Doctors in the South say a national abortion ban would be a ‘hellish reality’ for patients
It’s been 51 years since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision Roe v. Wade granted a Dallas woman the right to an abortion and created legal precedent protecting that right federally.
In 2022, the court overturned the ruling. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization shifted power back to the states to set abortion policy. As a result, multiple states have limited or banned abortion access. In Texas, that meant a near-total abortion ban, with limited exceptions for life-threatening health complications.
On the eve of Roe’s anniversary, doctors across the South are reflecting on the shifting landscape of pregnancy and abortion care, and the challenges they face in helping their patients.
Dr. Didi Saint Louis, an OBGYN in Atlanta, said on a call with reporters Monday she was “absolutely devastated” when Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“Pregnancy is inherently complicated, and it is both difficult and cruel for a patient to be close enough to death in order for us to be able to intervene,” she said.
Saint Louis said prior to 2022, patients from neighboring states with abortion restrictions would travel to find abortion care. But now, in the wake of the state’s six-week abortion ban, she said patients are left with few options.
“Nobody should be forced to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to access routine medical care,” said Saint Louis. “Make no mistake, abortion care is reproductive health care.”
Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a family physician in Houston, said he’s seen numerous laws limit abortion access in his almost nine years of practicing medicine in Texas.
“Even for doctors, determining how close a patient is to death before we can act is difficult at best,” he said. “It has legal and even criminal implications for doctors who are just trying to act in our patients’ best interests.”
Texas doctors who violate the state’s abortion law could be charged with a first-degree felony, face a $100,000 fine, and lose their licenses. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said hospitals could also be held liable for “negligently credentialing the physician and failing to exercise appropriate professional judgement.”
“Pregnant patients should be able to make their own medical decisions in private,” Kumar said. “Patient-doctor trust and confidentiality is critical to the practice of medicine.
“In no circumstance should personal medical decisions around pregnancy be dictated by a politician. Period.”
Kumar said the unclear nature of Texas’ law has impacted pregnant people across the state, including Dallas resident Kate Cox. Late last year Cox filed a lawsuit petitioning the Texas courts for an emergency abortion after she discovered bringing her fetus to term would threaten her health and future fertility.
A lower court in Travis County granted her the ability to terminate the pregnancy, but the Texas Supreme Court overturned the decision in December.
Cox ended up having to leave the state to find care, but advocates are concerned similar issues will continue to happen to patients.
Other lawsuits, including a cohort of 20 women suing Texas, argue the exceptions are “too narrow and vague, and endangered them during complicated pregnancies.”
A UT Austin study from last May showed that doctors were scared and confused and offered worse care to patients in the months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Researchers found that patients with health complications, like bleeding and early miscarriages, all had worse outcomes because doctors were concerned providing treatment would result in them losing their licenses or being charged criminally.
Kumar is concerned “this hellish reality” could become more widespread if lawmakers pass a national abortion ban, which some Republican lawmakers have proposed. He said he’s seen patients full of fear trying to navigate their pregnancies.
“They’re being traumatized,” Kumar said. “They’re living in this traumatized state, not sure what they can do and can’t do, what they can ask and where they can get that care. And it’s really, really unfair for them.”
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