It’s been one full year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and a year since abortion advocates started spreading the false notion that newly enacted protections for the unborn would deny pregnant women life-saving care.
Rhetoric from abortion advocates here in North Carolina is no different today. Just as our recently enacted protections for the unborn are about to go into effect, abortion providers in the state have filed a lawsuit challenging the new law, claiming it will impede quality medical care.
Abortion advocates’ inflammatory rhetoric frightens patients and law-abiding physicians and only advances a political agenda, not good medical care. The reality is that state laws enacted since Roe’s overturning protect the unborn AND empower doctors to use their critical medical judgement to act as needed to protect the health of the mother, including by ending the pregnancy if necessary.
In my practice as a maternal fetal medicine physician, I have treated many expecting mothers in high-risk situations to save their lives or to protect their health — both before and after the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. And any OB/GYN can recognize common conditions that place a woman’s life or health at risk. We are trained to identify ectopic pregnancies and other complications that can develop later, such as severe hemorrhage, uterine infections and severely elevated blood pressure, that often require ending the pregnancy to preserve the mother’s life. Laws protecting the unborn still allow for this.
In North Carolina, our newly passed regulations will protect the unborn after 12 weeks gestation and provide an exception in the case of emergency, determined by the woman’s doctor. The word “emergency” might be interpreted by some to mean that the patient must be on death’s door. But to the contrary, our North Carolina statute, like many other states’, defines a medical emergency as “a condition which, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function…” This definition empowers OB/GYNs and other physicians to use their medical judgement to compassionately care for both of their patients, the mother and the unborn child.
Despite commonsense carveouts in abortion laws, it is understandable that physicians (who aren’t legal experts) desire guidance from medical professional organizations to feel confident that they are practicing in accordance with their state’s laws. Unfortunately, in the case of these laws, many doctors have been deprived of the direction they’ve come to expect from these organizations.
For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provides ample clinical guidance to doctors on a vast range of medical issues but has not published guidance for physicians on complying with new abortion laws. Some have claimed that it’s impossible to provide adequate instruction on when a physician can legally end a pregnancy because no list can fully capture all possible clinical scenarios. But ACOG’s extensive list of conditions that would warrant delivery in the late-preterm and early-term periods show that lists, while never perfect, can be made to offer assistance in navigating emergency medical situations.
ACOG has also previously and clearly stated that complications, such as preterm rupture of the membranes or severe pre-eclampsia, can necessitate ending a pregnancy prior to fetal viability in order to protect the mother. ACOG should address the confusion that exists and offer clarity by building on their previous guidance and publishing comprehensive guidelines in keeping with their commitment to “improve women’s health.”
North Carolina is proving that we can protect the unborn while still providing women with excellent medical care. Thanks to our nation’s network of highly skilled OB/GYNs, carefully trained to diagnose and advise pregnant mothers, women can rest assured that they will receive the care and protection they so greatly deserve.