In states with laws that criminalize performing abortions, physicians are facing the dilemma of having to wait until a pregnant patient’s death is imminent to perform a potentially lifesaving procedure. Reporting from STAT News reveals how these laws are disrupting care. A physician in Missouri, which outlaws all abortions unless the life of the mother is in danger, described having to spend hours getting clearance from a hospital ethics team to perform the procedure on a patient with an ectopic pregnancy.
Even non-pregnancy care is being impacted. An arthritis patient taking methotrexate, which can also be used for abortion, was told by her doctor that all prescriptions for the drug are on pause due to legal uncertainty.
The Gist: Doctors and hospital legal counsel are dealing with a new legal landscape, marked by restrictive, ill-defined anti-abortion laws that fail to clarify what constitutes a medical emergency.
Physicians are forced to interpret unclear laws, often written without help from medical professionals, and many feel compelled to wait until patients are in dangerous, life-threatening situations to provide care—the opposite of what was instilled in them during years of training.
A group of emergency room physicians filed a lawsuit in March alleging representatives for their employer, American Physician Partners, discouraged them from testing for COVID-19 and pressured them to work while ill, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Brentwood, Tenn.-based American Physician Partners staffs and manages ER physicians at more than 15 Houston Methodist facilities, including hospitals and emergency care centers. The lawsuit, which does not involve Houston Methodist employees, centers on a dispute between eight physicians and APP.
The physicians allege APP is underpaying them and engaging in “unethical practices,” such as urging physicians with COVID-19 to work, as a way to boost revenue.
APP’s protocol, “discourages testing and disregards physician, staff, and patient safety when a doctor does test positive for COVID-19,” the lawsuit alleges. The physicians claim APP is putting “profit over patient.”
APP denied its involvement in the alleged financial damages in a response to the physicians’ complaint filed April 25. The company told the Houston Chronicle that it has been in discussions with the physicians since they raised concerns four months ago.
“We advised them at that time that their concerns do not reflect the facts known to APP and otherwise appear to be based on misinformation,” APP said in a statement to the Chronicle. “Thus we are disappointed these physicians — who represent a very small minority of the physicians APP partners with in the Houston area — have decided to move forward with this litigation. We remain open to continuing our dialogue with these physicians outside of the litigation, which, again, APP believes is without merit.”
Houston Methodist, which isn’t involved in or named in the lawsuit, said it cannot comment on the specific allegations, according to the Chronicle. “We are unaware of any ER doctor who came to work after testing positive for COVID-19,” a hospital spokesperson told Becker’s.
Read the full Houston Chronicle article here.