Alabama rape victim forced to have disabled baby says termination would have saved her daughter from 'unimaginable suffering' – and slams state's abortion ban

DINA Zirlott wishes she had been allowed to abort her daughter.

Now a mum-of-four, it's not an easy statement for her to make – but she had been raped and believes a termination would have saved her severely disabled and terminal ill baby girl Zoe a year of "unimaginable suffering".

Dina was just 17 when she was raped in her kitchen by a school friend she had invited over to watch a movie.

She plunged into depression and didn't realise she was pregnant until she was eight-months gone.

"At one point I remember thinking that maybe I had died the night of my rape and the reality I was in now was just a nightmare," she told Sun Online.

Her trauma was amplified when she was told the baby had hydranencephaly, a brain defect, which would cause the youngster to be born blind, deaf, prone to seizures, cognitively stunted and suffer from diabetes, hypothermia, insomnia and frequent infections.

Despite doctors saying the condition was "not compatible with life", abortion laws in her extremely religious home state of Alabama meant she was not allowed a termination – and Dina was forced to give birth to her daughter, who she named Zoe Lily.

In other states, she might have been allowed a termination due to the severity of her baby's disability, as abortion laws differ across the US.

In the UK, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks but terminations can be carried out after 24 weeks if the mother's life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability.

But Alabama's new bill may have far-reaching consequences for women across the US – as anti-abortion legislators hope to take the issue to the Supreme Court, who could overturn the original Roe v Wade ruling that first made abortion legal across the country in 1973.

Now as Alabama has signed off on a near-total abortion ban – with no exceptions even for victims of rape or incest – Dina says she has to speak out.

"Women will die because of this bill," she says.

'They made having an abortion impossible'

Dina, now 31, had to watch little Zoe suffer agonising seizures, infections and other symptoms – for a year – before her little body finally gave up, and she passed away in 2007 aged one.

Though abortion is performed in some circumstances in Alabama at present, the bill – which has been blasted as immoral and inhumane – could see doctors who perform abortions face up to 99 years in prison.

"I don't want my three daughters – or any woman to have to go through what I went through," she told Sun Online.

"This bill is draconian – it's a backwards step.

"I want the men who have passed this bill to hear my story – all of it – and then look me in the eye and tell me they would have forced me to continue my pregnancy.

"I feel like they should look all victims in the face and tell them that – and own it – if they are so proud of their stance."

Abortion laws in the rest of the US

The current law is that abortion is legal countrywide but may be restricted by the states to varying degrees.

Most states have restricted termination to 20 weeks unless a mother’s life is at risk.

However Ohio recently passed a “heartbeat law”, banning abortion after the date a foetal heartbeat could be detected, usually around six weeks, which is often before a woman knows she’s pregnant.

The law was then brought in by many other states, including Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri and North Dakota, although terms varied between six and 12 weeks.

It makes no exception for rape or incest and only allows abortion after that date if the mother is in danger.

Alabama’s total ban, at any stage of the pregnancy, is the harshest yet.

It was only after her mum found out about the rape – and took her to be tested for STIs – that Dina discovered she was expecting.

"At the time I had an undiagnosed thyroid problem which stopped me from having a regular cycle," she explained.

"I was also an athlete so I was in good shape to begin with and I didn't really show.

"I did experience sickness, but I was so mentally unwell it never occurred to me it could have been a product of the rape.

"I remember my mum asking what options were available – but there were none."

'I wanted her to die when she was safe and warm'

Now she believes an abortion would have been a "kindness" to her daughter, who would have been allowed to die while she was "warm and safe inside" her – without the immense suffering she had to endure during her short year-long life.

"I wished I could have had an abortion," she said.

"Just changing her nappy would cause her to have a seizure and a simple rash would cause her to get a blood infection because her body was unable to fight infection.

"She was on so many medications, she couldn't sleep. She was diagnosed with diabetes and had to be wrapped in blankets even in summer because she couldn't regulate her own temperature.

What are the abortion laws in the UK?

In England, Wales and Scotland abortion is legal before 24 weeks, providing it is signed off by two medical practitioners and carried out by a registered doctor.

After 24 weeks, an abortion can still be carried out in special circumstances – for example, if the mother's life is at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability.

Anyone who unlawfully carries out an abortion could be jailed for life.

"Watching your child go through that is hard, it's an unimaginable kind of suffering she was going through and I was unable to stop it.

"It was so complex, I would sometimes wish for her suffering to end – but dread it at the same time.

"And it was a double trauma for me as a teenager still coming to terms with being raped.

"I watched Zoe slowly suffer and die right in front of me, aged one."

Unnecessary cruelty

Stay-at-home mum Dina, travelled from her home in Mobile, Alabama to Montgomery where lawmakers voted in favour of the abortion ban on Tuesday, in a bid to make her voice heard.

The controversial new bill will make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 99 years in jail.

In comparison first degree rape in Alabama carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.

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take a look. these are the idiots making decisions for WOMEN in America.Governor Kay Ivey…SHAME ON YOU!!!!

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Dina's rapist was never prosecuted  as she was too traumatised by her situation to bring any charges against him.

"To think that a doctor could be jailed for helping a woman out of a situation is so unnecessarily cruel and cowardly and ignorant," she said.

"I'm truly disgusted by the fact they have not even given exceptions for rape and incest victims.

'Women get called murderers and need escorts'

Meanwhile, abortion advocates in Alabama told Sun Online how they have to act as "escorts" to take women in and out of the remaining three abortion clinics in the state – to help protect them from vile abuse, threats and even violence.

Helmi Henkin, the chair of the West Alabama Clinic Defenders, a group of volunteers who escort women in and out of the West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa.

The 22-year-old said just last week she witnessed an angry pro-life campaigner run his car into one of her volunteer escorts outside the clinic.

"The protesters usually come with really graphic signs and verbally abuse the women as they walk into the clinic, calling them 'murderers', likening it to the Holocaust and other horrible things, just trying to shame them and make them feel bad about themselves.

"But the situation has definitely got more aggressive in the past 12 months here – we've even had to hire an off-duty police officer to protect the women and the escorts from the protesters.

"And it just goes to show that these bills, these anti-abortion messages that politicians are sending out have a real-life impact."

And in Alabama, she believes, it will negatively affect healthcare provision for everyone – as doctors – unable to carry out their job without fear of prosecution – flee the state.

"But other reasons we have dire health worker shortage in Alabama and this legislation will scare health providers away from coming to the state.

"And doctors will leave Alabama – they won't want to be prosecuted for doing something that is a necessary medical procedure.

"This ban had been made by men who don't understand medicine – it's about control of women."

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