Post-Roe, doctors worry about what constitutes lifesaving care thumbnail

Health care providers say the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has led to increased confusion over what sort of emergency and life-giving care they can provide to patients facing a pregnancy-related health crisis.

They say the rapid shift in state abortion laws, combined with how those laws are being enforced has led many to wonder what types of procedures and medications they can provide in the aftermath of the June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned the nearly 50-year-old legal precedent establishing a legal right to an abortion.

State laws, they say, are often vague and do not provide a common definition of what procedures and medications fall under the umbrella of life-saving care when it relates to reproductive health. State laws are often vague and may not clarify if, for example, they would apply to an abortion for mental health reasons or for pregnancy complications in earlier its stages.

Testifying at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing Tuesday, Leah M. Litman, assistant professor of law at University of Michigan Law School, testified that “broadly worded laws might potentially prohibit” practices once considered life-saving care.

Litman pointed to the Texas Medical Association, which recently issued a complaint to the Texas Medical Board that the implementation of the state’s abortion bans have delayed miscarriage care and other emergency procedures.

The subcommittee hearing, the last of five congressional hearings since last week examining the impact of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June, saw both parties at odds over the interpretation of these state laws and what was permitted under those laws, despite both sides agreeing that treatment for caring for an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage was necessary.

“All of us who are physicians would be committing medical malpractice if we didn’t intervene to save a woman’s life and again, that’s what I have done every day for my 14-year career and I don’t see how that would need to change,” said Christina Francis, CEO-Elect of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “I will still be able to intervene to save the life of my patients.”

Nisha Verma, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, disagreed.

“I think that these restrictions are going to affect people seeking abortion care for all reasons, including life-saving abortion care and medical emergencies,” she said.

Verma, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Georgia, said she has treated patients with pulmonary hypertension, which can increase the risk of death during pregnancy to 50 percent.

“But under these laws, if that person comes to me at six or seven weeks before they’ve got that chance to get treated, can I do their abortion or do I have to wait until they get sick?” she said. “That idea of having to wait for someone to get sick is just counterintuitive to what we are trained to do as physicians.”

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, said he has never seen confusion over what is considered life-saving in the field.

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