In May 2017, Kayla Deere thought she had passed the halfway point of her pregnancy when abnormal sonogram findings alerted her doctor to complications. Already the mother of a 6-year-old son and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Deere agonized in the days after her 20-week sonogram.
“I couldn’t work because I was too emotional. And so I’d have to get it together around my son and take him to school, and I would just come home and cry the whole time.”
Additional tests confirmed her baby had the chromosomal condition Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome. Infants with the genetic disorder experience low birthweight, severe developmental delays, and — oftentimes — serious defects of the heart, lungs, kidneys, intestines and stomach that can threaten their lives before and after birth. Studies show high rates of mortality in utero and only 5-10% of infants living past their first birthday. Those who do experience significant developmental delays.
During that week and a half of intensive tests and appointments, Deere and her husband met with specialists, including a genetic counselor, who deemed their son’s condition “incompatible with life.”
Deere, now 41, recalled through tears the sadness she felt. Although medical professionals couldn’t predict the future, they counseled the couple on possible scenarios.
Should Deere carry the pregnancy full term, they could offer her counseling and support. If the baby — whom they called Jack — survived birth, he might only live for seconds, minutes, hours, a day. And he would experience trauma.
Deere’s instincts launched her into protection mode.
“For me personally, I think it’s my job as a mom to protect my kids. And so the only thing I could do at that point to protect him is to make sure that he didn’t suffer. And so we chose that we were going to interrupt the pregnancy.”
Deere said she hoped sharing her personal account might help those who haven’t walked in her shoes to see another point of view. She said she felt no judgment toward others who don’t follow the same path.
“I don’t think that my abortion reason or story is more important than anyone else’s. I think that every woman’s story is equally as important because it’s their story, and it’s their life. And none of it’s easy.
“There are women that are in my position that do continue the pregnancy, and I respect that as well. It has to be what they think, and what they believe, and their experience. It’s all about that. It really has nothing to do with anyone else. None of this really affects anyone else other than the woman and the child.”
Deere’s home state was no longer an option for her abortion health care; Kansas bans almost all abortions 21 weeks and six days or more after the first day of a pregnant person’s last menstrual period. Only clinics in a few states would perform the procedure during the 22nd week of Deere’s pregnancy. She chose the closest one: Colorado.
She and her husband arranged child care and booked last-minute flights, a rental car and a hotel for a week. They also contacted the Kansas Abortion Fund, which provided financial support and made payment directly to the clinic in Colorado.
Deere began the dayslong process the medical procedure would entail with counseling. Wrapped in grief, Deere and her husband traveled back and forth between the hotel and clinic each day during the induction abortion process.
She described her time in Colorado as “terrible” and feared she wouldn’t make it back to Lawrence to reunite with her other children.
“Honestly, the whole week we were there, I maybe said two words to my husband, just because I was so ‘in it’ and depressed. I’m very fortunate to be in a spot where I can afford that as well. For women that couldn’t, that aren’t in that position, I don’t know what they would do,” she said. “It was very hard to leave my kids here and be there.”
When it was time to deliver Jack, Deere did so in the presence of a doctor and a nurse while holding the hand of a support doula. Her husband and her phone were not allowed to accompany her. Besides the physical pain of childbirth, the grief swept over Deere. The abortion did not immediately stop the production of pregnancy hormones, and her milk still came in after her loss.
“I’ve had two of my kids with no drugs and that is painful, but this was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, because I didn’t have a baby to hold.”
Deere commended the people who cared for her at the clinic throughout that difficult experience. They made tiny imprints of Jack’s hands and feet for Deere to take home, and they helped coordinate his cremation.
“These doctors that they paint as monsters have literally dedicated their careers — and some of them their lives — to helping women and children in these positions to not suffer and be as safe as possible.
“No politicians, no Supreme Court justices, none of them wrote me a card, called to check on me. The doctors and nurses who took care of me did.”
When someone asks how many children she has, Deere, a hair stylist and salon owner, sometimes stumbles over her answer.
“It’s like, ‘Four,’ but I don’t want to explain that. So it’s just constantly on your mind.”
If they look closely at Deere’s left forearm, they’ll see part of the answer. A tattoo of a bumblebee hummingbird there honors Jack, along with the date of his birth: June 1, 2017. A tiny urn with hummingbird designs contains his ashes.
Deere said the hummingbird holds “a lot of spiritual meanings. Jack was so little, it just stuck with me. So my friend painted it and my tattoo artist tattooed it on me and (my husband).”
Her children – including the 4-year-old daughter Deere birthed a year after Jack – have a nickname for their brother.
“When any of us see a hummingbird, especially my kids, they say, ‘There’s Jack Birdie!’”
The Aug. 2 ballot
Each summer around the anniversary of her loss, Deere said she gets more emotional, and it feels like those who refer to themselves as “pro-life” amp up their marketing — even more so during election years.
All registered voters in Kansas — including those who are unaffiliated or Libertarian — can vote in the Aug. 2 primary. If a simple majority of Kansans (50% plus 1) vote “yes,” it will give the Kansas Legislature authority to change existing abortion laws. If more Kansans vote “no,” the right to bodily autonomy declared by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2019 would remain in place.
Deere said she would vote early and vote no on the proposed constitutional amendment, which she thinks contains confusing wording.
“No one misses him more than me. I’m the one that gave birth to him, carried him, so when I see the ‘Value Them Both’ signs it just really gets to me. I guarantee you that none of these politicians or people value him at all, or me for that matter, because until you have to go through anything like this, you don’t understand it.”
Deere said she has always believed all birthing people should have access to abortion — a procedure that’s already highly regulated by state laws — and it’s a personal decision that shouldn’t be politicized. She said everyone has a right to bodily autonomy and to make their own medical decisions, and she encourages fellow Kansans to vote no.
“It’s very important — even if you feel this wouldn’t affect you, it will at some point, somehow. Even if you’re a man, it’s gonna affect you. And even if you’re older or you don’t want kids, this will affect you somehow, just because of your loved ones or friends.”
When Deere attends reproductive rights rallies, she sometimes engages with those who share different points of view. She’ll calmly share her story and listen.
“Some of them actually are very kind in return and say, ‘Well, I think that, in your case, it should be allowed,’ and I was like, ‘Then you have to vote no. Because there isn’t any in-between.’ And they will say they’ll make exceptions. I don’t trust them to make any exceptions. And I don’t think there should be exceptions, because who would be making the exceptions then? Other people, so it’s still not right.”
Even the word “choice” feels like an awkward way to describe her experience, Deere said.
“I can choose what I want to wear, I can choose where I want to go eat, but choosing this was …” she paused.
“It’s not an easy answer. I think that if people haven’t ever had to live in this, like I have, and other women have, then there’s no way they can even begin to understand what they would do. Until it’s you, you can’t know. I think it’s so important that everyone’s stories get out there — not just mine.”
Deere’s protection instincts have once again peaked with the upcoming Kansas vote and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal of Roe v. Wade. She feels empathy and compassion for pregnant people who need access to safe abortion now and later.
“I feel horrible for the women in that space already when the Supreme Court overturned it,” she said. “And for my girls, I’m just scared of what the future is, if this happens.”
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The “Value Them Both” amendment would pave the way to a complete ban of abortion in Kansas despite language implying otherwise, panelists said Saturday. If the majority votes “yes” in August, legislators could ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest, and risk of death.