Governor Gary Herbert in white jacket with stethoscope (575 x 301 px)

A rash of ridiculous bills that limit women’s reproductive rights continue to be signed into law by Governors practicing medicine with their pens. The latest example is a bill signed into law by Utah’s Republican Governor, Gary Herbert. It requires doctors to administer anesthesia or heavy analgesia to women receiving an abortion at the 20th week of gestation or beyond. The bill states that it is necessary in order to “eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child” despite the fact that there is NO evidence that fetuses in this gestational age range can feel pain. In fact, a 2005 review of the issue suggests that fetuses only become pain sensitive in their third trimester (around 28 weeks).

Since abortions are banned in Utah after viability (about 22 weeks), the number of women affected is expected to be small, but the fact that a Governor can sign into law a requirement that a woman must be administered drugs that have serious risks, including the risk of death, when there is no legitimate medical indication is more than appalling—it should be illegal.

There will almost certainly be a lawsuit over this bill and I am confident that it will eventually be overturned, but why should it even be possible for Governors to practice medicine with their pens?

 

Other anti-abortion laws

Other obnoxious examples of laws that are designed to deny women their right to a safe and legal abortion include the following:

  • In an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that prohibits the use of public funds to pay for preventive medical care at the same facilities in which privately funded abortions occur. Good job, Ricky, make it hard for women with limited resources to get paps and birth control pills. Oh, I forgot, the legislature has already developed a list of places where women can go for such things once Planned Parenthood is barred from taking Medicaid. That list includes dozens of elementary and middle schools, several dental practices, and an optometry center.
  • Many states have passed laws that require doctors who do abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The supporters of this type of legislation say it is for the safety of women, but it doesn’t make clinical sense. That is simply not how the health care system is set up to deliver emergency care. If a mishap occurs in an outpatient setting, say a doctor’s office where minor surgical procedures are performed, the doctor provides on-the-spot care while waiting for an ambulance to transport the patient to an appropriately resourced hospital emergency department. Once there, the patient is stabilized and then admitted to a hospital-based team if more care is needed. The office-based doctor plays almost no role in the hospital care beyond providing the necessary details of what led up to the incident and he or she certainly doesn’t need admitting privileges.
  • Some states have mandated that abortion clinics meet the same requirements as ambulatory surgery centers, something that is prohibitively expensive and completely unnecessary.

In the 4 year period between 2011 and 2014, states have enacted 231 laws restricting abortion. A comprehensive summary of state laws related to abortion has been compiled by the Guttmacher Institute can be found here.

Graph of 4 years of abortion restriction laws
Graphic from http://www.guttmacher.org/media/inthenews/2015/01/05/

 

If they really want to keep women safe…

If the anti-abortion legislators want to do something that will actually keep women safe, they would ensure the availability of safe and legal abortions so that women won’t have to return to the days of coat-hanger self-induced abortions. If you think I am exaggerating here, think again. The New York Times recently ran a story about the marked increase in google searches for ways to self-induce an abortion that coincided with the escalation in anti-abortion activities in this country.

Another thing they can do is to increase funding and access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCS) so girls and women don’t get pregnant in the first place. Oh, but I forgot again, Presidential wannabe Ted Cruz has declared there is no contraceptive problem in the US since “…last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. Look, when I was in college,” he continued “we had a machine in the bathroom you put 50 cents in it, voila!,” The (willful?) ignorance of this Princeton-educated, Harvard Law grad about the reality of women’s lives is staggering.

 

The bottom line

This on-going assault on women’s rights by extreme right-wing legislators and Governors is regressive and dangerous and needs to be stopped.

Here are some things that you can do right now:

  • Donate to pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL
  • Become educated on the issues—the Guttmacher Institute is a good place to start—and use that knowledge to inform others
  • Educate your elected representatives
  • If they won’t or can’t learn, then do your best to vote them out

That’s my opinion, what’s yours?

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.

8 COMMENTS

  1. If all women and all Progressive men agreed with this opinion, then the politics would be overwhelmingly in our favor. But, remember, it’s not like former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was a fiery champion for women’s reproductive rights — look at her web page, she promises to defund Planned Parenthood. But I couldn’t agree with you more, Pat, that those who are offended by these policies need to speak up.

  2. The ERA was written in 1920 presented in 1923. How can we make some pressure to the law makers to make it the law of the land. I know persons in Texas , republican by tradition , pledging to vote democrat for the first time in their life because of the lack of respect for women in the republican leadership.

  3. Im not sure where this author gets the idea that preterm babies 20-28 weeks can’t feel pain. There are numerous studies showing they do, at least from 24 weeks – the edge of viability. And if they do from 24 weeks then they might from 20-23 weeks. So there is the potential for suffering by these foetuses that must be negated. I’m a doctor working in Paeds and Neonatology FYI and my perspective is from the foetus/babies point of view, not withstanding the mother’s legal rights.

  4. A respondent to my RT described this as ‘Governors practicing medicine with their penis.’ My basic question is why don’t state medical societies act and react to these political, antimedicine, antiscience acts? What’s wrong in the practice of medicine? Great work!

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