Anti-abortion laws could create a dangerous shortage of badly needed maternal care: report
For decades, defenders of abortion rights have been warning that if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, it would create chaos in the United States’ medical system — and sure enough, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical-right majority having overturned Roe after 49 years, states are starting to see that chaos.
Journalist Jessica Glenza, in a report published by The Guardian on July 8, examines the effects that the end of Roe and abortion bans or restrictions at the state level are having on maternal care in general. Glenza does some stellar reporting and explains why anti-abortion laws endanger the health of pregnant women who aren’t even seeking abortions.
Glenza cites Louisiana as an example of a state where “the race to criminalize doctors who allegedly provide abortions” could “worsen maternal health in America, as criminal penalties across the U.S. redefine where and how doctors are willing to practice.”
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“In turn,” Glenza reports, “that is likely to worsen a leading reason some states are more dangerous places to give birth: lack of hospitals, birthing centers and obstetricians…. The severe criminal penalties and extraordinary civil liability doctors are exposed to under such anti-abortion statutes could become fundamental to how and where healthcare providers decide to practice.”
Glenza notes that Louisiana’s anti-abortion “trigger law” — that is, an anti-abortion law designed to go into effect if Roe were ever overturned — “allows for fines of up to $250,000 and 15 years in prison for wrongly inducing an abortion.” And doctors who don’t even perform abortions are fearful of offering maternal health care in anti-abortion states if, for example, a woman suffers a miscarriage and a prosecutor blames them for it.
Lisa M. Wayne, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), has been inundated with calls from medical associations and attorneys who, according to Glenza, are “trying to sort out the kind of legal exposure they may face state-to-state.”
Wayne told The Guardian, “Forget the fines — people are afraid to go to prison. Nobody wants to sign up thinking their freedom or liberty is going to be interfered with.”
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According to Dr. Jen Villavicencio of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abortion bans will likely cause “even greater workforce challenges in certain areas, particularly if obstetrician-gynecologists are unable to live and work in states with restrictive abortion laws.” And in an affidavit, Dr. Nina Breakstone — who practices emergency medicine in Terrytown, Louisiana — said, “Frankly, I am worried I could go to prison just for handling a miscarriage as I always have.”
In a different affidavit, New Orleans-based OB-GYN Rebecca Perret warned, “Providers like myself are left with absolutely no direction on how to resume their practice or what, if any, of their actions may subject them to prison time and enormous fines.”
If an OB-GYN has spent a fortune attending medical school and is still paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, the last thing they need is the fear of criminal liability — which will make practicing in a state with abortion protections, such as Massachusetts or California, much safer, from a legal standpoint, than practicing in a deep red state like Louisiana.
Dr. Juanita Chinn of the National Institute of Child and Human Health Development told The Guardian, “Where you live matters. A geographic barrier in the ability to access care will likely only heighten the risk of experiencing a severe maternal morbidity event or a maternal mortality.”
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Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department, fears that being pregnant in Louisiana will — thanks to a shortage of adequate maternal care resources — become increasingly dangerous in the months ahead.
In a court paper, Avegno warned, “I am concerned maternal mortality rates will only get worse if the trigger ban (goes) into effect…. One of the main reasons women are more likely to die in Louisiana is because they are forced to travel long distances for care in many areas of the state due to lack of healthcare providers.”
In an affidavit, Dr. Valerie Williams, a New Orleans-based OB-GYN and an assistant professor at Louisiana State University Healthcare Network, cited a specific example of a maternal health expert who decided against Louisiana for legal reasons.
“When helping find a replacement for my former position,” Williams said, “an amazing candidate applied who was very motivated to practice in Louisiana. Once she heard Louisiana has trigger bans with severe penalties for physicians, however, she backed out.”
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