How medical boards dominated by Republicans can make life hell for pro-choice doctors
For 49 years, abortion was a national right in the United States. But that ended on June 24, 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court’s radical-right majority overturned Roe v. Wade with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Now, a long list of GOP-controlled states have either outlawed abortion or are likely to outlaw it.
Journalist Madison Pauly, in an article published by Mother Jones on August 11, takes a look at the influence that Republican donors can have on medical boards in anti-choice red states — where, she warns, losing a license is a very real possibility for pro-choice doctors.
Pauly stresses that although medical boards are assumed to be nonpartisan, a “closer look reveals boards that are stacked with Republican political donors in states that have recently tightened restrictions on abortion.”
“Across the 12 states with total or near-total abortion bans as of July 31,” Pauly explains, “more than half of medical board seats were held by people who had given at least $1000 apiece to Republican campaigns, according to campaign finance data accessed through the National Institute on Money in Politics analyzed by Mother Jones. An estimated 70 percent are men. In the post–Roe v. Wade reality, boards long seen as doctors’ allies are being recast as something to fear: panels of political appointees armed with wide-reaching abortion bans and the power to strip doctors of their licenses.”
In Mississippi, Pauly notes, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said that enforcement of the state’s abortion ban will be “done by the State Board of Medical Licensure.”
Adarsh Krishen, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, told Mother Jones, “The more zealous people you get on the board who have extreme views, the more likely it is that the state medical board is going to (be) more tightly aligned with the other arms of the government and go after physicians…. You get a little bit more nervous and anxious when you start to see the state passing regulations restricting medical care. Then, what’s the next step? The medical board saying, ‘Did you comply?’ And if not, now it’s going to come for your license.”
Pauly points out that although “medical board discipline happens state by state,” it is “designed to follow a doctor throughout her career.”
“Some left-leaning states are starting to take steps to limit the damage medical boards can do to doctors across states,” Pauly observes. “In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order telling the Colorado medical board not (to) cooperate with investigations into doctors accused of breaking another state’s abortion law, as long as doctors’ actions followed Colorado medical standards. In California, a similar bill is making its way through the state legislature. And there are other steps boards could theoretically take — like using their discretion to avoid pursuing some abortion-related complaints.”
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