Reviews | The New York Times stands by its ectopic pregnancy essay with a big mistake

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Memo to the New York Times: It’s a bad time to publish inaccurate information about pregnancies.

In a 4th of July guest essay on ectopic pregnancy for The Times, Leah Libresco Sargeant used language that does not meet medical standards to discuss and address such conditions, such as a social media scandal rapidly sharp out. In an apparent effort to accommodate a range of opinions, The Times favored the language preferences of the author over the greater imperative of conveying accurate and factual information to readers. This mistake comes at a difficult time for writing about women’s health, as new battles over reproductive rights have turned the pace into a linguistic and ideological minefield.

The Last month’s Supreme Court ruling overturned Roe vs. Wade did not clarify the regulatory environment but upset it. Concerns arising from conflicts in state abortion policies include how medical providers will treat patients with pregnancy complications. STAT, for example, reported that a woman experiencing an ectopic pregnancy a few days after the court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health had to wait for a Missouri hospital ethics committee to approve his treatment.

Ectopic pregnancies are potentially fatal for the mother – and always fatal for the fetus. Will hospitals treat these cases as aggressively as they did before the court ruling in Dobbs? “The lack of clarity about what poses a threat to the mother’s life means some doctors feel compelled to sit and watch patients’ health deteriorate until they are able to intervene. “, reported STAT.

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In his Times article, Sargeant defined an ectopic pregnancy as a pregnancy in which “the baby implants somewhere other than the uterus.” And the essay noted that the “situation is fatal for the baby” and dangerous for the mother.

In the vast majority of ectopic pregnancies, the embryo lodges in the fallopian tubes – a perilous development, explains doctor Beverly Gray to the blog Erik Wemple. “It’s a very narrow tube, and you have an embryo traveling down the tube. The tube is not hospitable for the development of a pregnancy and what happens is that it stretches to the point where it is super thin and this can cause an emergent situation: hemorrhage and bleeding”, explains Gray, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University. Medicine School.

Given this context, consider this line from the Times guest essay: “From a pro-life perspective, giving birth to an ectopic baby closer to giving birth very prematurely because the mother has life-threatening eclampsia,” writes Sargeant, who, according to the Times biography, is an author and leader of “an online community that focuses on the dignity of addiction “.

Bold added to highlight a big problem: An ectopic “baby” is never “delivered”. “We deliver nothing when we perform surgery for an ectopic pregnancy,” says physician Louise King, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. “It’s not a delivery. A childbirth is a term that actually has a meaning in medical parlance.

Asked about the use of this terminology to describe an ectopic pregnancy, a Times spokeswoman told the Erik Wemple blog: “This is a guest essay which reflects the views of the author. The author is clear about ectopic pregnancy: “an ectopic pregnancy will certainly not survive.”

With this statement, the Times endorses the factual contradiction in its pages. The idea that doctors deliver ectopic “babies” is central to Sargeant’s essay, which calls for far-reaching compassion in these situations. A key paragraph:

My goal for a post-Roe world is that we can offer more love and material support to mothers. and children, especially in the most difficult cases. The logic of abortion was that a side had to be chosen between the baby or the mother. But even in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, you can take the side of both – treat mother and child with dignity. Both can benefit from the attention given to the other.

To get that perspective, Sargeant went to see a “Catholic surgeon” when she experienced an ectopic pregnancy. She welcomed his approach: “He began by expressing his condolences. He talked about our options, he talked about our baby as a baby.

Gray came out of the opinion piece with some interpretation. “I think what stuck with me the most was this narrative that doctors who provide abortion care are not compassionate,” she says. “I had a very strong reaction to that.” King did the same: “I was frankly offended by all of us.”

Doctors meet patients ‘where they are’, says King – meaning if anyone wanted King to use ‘birthing’ and ‘baby’ language during treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, she would. willingly with his patient, in addition to trying to welcome them otherwise. “If a patient asks me to pray with them before the operation, I will pray in the most meaningful way for them,” King says.

None of those considerations, however, change the science behind the treatment, says King, who will note in medical records that she removed a fallopian tube, terminated the pregnancy and collected “products of conception.”

Ectopic pregnancy journalism has huge stakes. NPR reported that after Texas passed restrictive abortion laws – before the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs—”at least several Austin-area OB-GYNs received a letter from a pharmacy in late 2021 saying they would no longer refill the drug methotrexate for an ectopic pregnancy. Methotrexate is a drug that treats ectopic pregnancies without surgery.

“The misinformation about ectopic pregnancies is absolutely rampant, and I think that influences how a lot of people approach ectopic pregnancies,” says Carmel Shachar, executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Guest essays do not represent the institution publishing them. As such, outlets must consider and respect the opinions and experience of the essayist – but this duty cannot conflict with facts and science. Run a Correction, New York Times.

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