‘I’m Not Ready’: A Mother Denied an Abortion in Texas Faces an Uncertain Future
DENTON, Tex. — Last year Tamara Nelson was a pregnant mother of three, denied an abortion under Texas’s restrictive laws. More recently, she told fund-raising gala attendees how Blue Haven Ranch, a faith-based, anti-abortion nonprofit, supported her when no one else would.
“It really does take a community to help you with your kids and to raise your kids,” Ms. Nelson said in a video shown during the gala in October, as some in the audience wept. “God was watching over me and my family, and he brought me here.”
The New York Times documented the birth of Ms. Nelson’s son Cason this past summer, two days before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and will continue to follow her as she works to build a secure life for her four children. (She was identified then as “T.,” but has since agreed to be named.)
Cason is now nearly six months old and Ms. Nelson has some freelance work as a bookkeeper, but she worries about how she will make it on her own. “I’m not ready for that,’’ she said.
In July, Blue Haven moved Ms. Nelson and her four children into a new apartment.
Cason was just under 1 month old at the time.
Blue Haven volunteers moved the family’s belongings and paid for expenses.
Aubrey Schlackman, the group’s founder, has been directly involved in Ms. Nelson’s life decisions.
For now she is leaning on Blue Haven, in a state more focused on banning abortion than on the babies born as a result. The organization provides up to two years of living expenses, counseling and job training for poor, pregnant women with children — a small lifeline in Texas, which opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and had some of the most prohibitive abortion laws in the nation even before Roe was overturned.
But Blue Haven and groups like it have such a limited reach that they are not reliable alternatives to government aid for babies born to poor mothers in a post-Roe world. Funding will end soon for the organization’s inaugural class of four women and next year for Ms. Nelson, all of whom face an uncertain future.
Ms. Nelson starting to doze off as she coaxed Cason to sleep in their new apartment.
“I have confidence in myself. But I’m still unsure about getting myself where I need to be,” Ms. Nelson said.
Ms. Nelson lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the same modern complex as other Blue Haven families, an arrangement that Aubrey Schlackman, Blue Haven’s founder, said is meant to help foster a sense of community. From Ms. Nelson’s perspective, the mothers and Blue Haven volunteer staff are like a dysfunctional family, “but we’re still a family.’’
More on Abortion Issues in America
- Post-Midterm Tactics: Supporters and opponents of abortion rights are re-evaluating their strategies after the midterms elections, girding for new rules, new opponents and new battlefronts.
- When the Clinic Came to Town: After Roe fell, a quiet college community in Illinois became a crucial destination for abortion access. Not all residents are happy about it.
- ‘Parental Involvement’ Laws: As abortion access dwindles in America, these laws weigh heavily on teenagers — who may need a court’s permission to end their pregnancies.
- Counting Abortions: As more women try to sidestep abortion restrictions, researchers are debating how well the existing data captures the full scope of the country’s post-Roe landscape.
“I’m grateful for their help and their support,’’ she said. “I’m not used to people saying, ‘Hey, how are your kids? How is your mental state?’ Small things like that matter to me.”
Ms. Nelson’s bigger concern is her financial situation. She found an online group called The Mom Project that connected her with several freelance bookkeeping clients, and she is able to work from home on her laptop while Cason sleeps. But she is far from earning the $70,000 annually she and Blue Haven have calculated she will need to need to make ends meet.
The financial assistance from Blue Haven can only take Ms. Nelson so far.
She is trying to find a work-life balance with a job that can support her family.
But there have been setbacks. The whole family was recently in an accident that totaled their donated car, which Ms. Nelson must replace.
“I’m trying to create a work-life balance, and build up to my income,” she said. Blue Haven has introduced “levels” of financial independence, “where there’s certain things the program does do and does not do anymore,” she said. Ms. Nelson is on Level 2, which means she covers her car and phone bills, medical expenses and food.
“She still has 14, 15 months before she’s done, and she’s already made such great progress,” Ms. Schlackman said.
Ms. Nelson receives food stamps — it took three months to get approved — and Medicaid. She has reluctantly dipped into her $3,000 in savings for emergencies, like a tooth that needed to be pulled recently.
“I would like to be in a home before next summer,” Ms. Nelson said, but that will likely require federal housing aid.
The development where she lives has a large pool and a dog park but no playground, and the apartment is a tight squeeze for a family of five. Clothes spill from closets, and baby gear onto the balcony. Ms. Nelson ferries her three eldest children to three different places for school and day care. She was offered a full-time bookkeeping job for $35 an hour within walking distance from home, but the business could not accommodate her need to be absent during the children’s school drop-off and pickup times.
She holds no illusions about the program’s limitations. She has not hung up any family photos in the apartment, and avoids referring to it as “home” when speaking with Cason’s siblings: Harmony, 22 months; Cameron, 7; and Charles, 9.
Ms. Schlackman hopes the families can find a community for long-term support.
On Halloween, the kids celebrated at a “trunk or treat” at a local church.
Cason was dressed as an elephant, and both of his brothers wore Spider-Man costumes.
Despite the relief Blue Haven provides, Ms. Nelson knows she will be on her own soon.
“I came in the program knowing this is not forever,” she said. “When it’s not yours you have to learn to not get comfortable, because at any moment it could stop.”
Tending to Cason, she said she is glad she did not have the abortion she had sought. “But at the same time, reality is reality — there’s still that extra mouth to feed,” Ms. Nelson said.
“I’m so happy he’s here. But it’s a lifelong decision that I have to maintain.”