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'Wait in the parking lot to die': Okla. woman files complaint against hospitals after abortion ordeal

Jaci Statton speaks at a press conference held by the Center for Reproductive Rights on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023
Center for Reproductive Rights
Jaci Statton speaks at a press conference held by the Center for Reproductive Rights on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023

Updated Tuesday at 2:54 p.m.

Eight women, four doctors, and a medical organization spanning three states are challenging abortion bans they say have endangered lives.

During a press conference hosted by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed complaints in Oklahoma, Idaho, and Tennessee on behalf of the plaintiffs, President and CEO Nancy Northup said Oklahoma’s legal action is coming in the form of a federal complaint filed against OU Health.

The complaint says Jaci Statton, a pregnant woman, was diagnosed in early 2023 with a “partial molar pregnancy,” an emergency that could cause infection, hemorrhaging, and death. After the diagnosis from her local doctor, Statton visited the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. There, she says the vote of a single person prevented her from receiving an exception to Oklahoma’s nearly total abortion ban.

“The ultrasound tech refused to sign off on the exception. He insisted that he could hear a heartbeat and told the doctors they could not touch me to due to the ban. I remember hearing the doctors pleading with him,” said Statton during the press conference.

Statton was transferred to Oklahoma’s Children Hospital, where she was again refused an abortion. She says staff told her husband to wait nearby with her until the situation became more dire.

“With sympathy, they did tell him that they couldn’t touch me until I was crashing, and that we should wait in the parking lot until I was about to die,” said Statton.

Two days later, Statton says she traveled to Kansas and received an abortion in Wichita.

Statton’s complaint is filed under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, or EMTALA, that holds hospitals must treat patients who are experiencing emergencies.

“We have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate under this law,” said Rabia Muqaddam, who is Statton’s lawyer through the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Muqaddam says she hopes Statton’s case will mirror Mylissa Farmer’s, a Missouri woman who should’ve been given an emergency abortion, according to the feds.

If OU Health is found to have violated EMTALA, Muqaddam says HHS could work with the hospital to make sure it understands its obligations. Mandated policy changes, fines, or other financial actions related to Medicare and Medicaid would also be possible.

A ruling in Statton’s favor could also be a “strong tool” for women's health advocates, says Muqaddam.

“We can use [it] to go to any hospital in the state and say, ‘If you’re treating patients like these hospitals treated Jaci, then you are violating federal law.’”

In a statement, OU Health says it remains "steadfast and committed to providing the highest quality and compassionate care for women of all ages and stages of life. Our healthcare complies with state and federal laws and regulatory compliance standards. Our physicians and staff are aware of and follow state and federal laws."

This article was updated to include OU Health's statement.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.