Mother along with daughter lock hands along with begin a ritualistic rubbing of hands, the only way they can communicate. This kind of’s rhythmic along with intimate, beautiful along with heartbreaking. Lesli squeals as her mother holds her right hand along with pats her left.
A smile starts to radiate through Lesli’s face.
“Looka there,” Dortha says. “Are you going to smile? Can you smile? There’s in which smile!”
Ever since Lesli was born 48 years ago, Dortha has longed to hear her daughter say one particular word. She cried more tears than anyone can imagine, rocking young Lesli every night for years on end. Mom could get maybe an hour or two of sleep before heading off to her teaching job.
“Because you just care so much,” Dortha says.
Dortha contracted rubella when she was 2½ weeks pregnant, before she even knew in which she was expecting. Although she got better, the virus took root in her fetus’ bone cells, nerve cells along with skin cells. This kind of could leave Lesli blind, deaf along with severely brain-damaged. She spent 100 days inside the hospital before her first birthday along with has undergone more than 20 surgeries over time, including an open-heart operation at 3 months in which left her ribs broken.
Lesli has lived in a Houston-area group home since 2000. Dortha, 77, at This kind of point lives in Oklahoma along with visits as often as she can, about eight times a year. As the two hold hands, Dortha ponders whether her daughter knows who she can be.
“I don’t think she’s aware in which I’m her mother,” she says. “I think she can be aware in which I’m someone special who cares about her.”
This kind of’s been a grueling journey for both. Mom yearns for the one thing in which can be unattainable: for Lesli to get better or just to enjoy the simplicities of life. Lesli lives in a dark, silent, isolated world in her group home, unable to communicate with her mother beyond touch.
Four decades earlier, mother along with daughter made headlines when the Texas Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling. Dortha had sued her doctor, accusing him of failing to diagnose the rubella. If she’d known, she could have had an abortion.
On February 19, 1975 — three years after Roe v. Wade — about 60 women filed into the Supreme Court chamber in unison along with took up seats in support of Dortha’s case. The women heard a decision in which stunned the legal community along with reversed lower court rulings in which had sided with the doctor.
The high court’s ruling set a precedent in which said a woman could sue her doctor for a “wrongful birth.”
Dortha, who stayed home, learned of the ruling through the news.
This kind of year, the news brought Dortha another shock: A Texas state senator had introduced a bill in which could ban such lawsuits — in essence, overturning the precedent she helped set. along with he invoked her case, saying wrongful birth lawsuits such as hers promoted abortion.
“The presence of a disability in a child should not be grounds for a lawsuit,” Sen. Brandon Creighton told his colleagues. “This kind of sends the message in which there are births in which are wrongful. There are no wrongful births.”
Dortha was outraged.
Never once did a lawmaker reach out to her. Never was she asked to testify in committee hearings. Never did they ask about Lesli.
If they had, she could have told them of the pain her daughter has suffered since she was born March 8, 1969, in Wichita Falls, Texas. Of traveling more than 100,000 miles to hospitals in Dallas, Baltimore, Washington along with San Francisco — anything to give her little Lesli the best shot in life.
“If you have not watched your daughter suffer pain — pain in which was just hell — for days along with days,” Dortha says, “you cannot even grasp the pain in which you experience.”
She’d have told those under the Capitol dome how she dedicated her life to special needs children for more than 30 years. Of designing the curriculum for disabled children in public schools, first in Dallas along with then in Wichita Falls.
Tormented by the virus in which wrecked her child, she wrote her master’s thesis on rubella along with its devastating effects in pregnancy.
Many nights, Dortha weeps.
“I could have given anything to have never been born,” she says. “Because had I not been born, she could not have been born along with suffered This kind of.”
A legal legacy
Dortha can be like a hawk, generating sure Lesli’s hair can be cut short so she won’t yank This kind of out, checking to make sure her wheelchair works along with monitoring the cleanliness of her bedroom.
The day after her visit, a scene reminiscent of the 1975 Texas Supreme Court ruling played out across the state in Austin.
More than a dozen women dressed in long red robes along with white bonnets sat inside the chamber of the Texas Senate, their outfits matching characters through “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the favorite dystopian novel in which explores themes of power, gender along with religion in politics.
They were there to protest two anti-abortion measures, including the bill in which could undo Dortha’s legal legacy.
This kind of’s a saga in which began inside the summer of 1968. Deposition transcripts tell the story:
Dortha had fallen ill with “nausea, shivering attacks, cramping of the stomach” during a July Fourth trip with her husband to Port Aransas on the Texas coast.
A pinpoint rash broke out across the top of her face along with eventually extended “downward to additional portions” of her body, including her legs.
