On Roe v. Wade anniversary, doctors outline the harms of a national abortion ban ⋆

Physicians from across the country, including Michigan, discussed the “hellish reality” of a national abortion ban during an online discussion Monday, the 51st anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The Committee to Protect Health Care hosted the Zoom event that featured doctors from Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Wisconsin, each relating how the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling, which overturned Roe, made it much more difficult to provide proper health care for their patients, and how a national abortion ban would exponentially worsen that state of affairs.

Dr. Rob Davidson, executive director of Committee to Protect Health Care, virtual discussion on national abortion ban – Jan. 22, 2024 – screenshot

Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency physician in West Michigan and the committee’s executive director, said as a result of Dobbs, one in three women of reproductive age now live under an abortion ban, with the potential for the other two-thirds to find themselves in the same situation regardless of where they live.

“Anti-abortion extremists aren’t done,” said Davidson. “[Former President] Donald Trump has bragged that he was the one who got rid of Roe v. Wade and he and other national Republicans have their sights set on a national abortion ban. We must make no mistake in the absence of Roe v. Wade, a national abortion ban is possible and politicians like Donald Trump want to make it a reality.”

Davidson said even in states like Michigan, which in 2022 enshrined the right to an abortion in the state constitution, a national abortion ban would place pregnant patients in the same predicament that women in states like Georgia and Texas are currently facing.

Highlighting that reality was Dr. Didi Saint Louis, an OB-GYN in Atlanta and member of the committee’s Reproductive Freedom Taskforce. 

Taking away the federal right to abortion access has paved the way for many states, such as the state of Georgia, where I live, to be able to ban abortion access after just six weeks of pregnancy,” she said. “While the Georgia abortion ban includes limited exceptions for the life of the pregnant individual, and in cases of rape and incest, these are legally difficult to navigate and simply insufficient. 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.”

Dr. Didi Saint Louis, Committee to Protect Health Care virtual discussion on national abortion ban – Jan. 22, 2024 – screenshot

Saint Louis said for many women in Georgia who need reproductive health care, the only option is to travel hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to other states that permit it. That’s assuming they have the financial means to do so, which many don’t. 

A national ban, she said, would remove even that option.

“When patients don’t have access to abortion when they need it, the consequences can be devastating,” Saint Louis said. “As a practicing physician in the state of Georgia, I have seen many women stuck between the health care system [and] the legal system, with pregnancies that are non-viable …waiting for us to be able to intervene and to practice the medical care and to give them the standard of care that they deserve.”

Davidson said it wasn’t that long ago that he and other doctors in Michigan were faced with the same predicament in trying to navigate a law fundamentally at odds with proper health care. In the aftermath of Roe being overturned, a 1931 law in Michigan outlawing abortion except when a mother’s life was at risk,could potentially have gone into effect.

“I’m an emergency doc. I see patients, unfortunately suffering from miscarriages, suffering from incomplete miscarriages, suffering from severe bleeding in pregnancy when perhaps there still may be a heartbeat, but it’s imminent and that person’s life is at risk,” he said. 

“I have a fellow [obstetrician] I work with who really asked the question when we were all presented with this potential ban going into effect in Michigan a couple of summers ago: ‘At what point do we determine someone’s life is at risk? How many pints of blood need to be lost? How far along the path?’ And if I’ve learned anything in 25 years of medical practice, whether it be reproductive health care or any other aspect of health care, there are rarely black and white days in my job.”

An injunction prevented the 1931 ban from taking effect before it was then permanently repealed following the passage of Proposal 3 in 2022, which enshrined the right to an abortion in Michigan’s constitution.

But Davidson says it is a “huge concern” that voters in Michigan, and other states like Minnesota and Ohio that have similar protections, might be more complacent about the threat a national abortion ban poses in nullifying that progress.

“I think it’s our job as doctors that work in this space to communicate, to let people know a national abortion ban will supersede any state law regarding abortion,” he said. “We should take them seriously and we should take them literally. Donald Trump has said he was the most pro-life president ever, and he has very specifically endorsed and supported a national abortion ban. We can’t let people forget that risk.”

Dr. Kristin Lyerly is an OB-GYN who said Wisconsin’s abortion ban forced her to provide services instead in neighboring Minnesota because she couldn’t provide her patients with the level of care they deserved. 

“And a national abortion ban would mean worse,” she said. “It would mean more women, like Kate Cox in Texas and Brittany Watts in Ohio, would suffer from dangerous, painful pregnancy complications, putting their fertility and their very lives at risk.”

Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two, was forced to flee Texas to get an abortion after learning her fetus had a fatal genetic birth disorder that threatened her own life and future fertility if she carried the pregnancy to term. After suffering through severe cramping, fluid leaks, elevated vital signs, and a rapidly deteriorating condition, Cox sought to utilize the exception in Texas’ anti-abortion law for the life of a mother, but was ultimately denied by the Texas Supreme Court.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly, Committee to Protect Health Care virtual discussion on national abortion ban – Jan. 22, 2024 – screenshot

Watts is a 34-year-old woman who suffered a miscarriage of a nonviable fetus while at home in Warren, Ohio, had faced being charged with abuse of a corpse before a grand jury earlier this month declined to indict her.

Lyerly also pointed to the case of Brittany Poolaw in Oklahoma, who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2021 after suffering a miscarriage, even though an autopsy of the fetus indicated its death was likely due to a genetic abnormality and not her drug use.

“This is the dystopian world that we are living in right now,” she said. “It would also mean that anti-abortion extremists like Donald Trump would continue to be able to dictate your personal medical decisions. So on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must acknowledge the harm that state abortion bans have already done and further recognize the very real risk a national abortion ban poses.”

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authored by Jon King
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F01%2F22%2Fon-roe-v-wade-anniversary-doctors-outline-the-harms-of-a-national-abortion-ban%2F

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