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Texas man details wife's devastating miscarriage amid state's strict abortion laws: "Nobody uses the word abortion"

Nightmare for Texas woman having miscarriage
Texas man on wife's devastating miscarriage amid state's strict abortion laws 03:39

Texas radio host Ryan Hamilton's world was shattered last month when his wife told him she was suffering a miscarriage at nearly 13 weeks pregnant and the fetus no longer had a heartbeat.

But for Hamilton and his wife, the nightmare was just beginning.

Medical records reviewed by CBS News show Hamilton's wife, who asked not to be named, was treated at a Surepoint Emergency Center branch near their home in North Texas. There, doctors confirmed the fetus — their second child — had no heartbeat, according to the records. His wife was prescribed the drug misoprostol, which induces labor and is used for both miscarriages and abortions. Hamilton says doctors told them the medication may need to be repeated, so they were prescribed one refill.

Starting treatment for miscarriage

"We were told she could take a medication that would start the process to finish…to finish what had already started at home," an emotional Hamilton told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca in an interview for "CBS Mornings" that aired on Tuesday.

Hamilton said doctors referred to it as terminating the pregnancy.

"Nobody uses the word abortion at this point," he said. "No one has said that word."

Misoprostol is often prescribed after a miscarriage to help a woman's body expel the fetal tissue from the uterus, which could otherwise cause a potentially life-threatening infection.

Hamilton said after his wife took the first round of misoprostol, it was clear the dose of medication wasn't working, so he went to the pharmacy to get the refill so she could begin the next round of the drug.

When the second round failed, Hamilton called the Surepoint Emergency Center and explained that the medication wasn't working. His wife returned to the medical center, where Hamilton says a different doctor told her they couldn't give her another refill to continue the process.

"She goes back in and that doctor says, 'Due to the current stance, I cannot prescribe this medicine for you,'" said Hamilton, adding the only word to describe what he was feeling at that moment was "fury."

Texas abortion laws

The only explanation Hamilton could think of was that this doctor thought the current state laws in Texas prevented it. Texas bans abortions at about six weeks unless there's a medical exception for a pregnancy that threatens the mother's life or health in a way that would result in "substantial impairment of a major bodily function," according to the law.

The Texas Supreme Court recently rejected a challenge to the state's abortion ban over medical exemptions, ruling that "Texas law permits a physician to address the risk that a life-threatening condition poses before a woman suffers the consequences of that risk." Doctors convicted of providing an illegal abortion could face fines of up to $100,000 and even jail time.

Surepoint Emergency Center declined CBS News' request for comment on Hamilton's situation, citing patient confidentiality and HIPAA laws.

The couple was left devastated and confused.

"You start thinking about the women that have to drive across state lines. We've heard these stories. And you — just as a husband, you go, 'Is that what we're gonna have to do?'" Hamilton wondered.

"The doctors feel scared"

Hamilton tried to keep his composure for his wife.

"You want to panic, but you can't," he told Villafranca. "What are we going to do? Leave the baby inside her so she can get an infection? Get sepsis that can kill her?"

The pair left the Surepoint Emergency Center and drove to another hospital about an hour away, where she was evaluated for about four hours. The doctors again confirmed the tragic news that there was no fetal heartbeat. Hamilton asked CBS News to not name the second hospital.

"I think the delay is their confusion on what they're allowed to do. That's what it feels like. They feel scared. The doctors feel scared," explained Hamilton about the hours-long visit. 

Doctors told Hamilton that it wasn't enough of an emergency to perform a D&C, also known as dilation and curettage —  a surgical procedure to remove fetal tissue inside the uterus, used for both miscarriages and abortions.

According to Texas law, abortions are illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detected with exceptions for medical emergencies. The law doesn't require there to be a medical emergency to perform a D&C if there's no cardiac activity, like in Hamilton's case.

"The conversation is not what's best for my wife. The conversation is on the hospital side, 'What should we do?'" Hamilton said.

Texas man describes confusion over how to treat wife's miscarriage: "Doctors feel scared" 09:34

"This really happens"

The doctors opted to give Hamilton's wife a higher dose of misoprostol and sent her home for a third time. 

"People are not aware of how common miscarriages are. One out of every five pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is a common experience for women, and so it's really scary that here you have a woman going through something that's actually quite common and having such a frustrating time getting the care that she needed," CBS News medical contributor Dr. Céline Gounder, editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News, said on "CBS Mornings."

In a statement, the hospital told CBS News it follows state and federal laws in accordance with national standards of care.

"We provide training and education to our employed providers to ensure they understand any changes to applicable laws related to patient care. Medical care for all patients is determined by the attending physician based on clinical indications. D&Cs and medications are treatments providers can use based on the patient's condition and the provider's clinical judgment. Care for miscarriage generally does not require Ethics Committee review," the hospital's statement read, in part.

Shortly after returning home, Hamilton recalled playing with his 9-month-old daughter when he noticed a missed call from his wife. He found her unconscious in the bathroom surrounded by blood. He carried her to the car and rushed to the emergency room.

"I got to the hospital, ran inside, told them what was happening. And they took her in. And you know what they said? 'Thank God, you brought her,'" he recalled angrily, adding that at one point he thought he might lose his wife.

The doctors told the couple that the third round of misoprostol was successful. Eventually, she was stable and the pair was able to return home. But the painful process of losing their child is something that will stick with them forever. 

"I want people to know that this really happens. My fear is that stories like ours will continue to get told and not believed," Hamilton said. "Everything in her life right now that she's having to do to get better is not just a reminder of the baby that we lost, it's a reminder of what they put her through, and she has to do it every day."

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