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‘I’m not ready’: A mother denied an abortion in Texas faces an uncertain future

Last year, Tamara Nelson, a pregnant mother of three, was denied an abortion under Texas’ restrictive laws. She found help via Blue Haven Ranch, a faith-based organization that provides up to two years of living expenses, counseling, and job training for poor, pregnant women with children.ERIN SCHAFF/NYT

DENTON, Texas — Last year, Tamara Nelson , a pregnant mother of three, was denied an abortion under Texas’ restrictive laws. More recently, she told fund-raising gala attendees how Blue Haven Ranch, a faith-based, antiabortion 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,” 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 Nelson’s son Cason in the 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 6 months old, and 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.

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 Nelson, all of whom face an uncertain future.


“I have confidence in myself. But I’m still unsure about getting myself where I need to be,” Nelson said.

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 was meant to help foster a sense of community. From Nelson’s perspective, the mothers and Blue Haven’s volunteer staff are like a dysfunctional family, “but we’re still a family.”

“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.”

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 make ends meet.

“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. 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,” Schlackman said.


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,” Nelson said, but that will most 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. 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.

“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 was 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,” Nelson said.


“I’m so happy he’s here. But it’s a lifelong decision that I have to maintain.”