In Tucson forum, women recall horror stories of pregnancies gone wrong in states with abortion restrictions

At a roundtable discussion this week with Democratic congressional candidate Kirsten Engel, two women spoke to the challenges they faced when their pregnancies went awry in states with strict abortion restrictions.

Amanda Zurawski of Texas and Kaitlyn Joshua of Louisiana were in Tucson to share their stories as part of the Joe Biden presidential campaign’s effort to highlight abortion rights. 

Engel is seeking the CD6 office in Southern Arizona for the second time, after losing to Republican Juan Ciscomani in a race for an open seat in 2022.

At Thursday’s discussion, Zurawski recalled her experience in Texas as her pregnancy faced unexpected complications.

About two years ago, in the spring of 2022, she and her husband Josh discovered they were expecting a baby girl after Zurawski, 27, had struggled to get pregnant and undergone “grueling” fertility treatments. But at 18 weeks, her cervix dilated prematurely.

“We were, with 100 percent certainty, going to lose our baby,” Zurawski said. “We were devastated.”

But the news came days after Texas’ near-total abortion had gone into effect just days earlier, “so ending my pregnancy would have been considered an illegal abortion and my doctor would be at risk of loss of her license and even jail time,” she said. 

“I was told to just wait until I got so sick that my life was considered in danger, which is one of the rare exceptions in Texas where a doctor can intervene. So for me, it took three days and a near-death crash into septic shock before my doctor could finally provide the health care that I so desperately needed,” she said.

Zurawski spent three days in the ICU.

“It was in that dark and lonely hospital room where I realized i was lucky to be alive,” she said. “Other might not be. … It didn’t need to happen. But it did because of Donald Trump. Over and over again, Donald Trump brags about killing Roe v Wade. It is unthinkable to me that anyone could cheer on these events that nearly cost me my life. But he does. And what’s more, he said that there should be some kind of penalty for women like me and Caitlin.”

As she and her husband seek to get pregnant through IVF, she worries that future legislation or court decisions will make that illegal, too.

“Earlier this year, we watched in complete terror as the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision that instantly halted IVF services in that state,” she said. “This is again directly the result of Donald Trump and his policies. And in an interview, Trump refuses to say that he would veto legislation that would threaten IVF access across the country.”

Joshua, 31, had a similar story to tell about her experience in Louisiana.

She and her husband had a three-year-old kid when she became pregnant with her second child. But at 11 weeks, the trouble started. “I started experiencing major blood loss and pain worse than childbirth,” she remembered.

Her husband was at work so she drove herself to the emergency room and after her evaluation, she received terrible news: The fetus had stopped growing and she was experiencing a miscarriage.

“Because of the state’s abortion ban, the healthcare team was afraid to tell me what was happening with my body,” Joshua said. “They sent me home saying they would pray for me.”

The next day, the bleeding and pain worsened so Joshua went to a different hospital with her husband and mother.

“The standard treatment for miscarriage that I was experiencing at the time was exactly the same treatment as abortion care,” she said. “At the second hospital, the staff told me, ‘We’re not doing that right now.’ They told me to go home and wait. Ultimately, it took me weeks to pass on pregnancy at home, and I was absolutely terrified. The experience has made me see firsthand how black women are dying at alarming rates in this country.”

Joshua said the situation could get much worse if Republican politicians are successful in banning abortion nationwide.

“Arizonans will have the opportunity to vote for state level protections for reproductive freedom this November, but Trump could take action as president to ban abortion access that would override those protections,” Joshua said. “In all 50 states, access to comprehensive reproductive health care is on the line this election.”

The two women were introduced by Kirsten Engel, who is seeking a rematch against Ciscomani, the District 6 Republican who defeated Engel by just 2 percentage points in 2022.

Engel has made abortion rights a campaign plank, pointing to Ciscomani’s voting record. He supported legislation that would have made it illegal to ship abortion medication through the U.S. mail and put barriers in the way of servicewomen who need to travel to a different state to terminate their pregnancy.

“My opponent, Juan Ciscomani, cheered the repeal of Roe v. Wade and he vetted the judges that brought back that 1864 abortion ban, who were appointed by our last Republican governor, Doug Ducey,” Engel said, referencing one of Cicsomani’s roles in the Ducey administration.

State Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton of Tucson, who sponsored the repeal of the 1864 ban, said that Arizona still has a 15-week ban that was signed into law in 2022 by Ducey.

‘We still have an abortion ban in effect in Arizona with no provisions none for survivors of sexual assault,” Stahl Hamilton said. “And we have important work ahead of us to fully restore reproductive freedoms in Arizona. We cannot let up now.”

Advocates of abortion rights announced in April they had already collected more than 500,000 signature in an initiative drive to put a question on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona constitution.

Stahl Hamilton sponsored legislation this year to affirm the legality of contraception this year but the legislation was killed.

“We watched as every single Republican in the Arizona Legislature voted against advancing that legislation for Arizonans,” Stahl Hamilton said. “In fact, Trump-endorsed Republican Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borelli argued in that fight that women should simply put an aspirin between their knees instead of using contraception.”

Stahl Hamilton urged the mostly female crowd to get engaged in this year’s political campaigns, saying that the key to restoring abortion rights is electing Democrats in November to flip the Arizona Legislature, where Republicans now hold a two-seat majority in both the House and Senate.

“With a Democratic majority in the Legislature, we would have delivered a repeal (of the 1864 abortion ban) on day one, not day 22,” Stahl Hamilton said. “With a Democratic majority in the Legislature, we could have protected Arizona’s right to birth control. … We’ve heard the trite phrase, ‘Vote like your life depends on it.’ We’re in a moment where it actually does.”