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Hospital Counters Austin Couple's Claim Over Abortion Limits

An Austin hospital is contradicting a couple's account that the state’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks kept them from ending an ill-fated pregnancy.

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An Austin hospital is contradicting a couple's account that the state’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks kept its doctors from ending an ill-fated pregnancy, suggesting that a different state abortion law prohibited them from inducing labor to resolve her pregnancy complications.

Daniel and Taylor Mahaffey were preparing for the birth of a son when Taylor’s cervix dilated prematurely in late March. The couple went to St. David's North Austin Medical Center.

When emergency procedures to keep the developing baby inside the womb were unsuccessful, the couple was “told because the baby was still healthy and she was so far along that they couldn’t induce,” Daniel Mahaffey said in a previous interview with The Texas Tribune. After three days, the baby was stillborn.

Daniel Mahaffey said the couple was told doctors could not induce labor under state law because it would be considered an abortion. Abortions after 20 weeks are prohibited by House Bill 2, the state's 2013 restrictions.

But hospital officials said in a statement that the “media portrayal of the facts of this case is incomplete” and that HB 2's 20-week abortion ban, "does not apply in this particular situation." While they would not discuss specifics of the case citing patient privacy laws, their statement provided detail on a different restriction Texas doctors must follow before performing an abortion: the state's 24-hour waiting period. 

"House Bill 15 requires informed patient consent, as well as a 24-hour waiting period, for pregnant women prior to termination,” the hospital said in a statement. “When a patient with a fetus not compatible with life presents to the hospital, the policy of St. David’s HealthCare is to begin the 24-hour waiting period after a documented physician consultation with the patient, immediate administrative approval, and a signed consent form by the patient and two OB/GYNs.”

Additionally, St. David's policy only allows for terminating a pregnancy to avert death or substantial harm to the mother, or if a fetus is incompatible with life, the hospital had said in a previous statement.

Citing patient privacy laws, the hospital would not comment on what specifically the Mahaffeys were told.

After being told labor could not be induced, “we spent the next two to three days basically waiting for nature to take its course,” Daniel Mahaffey said. Taylor Mahaffey was just past 17 weeks of pregnancy, according to a post on her Facebook page.

“I think they were afraid because we were so close” to the 20-week mark, Daniel Mahaffey added. 

The Mahaffeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the hospital's statement. In a separate Facebook post, Taylor Mahaffey said the couple knew for two days that their baby "would die the moment he left my body."

"There was no way to keep him in," she wrote. "But because he had a heartbeat any attempts to manually remove him would be considered illegal."

She added: "Under Texas' oppressive, disgusting and inhumane regulations I was forced to spend two days feeling my babies feet kick my insides as he struggled to stay in place; then labor and birth a baby that had no chance of survival."

In its statement, the hospital said the patient was provided with care that was "compassionate, clinically sound and compliant with Texas law."

"No matter the details reported by the media, correct or not, no one can argue that this is a family going through a very difficult time," the hospital's statement said. "Our hearts go out to them and all families in similar circumstances."

Disclosure: St. David's HealthCare is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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