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Deborah Dorbert and her husband Lee are faced with the heartbreaking decision of saying goodbye to their second-born child, who was diagnosed with Potter syndrome, a fatal fetal abnormality. Halfway through her pregnancy, Deborah’s routine ultrasound revealed that the baby had devastating abnormalities, and their doctors told them that because of Florida’s new abortion law, they could not terminate the pregnancy. The law, called H.B. 5 – Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality, went into effect last July and bans abortion after 15 weeks with a few exceptions, including one that permits a later termination if “two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality” and has not reached viability.

Despite the condition, the Dorberts were unable to get approval to terminate the pregnancy, so they decided to swaddle the newborn in a warm blanket, show their love, and weep hello even as they say goodbye. They have also decided to have the baby’s fragile body cremated and are looking into ways of memorializing their child permanently, perhaps with a glass figurine infused with ashes or an ornament bearing the imprint of a tiny finger.

The combination of a narrow exception to the law and harsh penalties for violating it terrifies physicians. Florida physicians who violate the new law face penalties, including the possibility of losing their licenses, steep fines, and up to five years in prison. As a result, they “are likely to err on the side of questioning whether the conditions are fully met,” says Autumn Katz, the interim director of litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who has been tracking the implementation of abortion bans across the country.

Potter syndrome, a fatal fetal abnormality, is typically detected on anatomy scans midway through pregnancy. Apart from a clinical trial and a few physicians who are experimenting with replacing the amniotic fluid, there are no treatment options. The Dorberts have chosen to provide comfort care rather than trying to prolong their baby’s life on a ventilator or with other extreme interventions.

For much of the time, Deborah’s pregnancy is disconcertingly normal, though she has stopped going in for regular checkups to escape the company of expectant mothers. Despite the repeat ultrasounds that told them so much about the fetal abnormalities, the Dorberts have never learned the baby’s sex. Each time, the baby’s legs were crossed or the umbilical cord was in the way. But they have already picked out names: Milo if it is another boy and Malia for a girl.

The high-tech clinical advances and high-stakes legal challenges may change outcomes in the future for parents whose fetuses are diagnosed with Potter syndrome. Still, not for the Dorberts, who are navigating the remaining days with caution, aware that even the most mundane event can transform into an ordeal. Recently, during a visit from Deborah’s parents, the couples ventured out for dinner. At the barbecue restaurant, Deborah’s father spotted two other heavily pregnant women and saw his daughter looking over at them. He wondered what Deborah was thinking, but couldn’t bring himself to ask.

If you’re like me, reading this story tugs at your heartstrings. It’s a reminder that abortion is not just about the rights of the mother or the rights of the fetus; it’s about the complex choices that people face every day. The Dorberts’ story underscores the need for empathy and compassion in our discussions about abortion and highlights the importance of preserving reproductive freedom.

If you’re moved by this story and want to help others like the Dorberts, consider donating to organizations that fight for reproductive rights and provide Support for families facing similar situations. Remember that the decisions surrounding pregnancy and childbirth are deeply personal, and it’s not our place to judge.

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