- Jill Hartle was faced with a difficult choice in her second trimester of pregnancy.
- The former beauty queen said she learned her fetus had a severe heart defect at her 18-week scan.
- Due to restrictive policies in her home state, she had to travel to DC to get an abortion — after a long wait.
When Jill Hartle’s doctor told her earlier this year that her fetus’ heart didn’t look right at 18 weeks, she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.
Hartle, 35, told People her closest friend had terminated a pregnancy years prior after doctors spotted an incurable heart defect.
At 22 weeks, Hartle — who was Ms. South Carolina in 2013 — received the exact same diagnosis. She knew what it meant: her fetus was unlikely to survive.
But due to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, she would not have the same resources if she chose to terminate her pregnancy, since her home state had passed a ban on abortions after 6 weeks gestation just a month earlier.
After waiting a month for a follow-up scan and navigating long queues for appointments out of state, Hartle got an abortion at 25 weeks in Washington, DC.
Growing up in South Carolina, Hartle told People, she and her friend come from “a conservative Christian background.” But, she added, “we also come from a place of empathy and compassion and non-judgment.”
Hartle the journey to finding care was “excruciating” and “logistically insane,” and said she hopes to spread awareness of cases like hers, where even a planned pregnancy might end in termination.
Her fetus would’ve needed several open heart surgeries
When Hartle and her husband, Matt, heard that Roe v. Wade had been overturned, she said they worried for their future daughter. Hartle was 14 weeks pregnant at the time, but she hadn’t considered termination until learning of her fetus’ health problems.
Early scans had shown a healthy, developing fetus, Hartle told People. About 12 weeks into her pregnancy, she learned she was going to have a baby girl.
But at her next checkup, the doctor said, “Her heart is not what we want it to look like,” Hartle recalled.
The OB-GYN said the fetus most likely had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), an incurable condition where half of the heart is underdeveloped, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, Hartle had to wait another month to have the diagnosis confirmed with another scan. She said her doctors advised her to wait, which was not the norm before Roe v. Wade was overturned.
After confirming the severity of her fetus’ case, Hartle said her doctors explained that children with HLHS typically require at least three open-heart surgeries during infancy. Even after those surgeries, the child would still need a heart transplant — and probably additional transplants later on, as donor hearts don’t last forever.
“We decided that the best thing for our particular case and our particular daughter, Ivy Grace, was to just give her the most peaceful possible way to heaven and to be healed and to be free and never feel a moment’s pain,” Hartle told People.
‘Every time I felt her move was like a dagger to the heart’
After weeks of turmoil, Hartle found a clinic in Washington, DC, that would perform an abortion after 24 weeks. There was a two-week wait to get the procedure, and Hartle said those weeks were heartbreaking.
“Every time I felt her move was like a dagger to the heart,” she told People. “And the mental toll: I was grieving the loss of my child while still carrying her and also waiting to be taken care of so that I could start the healing process.”
Even once she was able to get an abortion at 25 weeks, Hartle’s ordeal wasn’t over. She said she went back to South Carolina the next day, and she continued to experience contractions on the plane home as her uterus shrunk to accommodate her loss.
By sharing her story, Hartle told People she hopes to raise awareness of how fetal anomalies like HLHS can impact decisions surrounding pregnancy and abortion.
“All you hear about in this conversation is rape, incest, protection of a mother’s health if they’re at risk. Well, there’s no talk about fetal anomalies,” she said.” No one even knows what a fetal anomaly is unless you’ve known someone who’s had one and or have heard a testimony from a woman who’s had one.”