States with extreme anti-abortion laws are learning the hard way that many doctors don’t want to work under such conditions.
Consider Texas, which has one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Growing numbers of doctors and nurses, especially those who work in the field of obstetrics, are leaving the state, switching fields or retiring, Slate reported recently.
The Slate piece opens with a horrific story: A woman’s water broke at 19 weeks, well before the fetus was viable. Typically, doctors would have terminated the pregnancy. But in Texas, that’s illegal and can put a medical professional in prison. So they waited for an infection to set in and the fetus to die. It took three days.
A Nurse’s Decision
Reflecting on the incident, nurse Leah Wilson remarked, “There were a couple of cases just within a few weeks of each other that I really, really, really struggled with. And it was enough to say, ‘You know what? I’m not doing this anymore.’” Wilson left her job.
Abortions in Texas are permitted only in the case of “medical emergencies.” It’s a vague term that hospitals struggle to interpret. Most of them are choosing to be conservative, aware that if they make a misstep, the consequences could be severe.
“I’ll get consults from another doctor asking me what to do in a particular case – a mother bleeding, or a pregnancy where there’s an infection in the womb before the baby can survive outside the womb,” John Visintine, a specialist in fetal medicine in McAllen, told Slate’s Sophie Novack. “I have doctors calling me, hesitating, not quite knowing what to do because the baby has a heartbeat when clearly the mother’s life is at risk. These are things that I haven’t seen in, you know, 20 years of practicing OB, 14 years of practicing high-risk OB – I’ve never run into these situations where people are wondering what to do.”
Is it any wonder physicians don’t want to work under these conditions? And not surprisingly, their decision to leave mainly affects people living in rural areas, where medical care isn’t plentiful to begin with.
A Bad ‘Political Climate’ In Idaho
It isn’t just Texas. In Sandpoint, Idaho, officials at Bonner General Health have announced that the hospital will no longer deliver babies. Officials cited the state’s “legal and political climate” as one of the reasons for the decision.
“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving,” the hospital’s statement said. “Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult. In addition, the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho Physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines.”
Idaho’s abortion law, which has been upheld by the state’s supreme court, allows the procedure in limited situations involving threats to life or in cases of rape or incest when the victim has reported the assault to law enforcement. Doctors who violate the law face up to five years in prison and revocation of their medical licenses.
Americans United is representing a broad cross-section of clergy in Missouri, another state with extreme abortion laws, arguing that these provisions impose a narrow religious view of reproductive freedom on all state residents – a clear violation of church-state separation.
If we’re successful, we won’t just free Missourians from theocratic laws – we’ll also protect proper medical care and let doctors do their jobs of keeping people safe and healthy.