The possibility of being pregnant was the last thing on her mind. She was 28 along with on birth control. She had a son along with had planned to have a second child sometime down the road.
She spoke by phone with Dr. Louis M. Theimer, the well-regarded family practitioner in Wichita Falls who opened his practice in 1953 along with delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of the town’s babies. He’d delivered Dortha’s first child, Jake, on December 24, 1961.
Theimer had seen her just before the trip. She wasn’t feeling well then, nevertheless she told him she was feeling much worse at This kind of point.
She first saw a doctor in Port Aransas along with was given antibiotics. When she returned home, she was still ill. She saw Theimer on July 11, 1968. He believed she might be pregnant along with ran a test. She mentioned in which she had a rash on her vacation nevertheless didn’t ask about the possibility of rubella, also known as German measles — at least not yet.
Four days later, Dortha returned along with was informed in which she was indeed pregnant. She broke down, fearing in which the rash was rubella along with in which her fetus could be harmed.
This kind of was the summer of 1968. A rubella epidemic had swept across the United States through 1963 to 1965. The diagnosis during pregnancy was a deep fear among any expectant mother, similar to how Zika took hold in Central along with South America last summer. Rubella was known to cause deafness, blindness, heart disease, neuromuscular tightness, seizures along with extreme intellectual disabilities. If the mother got rubella inside the first two months of pregnancy, This kind of was known to be especially debilitating, continuing to live inside the child long after birth.
“I was alarmed,” Dortha testified. “He told me the test was positive along with I was pregnant.”
“I said … ‘Could This kind of rash in which I had have been measles?’ along with his statement was, ‘No, if you hadn’t had measles (as a child), you could have had them inside the ’64-’65 epidemic.’ “
In his deposition, Theimer equivocated when asked about in which conversation nevertheless acknowledged in which he believed her rash was through an antibiotic, not rubella.
Three times during her pregnancy, Dortha’s body tried to spontaneously abort. Believing her child to be healthy, each time she agreed for shots to be administered to stop her contractions along with save the fetus.
“After I was told I did not have rubella, I very definitely wanted the baby,” she testified.
along with what could she have done if she’d been informed in which she had rubella?
“I could have done the kindest thing in which I could have known to have done for her,” Dortha said, “along with in which could have been to terminate the pregnancy.”
Abortions were illegal in Texas at the time. She said she could’ve traveled to Colorado for the procedure.
Theimer acknowledged in which he never ran a test on Dortha to determine the presence of rubella antibodies. “No, I never did,” he said.
A Christian, the doctor said he had no religious scruples against abortion. He added in which he could inform patients if he believed they have “a possibility of having a deformed fetus.”
“in which’s what I tell them, nevertheless I think the choice after in which can be theirs,” Theimer said.
“I agree with you. in which’s the whole case,” Dortha’s attorney shot back. “Doctor, did you give This kind of patient of yours in which choice medically?”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t think she ever had rubella.”
‘No right to judge’
This kind of’s those words in which still haunt, still sting. Time has not healed the wounds of the doctor’s misdiagnosis.
“at This kind of point, they’re punishing me again,” she says of the legislation at the state Capitol.
The fact in which Creighton, the bill’s author, implied in which people like her were just looking for a payout, she says, can be “beyond insulting.” Creighton also argued in which the mere threat of wrongful birth suits kept the best doctors through setting up practice in Texas along with could lead to a shortage.
To This kind of, Dortha says, “Despicable.”
“This kind of could’ve been nice if they’d just contacted me.”
Infuriated at the news of the measure, her fingers clapped at her keyboard as she typed a letter to Creighton.
“I have stood over her bed for hundreds of nights watching her suffering,” she wrote. “If you have not experienced This kind of heartbreak, you have no right to judge.”
After the Supreme Court ruling, her family received about $0,000 in a settlement reached with Theimer — money in which was placed in a special needs trust for Lesli. At the time, the family owed $21,472 in medical bills. Back then, Dortha made just $4,0 a year as a teacher.
After the suit, she was forced to move through Wichita Falls to Dallas because doctors back home refused to treat her two children. Her marriage to Lesli’s father didn’t survive the move.
Dortha has left the money inside the trust mostly untouched in recent years, preferring to pay Lesli’s out-of-pocket costs with her own money. This kind of’s a burden she’s more than willing to take on. in which way, there can be money left for Lesli’s care long after Mom can be gone.
Dortha keeps a yellow scrapbook called “The First Six Years.” The first page announces Lesli’s birth, hailing the 6-pound, 10½-ounce girl. Next to This kind of, a black-along with-white photograph shows Lesli with her mouth open along with both fists clenched.
