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‘Parent’s worst nightmare’: Lakeland woman must give birth despite baby having little chance of survival

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by: Staci DaSilva | Posted: Feb 23, 2023 / 09:48 AM EST | Updated: Feb 23, 2023 / 11:51 AM EST

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Deborah Dorbert was excited to be a mom again.

When Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Florida banned abortions after 15 weeks, she did not think it would affect her.

“Never thought I would be stuck right in the middle of it, the laws changing,” she said.

At her 23-week appointment, she said her obstetrician noticed an abnormality. It was confirmed a week later by a maternal fetal medicine doctor. Her baby had “Potter Syndrome.”

Dorbert’s pediatrician, Dr. David Berger explained to News Channel 8 that the fetus is not developing kidneys or making amniotic fluid. Without amniotic fluid, the baby’s lungs will not develop correctly.

“I’m in a lot of pain and discomfort,” said Dorbert.

Doctors do not expect babies with Potter syndrome to survive longer than a few hours after birth. 

The diagnosis led to a decision Dorbert, a mother of one, never thought she would make. She wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

“It’s something you know, a parent’s worst nightmare, they hope they never have to make,” she said.

After consulting with her doctors at Lakeland Regional Health, Dorbert said, while supportive, they said they could not sign off on the procedure.

There is an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities, if the fetus “has not reached viability,” according to the law.

“In my week 23 ultrasound, in the report, it says the baby is viable,” Dorbert said. 

“Lakeland Regional Health and its physicians honor the privacy and health of each patient. As an organization, Lakeland Regional Health upholds the responsibility to care for each individual patient while abiding with all local, state, and federal laws,” wrote Timothy Boynton, Senior Vice President of Development, Chief Public Relations and Communications Officer at Lakeland Regional Health.

Dorbert is now having to carry the baby to term.

“Hopefully they’ll consider rewriting the law,” she said.

Former State Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican from Lakeland, sponsored the new 15-week abortion bill.

“[Dorbert’s fetus] has the definition of a fatal fetal abnormality. It is not viable and therefore she has the right within the law to terminate that pregnancy at any point in the pregnancy that she should decide to do so,” she said. “If it cannot live outside the womb, it cannot sustain life then it is not viable. That is the definition of viability.”

But Dr. Berger, Dorbert’s primary care doctor, said in the medical field, fetus viability happens at 23-24 weeks, when Dorbert learned the news of her baby’s diagnosis.

“Pass a law that defines viability in the way she describes it. That’s not how the medical community determines it. Be more specific. Don’t have ambiguities in your laws,” said Dr. Berger.

In the meantime, Dorbert’s medical team is monitoring her blood pressure and her baby’s heartbeat.

“If the baby goes stillborn, obviously they can act and treat me,” she said.

She hopes to be induced next week on her 37th week of pregnancy.

She is planning a delivery, post-birth care and a funeral.

While still pregnant, she is speaking out, not only to News Channel 8 but on a national level.

 “Putting yourself out there and putting your story out there, you might help another mom going through something like this and maybe bring change,” she said.