Abortion bans are scaring off doctors and putting basic health care at risk
The rush in conservative states to ban abortion after the overthrow of the Roe vs. Wade is resulting in a startling consequence that opponents of abortion may not have considered: less health care available to all women living in those states.
Doctors are showing, through their words and actions, that they are reluctant to practice in places where making the best decision for a patient could result in huge fines or even jail time. And when clinics that provide abortions close their doors, all other services offered there also close, including regular exams, breast cancer screenings, and contraception.
Concern about the repercussions for women’s health is not only raised by abortion rights advocates. A recent warning comes from Jerome Adams, who served as a surgeon general in the Trump administration.
in a tweet thread In April, Adams wrote that “the trade-off of restricted access (and criminalization of doctors) just to decrease abortions could end up actually making pregnancy less safe for all and increasing infant and maternal mortality.”
An early indication of that impending medical “brain drain” came in February, when 76% of respondents in a survey of more than 2,000 current and future doctors said they would not even apply for jobs or training in states with abortion restrictions. “In other words,” the study authors wrote in an accompanying article, “many qualified candidates would no longer even consider working or training in more than half of the US states.”
In fact, states that ban abortion experienced a greater decline in the number of medical school seniors applying for residency in 2023 compared to states without bans, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges. . While applications for OB/GYN residencies were down across the country, the decline in states with comprehensive abortion bans was more than double that of those without restrictions (10.5% vs. 5.2%).
That means fewer doctors to perform critical preventative care, like Pap smears and screening for sexually transmitted infections, which can lead to infertility.
The care of pregnant women is specifically at risk, as hospitals in rural areas close maternity wards because they cannot find enough professionals to care for them, a problem that predates the abortion decision but has only worsened since so.
In March, Bonner General Health, the only hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, announced it was discontinuing its labor and delivery services, in part due to Idaho’s “political and legal climate” including state legislators continuing to “introduce and passing bills that criminalize doctors.” for health care nationally recognized as the standard of care.”
Heartbreaking reports from across the country show that abortion bans are also endangering the health of some patients suffering from miscarriages and other non-viable pregnancies. Earlier this year, a pregnant woman with a non-viable fetus in Oklahoma was told to wait in the parking lot until she felt worse after being told doctors “can’t touch you unless you crash in front of us.” ”.
A study by researchers at the State University of New York-Buffalo published in the journal Women’s Health Issues found that doctors who practice in states with restrictive abortion policies are less likely than those in states with supportive abortion policies to have been trained to perform the same early care. abortion procedures used for women who experience miscarriages early in pregnancy.
But it’s more than a lack of doctors that could complicate pregnancies and deliveries. The states with the strictest abortion restrictions are also the least likely to offer support services for low-income mothers and babies. Even before the overthrow of Roea report by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan research group, found that maternal mortality rates in states with abortion restrictions or bans were 62% higher than in states where abortion was more widely available.
Women who know their pregnancies could become high-risk think twice about getting pregnant in states with abortion restrictions. Carmen Broesder, an Idaho woman who described her struggles getting care for a miscarriage in a series of viral TikTok videos, told ABC News that she does not plan to try to get pregnant again.
“Why would I want to go through my daughter almost losing her mother again to have another child?” she said. “That seems selfish and wrong.”
The anti-abortion movement once seemed more sensitive to arguments that its policies neglect the needs of women and children, an accusation most famously made by former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who once He said, “Conservatives believe that from the federal government’s point of view, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”
In fact, an icon of the anti-abortion movement, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who died in 2007, partnered with liberal Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on legislation to expand Medicaid. coverage and provide more benefits to address infant mortality in the late 1980s.
Few anti-abortion groups are following suit by pushing policies to make it easier for people to get pregnant, give birth and raise their children. Most of those efforts go unnoticed.
This year, Americans United for Life and Democrats for Life of America released a joint position paper urging lawmakers to “make births free.” Among their suggestions are automatic insurance coverage, without deductibles or copayments, for pregnancy and childbirth; eliminate incentives to pay for caesarean sections and intrahospital deliveries; and a “monthly maternal allowance” for the first two years of the child’s life.
“Making childbirth free for American mothers can and should be a national unifier at a particularly divided time,” the newspaper says. Such a policy could not only make it easier for women to start families, but could also address the nation’s dismal maternal mortality record.
Yet in a year when the same Republican lawmakers who support a national abortion ban are pushing more vehemently for big cuts in the federal budget, it seems unlikely that a free childbirth policy will go very far or very fast.
That leaves opponents of abortion at something of a crossroads: Will they follow Hyde’s lead and advocate for policies that expand and protect access to care? Or will women’s health suffer with the victory of the anti-abortion movement?
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces detailed journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.