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 Newsreveals 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.
The 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenging a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks, overturns the nearly 50-year precedent providing a constitutional right to abortion. The opinion was little changed from a draft that was leaked last month, returning most decision making on abortion to states. At least 13 states have so called ‘trigger laws’ in place that will almost immediately make abortion illegal, and another 13 states are likely to pass similar laws.
The Gist: In over half of states, existing or new laws will likely prevent pregnant people from accessing critical and evidence-based reproductive healthcare services, including medically safe abortion, miscarriage care, pregnancy termination for severe fetal anomalies, and endangerment of the childbearing parent’s life.
Patients in Texas, which passed one of the strictest abortion laws last year, have already been facing challenges obtaining prescriptions for medications for miscarriage and abortion care. Many state laws which criminalize providing the procedure put physicians and other medical providers in legal jeopardy.
And as legal experts point out, most malpractice insurance doesn’t protect physicians from damages incurred from criminal charges.
Moreover, most laws have been written by legislators with little or no medical expertise, leading to lack of clarity about which potentially life-threatening situations, in what circumstances, merit pregnancy termination—forcing physicians to delay lifesaving obstetric care. (Read this NEJM piece to understand what this looks like for doctors and patients in Texas today.) Regardless, today’s decision will lead to increased mortality for pregnant people and those unable to seek safe abortion care.