Jul 5, 2022 - Health

Louisiana's abortion ban will be "devastating" for patients in need of urgent care, doctors warn

Picture of the Supreme Court building with signs in support of abortion in front of it
Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

"Trigger laws" that ban nearly all abortions will cause "grave and devastating harm" to providers and patients seeking potentially life-saving health care, physicians and doctors warn.

Driving the news: Plaintiffs in a case challenging Louisiana's trigger bans — which are temporarily blocked — filed a series of sworn affidavits from physicians in the state expressing concern that letting these laws take effect will be "detrimental" to patients in need of urgent care due to their "confusing" language.

  • Health care providers are worried that the bans' lack of clarity will force them to seek legal advice before treating patients — and sometimes there might not be enough time to wait for an attorney's opinion when trying to save a patient's life.

The big picture: Trigger laws, and other laws banning abortion, normally have exceptions to save the life of the pregnant person or other "medical emergencies," but experts say that the murky wording of the laws creates confusion and puts the lives of pregnant people at risk.

What they're saying: "There is a total lack of clarity of how these laws will affect real-life situations that physicians, like myself, face all the time," wrote Rebecca Perret, an OB-GYN in Louisiana, adding that the Louisiana bans will "chill" reproductive health care instead of "promoting" it.

  • "[T]hese laws will cause grave and devastating harm to pregnant patients throughout the state. I know these trigger bans leave me, and other physicians like me, confused, threatened, and worried for just doing our jobs," Perret added.
  • The weekend after the Supreme Court's decision, "I had a patient who became pregnant despite being on birth control. She told me that she hoped the pregnancy was ectopic so she could get it treated in Louisiana, rather than having to leave the state. It is horrific that patients are hoping to have a life-threatening health complication so that they can get appropriate care," wrote Valerie Williams, an OB-GYN in Lousiana.
  • "My priority has always been to provide my patients the standard of care and evidence-based medicine. But now, I'm worried that fears about uncertain legal consequences will be added into the equation. Decisions in emergency situations may need to be made in the moment — including the middle of the night and weekends, when legal counsel may not be available — and hesitating due to fear of prosecution is not safe for our patients," wrote Eric Siegel, and OB-GYN in Louisiana.
  • Anna White, another Louisiana OB-GYN who is considering leaving the state in fear of prosecution, said that patients have asked if she "will report them to the government" for having an IUD, and other pregnant patients are fearful about disclosing their health problems: "This will affect medical care across the board, not just care related to abortion."
  • Under the trigger laws, doctors "may not act according to their best medical judgment and training. Fear of punishment aligned with lack of clarity on how this law will be enforced can lead to devastating consequences for Louisiana women as well as moral distress for the clinicians who care for them and have taken the Hippocratic oath to do no harm," wrote Rebekah Gee, an OB-GYN in Louisiana and former secretary of the state's health department.

Context: Louisiana has three trigger bans, and providers challenging the bans argue that their exceptions "are not clear."

  • Combined, the laws say that no abortion can be performed unless done to save the life or "preserve the health" of a pregnant person, for miscarriages, for ectopic pregnancies, or for "medically futile" pregnancies, but there is no explanation as to what is considered "medically futile."

Zoom out: There are 13 states that have trigger laws banning abortion that are set to take effect now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.

  • So far, the trigger laws in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota are in effect. Those in Louisiana, Kentucky and Utah have been temporarily blocked.
  • The bans in Mississippi, Idaho, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming are yet to take effect.

What's next: Louisiana's trigger bans have been temporarily blocked since late June, meaning abortion is legal in the state up until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

  • A hearing on the bans' temporary restraining order is scheduled for July 8.

Read the health care providers' affidavits:

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