Our Turn: Protection of safe, legal abortion is critical

Published: 5/29/2019 12:10:20 AM

Many people seem to think a woman’s pregnancy is an open invitation to decide what is best for her. It is clear that some value the life of an unborn child over that of the woman and the lives she is already supporting. Lawmakers who know nothing of a woman’s complex life circumstances should have no voice in her decision-making, particularly when it comes to pregnancy.

Recent passed or proposed abortion laws have outraged many of us. There have been 15 restrictive abortion bills passed in our country this year. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that bans all abortions in her state – with no exceptions for rape or incest – and imposes prison sentences on doctors who perform them. Criminalizing physicians is an attempt to prohibit safe abortions.

Many states that have passed or proposed new laws, including Georgia, Alabama and Missouri, have the worst public health outcomes in the nation. It is no coincidence that states with the most restrictive abortion laws have the highest maternal mortality rates. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality in many developing countries.

We know from the past that banning the termination of an early pregnancy does not stop abortions. Prior to Roe v. Wade thousands of women died from illegal procedures. Most major hospitals had sepsis wards for women who developed overwhelming infections after an illegal abortion. We do not want to go back to that world.

Some opposed to abortion focus on the termination of “late” pregnancies. Ninety-eight percent of abortions are performed in the first three months of pregnancy. Those performed later result from a diagnosis of severe fetal abnormalities incompatible with life. Some terminations of a late pregnancy are required to save a woman’s life.

Many patients come to mind: the 13-year-old Girl Scout who was pregnant because her older brother’s friend raped her while she was playing in a tree house. The 35-year-old insulin-dependent diabetic who presented in early pregnancy with unstable angina, secondary to severe coronary artery disease. She underwent a life-saving termination of pregnancy and a five-vessel coronary artery bypass surgery on the same day. A woman hemorrhaging in her second trimester requiring multiple blood transfusions and transfer to our hospital for a simple-life saving surgical procedure. Remarkably, no physician had been trained to perform this surgery at her hospital.

The barrage of legislation attempting to regulate abortion represents a distrust of both women and their physicians. The laws show a disregard for the years care providers have devoted to clinical judgment, medical/surgical skills and developing relationships with our patients.

We are grateful to the other doctors, activists, legislators and organizations who are fighting to protect access to a safe, legal abortion in New Hampshire and across our country. Women and their care providers should be making personal medical decisions, not lawmakers.

(Dr. Oge Young of Concord, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, is an adjunct professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Dr. Ellen Joyce is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and president of the N.H. chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)

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