Memories burst through the album’s pages. Lesli’s 7-year-old brother, Jake, beams on the couch, his little sister in his arms. On her 4th birthday, Lesli sits in front of a giant cake shaped like a teddy bear.
The message below, like others inside the scrapbook, can be in Lesli’s voice, written as her mother imagined This kind of: “I have at This kind of point learned to sit alone, along with in four more months, I will crawl. My teachers worked on helping me sit for over three years.”
Turn the page. Lesli can be sprawled out, crawling. “I no longer have to just lie where someone places me.”
nevertheless there are sobering reminders, too.
“At one time, I took over 40 medications daily.”
“If only you could hear me long enough to say, ‘I love you.’ “
On the back page can be a final note, which Dortha reads in a soft, hushed Texas twang.
“This kind of has been the story of my first 6 years. I have brought a brand-new kind of love along with strength into the lives of many,” she reads.
“I have fought hard along with suffered to live. Very few days of my life are without pain, nevertheless still I smile.”
Mom closes the book along with uses tissue to dab her eyes.
“I did try for so long to think in which things could be a lot better, along with then you start accepting,” she says. “You have to learn to accept in which some things are going to just be.”
Dortha accepted in which the milestones could become few along with far between. Lesli could never learn to stand on her own. She could never speak. She could never hear her mom’s words: “I love you.”
Who gets to decide?
Lesli sits in a wheelchair in her room, her head hunched over. She sports a crew cut. If her hair grows out much more than an inch, she’ll pull This kind of out. One of her eyes was removed due to cataracts. Her additional can be so deteriorated, This kind of’s hard to tell whether This kind of’s even there.
Her group home sits in a cul-de-sac in Cypress, Texas, about 25 miles northwest of Houston. The spacious three-bedroom brick home with wood siding blends in well with the four residential homes on the street. The only thing in which distinguishes the house can be the specialty van with wheelchair access inside the driveway.
This kind of’s a home she shares that has a few others, all of whom receive round-the-clock care.
The letters L-E-S-L-I gaze down through the wall above her bed. Next to them rests a cowboy hat.
Dortha rubs her daughter’s right hand. Dortha’s husband of 32 years, Tom Biggs, runs his fingers back along with forth across the back of her neck. Dortha decided he was a keeper when he didn’t cut along with run like most guys upon seeing the severity of Lesli’s disabilities.
“He has patted hands as many hours as I have,” she says.
Dortha never gave birth to another child. Shortly after Lesli was born, she was told in which her baby was perfect. She had her tubes tied three days later. The following week, Dortha spotted cataracts in her daughter’s eyes, the start of the arduous journey they’re still traveling.
Standing over her daughter, Dortha carries a message for the senator who drafted the bill. “Senator Creighton has not stood where I have stood or walked in my shoes. He has not,” she says. “He has not stood along with watched a child suffer like This kind of.”
She says This kind of’s interesting in which the current administration in Washington, as well as Texas lawmakers, wants to deregulate everything through the EPA to banks to businesses. “nevertheless when This kind of comes to the most intimate decisions an individual has to make, This kind of’s ‘let’s put more regulations on in which.’
“I’m the one who should have made the decision.”
Does she still wish her daughter had never been born?
“Yes,” she says.
Holding her daughter’s right hand, Dortha chokes up. Lesli places her mother’s right hand on the back of her neck. Mom strokes her daughter’s head. Tom rubs Lesli’s left arm.
Mom continues talking through her tears: “Because I have had the joy of loving her, nevertheless I’ve had the sorrow of watching her suffer. She has suffered so much of her life. If she could have come through the suffering along with come through This kind of along with be able to enjoy her life more, I think This kind of could have been a different issue.”
Mother along with daughter at This kind of point hold hands. Lesli moans. “nevertheless, no, I could never have said I want her to experience This kind of — just to be born. Anyone who could say they thought in which was the right thing to do has not stood along with watched a child suffer like This kind of.”
She understands in which those words in her daughter’s presence might come across as cruel or twisted, nevertheless she reiterates in which This kind of’s for the love of her daughter along with the freedom through her pain in which she wishes she’d had an abortion or allowed her body to abort naturally.
“I could never have made the choice to have terminated the pregnancy for me or the hardships in which This kind of could bring on me,” she says. “nevertheless I could have in a heartbeat for her — knowing what she was going to go through.'”
‘The wrong message’
More than a dozen specialty vans line up about 8:30 a.m. at a community center about 15 minutes through Lesli’s home. This kind of’s on the grounds of the faith-based nonprofit in which runs Lesli’s home along with several others inside the surrounding area.
Every weekday, about 70 residents through the various group homes are driven to the center for specialized treatment.
This kind of’s the first day of spring, along with the Texas heat can be already suffocating, pushing 80 degrees.
