Legal confusion post-Roe is threatening maternal health, physicians say

With the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, physicians, hospitals and health systems fearful of violating state restrictions on abortion are delaying some lifesaving pregnancy care, The Washington Post reported July 16.

The nation's highest court overturned the constitutional protection for abortion June 24, returning the authority to regulate abortion to states. 

Without Roe v. Wade, about half of states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization.

Physicians in multiple states where new laws have taken effect told The Washington Post that this legal landscape has resulted in confusion that has spurred delays and denials for incomplete miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and other common complications. Some of the confusion revolves around what state laws allow when it comes to lifesaving care when a woman's life is in danger, and some providers are consulting attorneys and hospital ethics committees regarding these decisions.

Mae Winchester, MD, is one such provider.

Dr. Winchester, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine in Ohio, who sought legal advice before performing an abortion on a pregnant woman with a uterine infection, told The Washington Post: "People are running scared. There's a lot of unknowns still left out there."

In Texas, the state medical association filed a complaint to petition the state medical board to act after it says hospitals reportedly denied care to patients with serious pregnancy complications for fear of running afoul of the state's abortion ban, The Dallas Morning News reported July 14.

According to the newspaper, the Texas Medical Association asked the board to "swiftly act to prevent any wrongful intrusion into the practice of medicine."

Texas is among the states with states with "trigger" laws, which will be set in motion to ban abortions following the overturning of federal protections. That law in Texas, which has a narrow exception if a pregnant patient's life is in danger, is slated to become effective in the coming weeks, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Anti-abortion groups say the overturning of Roe v. Wade does not prevent physicians from providing lifesaving care. “Those procedures would remain legal and would not be considered abortion,” Eric Scheidler, executive director of the nonprofit Pro-Life Action League, told The Washington Post. “No physician can claim not to know that.”

As many physicians have expressed concern that they may be at risk of prosecution for providing miscarriage care, HHS has issued guidance clarifying that hospitals must provide abortions in emergency cases. Texas is suing over the HHS guidance. 

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