A devastating diagnosis. The ordeal to obtain an abortion. And the pain that followed

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

A Louisiana woman who traveled 1,400 miles for an abortion after learning her fetus would be born without a skull said her ordeal after being turned away from her hometown hospital has left her an emotional wreck.

"I'm having problems sleeping, eating; it's taken a terrible emotional toll," Nancy Davis said in an interview with USA Today Network. "Just because the procedure has been done doesn't mean it erases what happened."

Davis, 36, of Baton Rouge, traveled to New York to have an abortion on Sept. 1 at a Manhattan Planned Parenthood clinic.

Her story drew national attention after a doctor at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge told her he couldn't perform an abortion because of a new Louisiana law banning virtually all abortions triggered by the Supreme Court's reversal of the historic Roe v. Wade decision this summer.

Davis has been invited to share her story with the Congressional Black Caucus in the coming weeks, though no date has been set.

“This story is a tragic example of the dangers and trials that abortion bans like Louisiana’s impose on women and families, especially women of color,” said Democratic Louisiana Congressman Troy Carter, a member of the Black Caucus. “We can’t allow this attack on personal freedom to stand.

"I’m proud to work in Congress to fight for reproductive rights, and I’m grateful that the Congressional Black Caucus is helping amplify Ms. Davis’ story and message on the national stage.”

Nancy Davis, a Louisiana woman who was denied an abortion despite her fetus having a rare and fatal condition, stands on the steps of the state Capitol holding her 1-­year-­old daughter Aug. 26, 2022, in Baton Rouge. Davis is accompanied by family, abortion proponents and her attorney, Ben Crump, who addressed the media.

Louisiana's law, which was written by Democratic Sen. Katrina Jackson and signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, does have exceptions for saving the life of the mother and "medically futile" pregnancies, though opponents argue the exceptions are vague and have paralyzed doctors who fear they could be prosecuted.

"Basically, they said I had to carry my baby to bury my baby," said Davis, who secured prominent Florida trial attorney Ben Crump to represent her.

Davis, her partner Shedric Cole and Crump conducted a press conference in late August on the Louisiana Capitol steps demanding that legislative leaders or the governor call a special session to change or clarify the state's abortion law.

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Jackson told USA Today Network this week that the fetus' condition should have qualified for an exception, but blamed the doctor rather than the law.

"The physician made an error in the interpretation of the law," said Jackson, who said the hospital later offered to perform Davis' abortion but that Davis was uncomfortable with returning after she was initially denied. "The law is very clear."

Davis and Cole have three children together - ages 1, 13 and 16. She said the couple decided to have another child "to share our love and expand our family."

"We were so excited," she said.

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But within weeks Davis was given the devastating diagnosis that the fetus suffered acrania, a condition that prevents a skull from developing.

Arcrania is fatal for a baby, who would die within minutes, hours or days after birth.

"It was already so much to process for someone to tell you that your baby is going to die; can you imagine how traumatic that is?" Davis said. "We had to make a terrible decision to have an abortion and then to be turned away made it even more devastating."

Davis said she will use her experience to advocate for changes to Louisiana's law and increasingly stringent abortion bans in other states, which she believes will be cathartic.

"Hopefully our story can help others who face the same terrible losses and choices to make; I know I won't be the last one," she said. "I know we made the right decision for our baby and our family."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.