My initial reaction to the decision was anger, because Roe’s reversal is such a devastating loss of women’s reproductive rights. Access to reproductive care is the reason I chose an OB-GYN career. It was my calling and felt like it had a direct impact on my ability to care for women in my community.
Some things worry me the most. First, I am very concerned that there is so much confusion and lack of clarity in the new law that patients will delay presenting for care in places like the emergency room for fear of reprisal, stigma or ‘go to jail. We already have women calling the clinic in panic because they think they won’t be able to get birth control or other prescribed medications. I also worry about my colleagues. We are already operating in a very complex environment, and I think physicians will burn out due to concerns about the legal implications of providing standard medical treatment. I worry that doctors will leave the state to practice where they feel they can give patients the full spectrum of care we were trained to provide.
For example, if a patient has a miscarriage—known as a “spontaneous abortion” in medical terms—because the law is vague, a doctor may be concerned with providing the necessary care, which often means draining the uterus. We have seen a major pharmacy chain denied access to standard medications to treat miscarriages. Delay or refusal of treatment increases the risk of complications such as bleeding, infection and infertility, and creates a catastrophic medical situation which, before the new laws, would have been managed in a very controlled manner. This puts women at risk of poor health and even death.
I think if there’s an opportunity to provide clarity on how doctors are supposed to follow the law, it could reduce the anxiety around caring for patients in these scenarios. The second element is to educate patients in a way that builds trust in providers within the community and encourages receipt of care. It also means providing access to contraception and family planning advice.
It is unfortunate that we live in a state where the maternal mortality statistics are so terrible. If we can’t do anything else, let’s see how to prevent mothers from dying in pregnancy.
As we come together as a community of medical providers and others who understand the law, let’s learn how to support women and make it easier for patients to access health care. I hope this will open a dialogue about how we can improve care for those who need us most.
– Stacey L. Holman, MD, OB-GYN, New Orleans, as told to Stephanie Grace.