she didn’t want to go through the same thing again with her second child.
But she was shocked to discover that her doctor couldn’t perform the procedure because of the new six-week abortion ban in Texas. D and C operations are also used during abortions. Now that abortions have been severely limited in the state, Stell’s doctor said they didn’t feel comfortable removing the dead fetus. She had no choice but to carry the dead fetus for two weeks before she finally found a provider that could perform the procedure.
“My doctor had said that since the heartbeat bill had just passed, she didn’t want me to do a D and C. And she asked that I try to miscarry at home,” Stell said. “It just was emotionally difficult walking around, knowing that I had a dead fetus inside.”
She is now sharing her story online where she has 1.5 million followers as a beauty influencer.
“People need to understand how these laws affect all women, even cases like mine,” she said. “I feel like it’s very dangerous for government of any type to be intervening in a woman’s care because there’s multiple reasons of why she may need a procedure.”
Stell isn’t alone.
Doctors in multiple states say standard procedures for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and other common complications are being debated, delayed, and even denied in some cases. Pharmacists have also started questioning patients they suspect may be using miscarriage medications for abortions.
The Biden Administration recently passed an executive order requiring providers to perform an abortion in medical emergencies if the mother’s life is at risk. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing to stop these new rules from going into effect.
Studies show more than one in four pregnancies end in a miscarriage. The methods for treating a miscarriage and abortion are the same. Both can be treated using a mix of mifepristone and misoprostol, or through D and C, which includes dilating the cervix and clearing tissue from the uterus.
Stell, 42, recently moved with her family to Texas even though she knew she was considered a high risk because of her age. She finally found a doctor that specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
“I was about 7½ weeks pregnant, and everything looked great,” Stell said. “The doctor said there was some movements and fluttering, but everything with the pregnancy looked normal.”
She was asked to come back in two weeks later for a follow-up appointment. Her husband wasn’t allowed in at the time because of the coronavirus, so she decided to record the conversation on her phone.
“I’m getting ready to record because I’m excited,” Stell recalled. “But as soon as she started the ultrasound, [the doctor] got really silent, and was just looking and looking and didn’t see the fluttering or the movement or anything.”
That’s when she found out her fetus no longer had a heartbeat. The child succumbed to what’s known as blighted ovum, which is when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus but does not develop into an embryo.
The doctor told her that she couldn’t get D and C unless she had additional proof the fetus was no longer viable, including multiple ultrasounds. She was initially confused. She had no problem accessing the procedure in Washington in 2018, but doctors in Texas are taking a more cautious approach.
“I felt like a walking coffin,” she said, fighting through tears. “You’re just walking around knowing that you have something that you hoped was going to be a baby for you, and it’s gone. And you’re just walking around carrying it.”
She eventually received D and C from a doctor in Houston. She recounted the experience on her popular YouTube channel.
“I get so angry that I was treated this way because of laws that were passed by men who have never been pregnant and never will be,” Stell said at the time. “I’m frustrated, I’m angry, and I feel like the women here deserve better than that. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence that you want to sit on, laws like this affect all women regardless of what situation you’re in, and it’s not right.”
She recently decided not to have any more children in Texas because of the new law. She plans on leaving the state before she tries to get pregnant again.
“Our fear is that if I get pregnant and miscarry again that something will happen,” she said. “We just do not feel confident at all that we’ll get the care that we need in Texas if something were to happen.”
“It’s added trauma on top of trauma,” she added. “It’s important to share this story so people know how these laws affect all women.”