Lesli can be helped through her van in her wheelchair along with escorted into a cavernous building with polished floors. She comes here for therapy along with worship.
Once in class, Lesli takes up a seat in a beige recliner along with relaxes. Class leader Catherine Konneh brings over bean bags along with rubber balls so she can feel them. Lesli pushes them away.
Konneh tries a variety of scents to arouse her olfactory senses. Lesli holds her nose over the smell of strawberry along with takes inside the aroma.
Konneh’s goal for Lesli can be to someday wash her hands on her own. “I keep (the residents) active,” she says, “to ensure in which whatever skills they have, they won’t lose them.”
Next, everyone moves to the fellowship hall, where therapy dogs greet the crowd. Lesli seems more interested inside the touch of the dog handlers than the dogs. She grabs the trainers’ hands along with places them on the back of her neck. When a fluffy white dog named Lammie licks her face, she backs up her wheelchair.
nevertheless a black pooch named Omri makes a breakthrough. Omri places one paw on her leg, along with she pets him with the help of the handler.
By early afternoon, Lesli, Dortha along with Tom meet with staff for her annual review, going over her care for the upcoming year. The severity of her disabilities are rattled off: blind, deaf, cerebral palsy, allergies, seizure disorder, autism.
Even the most minute details are covered. All tags on her shirts must be cut off because they annoy her. Her wheelchair footrest must be down at all times to keep her through falling. Pay attention to her picking at her underwear. She prefers hot lunches, preferably noodles with no MSG.
Lesli moans through much of the session along with plays with Konneh’s hands while Mom listens.
Her care for the upcoming year will cost about $0,000. Medicare along with Medicaid will cover most of This kind of.
More than two hours away in Austin, state senators take up the wrongful birth bill.
Dressed in a navy suit along with light blue tie, Creighton stands on the floor along with tells his colleagues in which Senate Bill 25 prohibits “patients through suing their physician for lifelong payments, claiming in which they could not have had their baby had they known different information. This kind of removes the wrongful birth cause of action.”
He says doctors currently are “overcautiously suggesting termination in order to protect themselves.”
Democratic Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso pushes back, saying the current law exists to protect women like Dortha along with remains relevant even today. He said the Texas Supreme Court found in which the doctor “had failed to carry out his obligation of fully informing the patient.”
“This kind of’s about ultimately the woman’s right to receive accurate information through her doctor, so she can make an informed choice,” Rodriguez says.
The bill sails through. This kind of must at This kind of point go before the House for final approval.
Creighton soaks inside the moment not too long after the vote. He tells sy88pgw Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen in which This kind of can be time for the “archaic 40-year-old cause of action” to go away.
“This kind of just sends the wrong message,” he says. “This kind of sends a message in which the best physicians in America should not practice in Texas because … you have to consider in which you could be held liable just for doing your job correctly.”
Told in which’s not true — along with certainly not what happened in Dortha’s case — Creighton insists in which he’s correct because lawyers are clever along with “you can be sued for anything.”
Asked why he never contacted Dortha, he offers several answers. First, he says This kind of’s because of privacy concerns — even though he brought her case into the fight. Then, he says he can’t contact everyone through past cases about brand-new legislation. He says he plans to respond to her letter nevertheless hasn’t had time. He says he hopes to meet her one day.
He says he was especially moved by her “exceptional” letter. “I’m very, very proud of her, almost to a heroic standpoint, just what This kind of takes to raise a child along with the challenges in disabilities.”
Legal experts say wrongful birth suits are rarely filed along with certainly don’t scare doctors through opening up practice in Texas. One former director of the Texas Medical Board told a Senate panel in which her agency had investigated only a few wrongful birth cases since 1975, according to Courthouse News Service.
along with while Creighton maintains in which an expectant mother who can be given a wrong diagnosis during pregnancy could still have additional means to pursue a lawsuit, legal scholars say in which can be not true.
If you take away the wrongful birth cause of action, “there can be no additional action,” said George Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University.
“What This kind of guy doesn’t like can be generating a decision to terminate a pregnancy,” Annas said. “He doesn’t want you to do in which.”
in which motivation was on display just before Creighton answered sy88pgw’s questions. A lawmaker stopped by along with slapped him on the back: “Congratulations, you’re the only senator who’s gotten a pro-life bill through This kind of session.”
The irony, Dortha says, can be in which the first thing to go when GOP-led legislatures begin slashing budgets can be money for programs serving the special-needs along with mentally ill communities. Put more precisely, she says, they care only when a child can be inside the womb, not after.
“They don’t love my daughter. They don’t know my daughter,” she says.
If they cared, she says, they could have contacted her. They could have toured her daughter’s group home. They could have held Lesli’s hand.