How Abortion Bans Put Doctors In A Bind When It Comes To Life-Threatening Pregnancies

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion in the U.S., many doctors may be caught in a bind when it comes to providing life-saving medical care to pregnant patients, due to state laws banning or severely limiting abortion access. Although doctors take an oath to "do no harm" and have a duty to listen to their patients and do what is best for them, legal requirements can get in the way of that duty and oath (via NPR). While there are a variety of different abortion bans in states across the country, one of the most restrictive bans is in Texas, where abortions are prohibited after 6 weeks of gestation.

Dozens of major medical associations have criticized the ban, saying that it interferes with physicians' ethical obligations to their patients, especially those whose lives are at risk. "Laws will exist that ask [physicians] to deprioritize the person in front of them and to act in a way that is medically harmful," Dr. Louise King, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told NPR. "And the penalty for not doing so will be loss of license, money loss, potentially even criminal sanctions."

Abortion bans can endanger the lives of pregnant patients

Per NBC News, Texas also allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a pregnant patient get an abortion after 6 weeks of gestation. In addition, the state's trigger law, which is set to take effect 30 days after the Supreme Court ruling, makes it a felony to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Doctors who violate the law could face jail time or be forced to pay a fine of $100,000. Many abortion bans in other states that have already or will soon go into effect fail to specify which life-threatening circumstances would qualify as exceptions.

Lisa Harris, a professor of reproductive health at the University of Michigan, told NBC News that in many cases, doctors in states with abortion bans will likely "wait to that very last minute when it's clear that a patient will die to do the procedure, and that's just not an ideal time to do any kind of intervention."

According to Harris, one of the clearest threats to a pregnant patient's life is an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. This can cause internal bleeding that immediately endangers the life of the pregnant person. Other situations, such as pulmonary hypertension which carries up to a 50% risk of death with ongoing pregnancy, are less clear. As a result, experts agree that abortion bans like this put patients at risk.