Jun 27, 2022 - News

Utah's new abortion ban could worsen the state's OB-GYN shortage

Illustration of a female symbol, but its shadow has a slash through it.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Utah is facing an OB-GYN shortage, and doctors say the state's new abortion ban could make it even harder to recruit new talent.

Why it matters: Utah consistently has one of the nation's highest fertility rates, according to the CDC. The state's pool of OB-GYNs already is struggling to meet that demand.

  • Utah had just 86% of the women's health care providers it needed as of 2018, and that number was projected to drop to about 66% by 2030 — the third-lowest of any state, according to a 2021 federal analysis.
  • Shortages will probably be most severe in Utah's rural counties, which struggle across the board to recruit doctors.

Driving the news: Doctors who perform abortions will be subject to a second-degree felony charge under Utah's new ban.

  • It only allows exceptions in very few medical complications, doctors and legal experts say — and even those might be scrutinized by prosecutors depending on how they interpret the statute's unscientific wording.

Details: Medical residencies are one of the most reliable pipelines for states to recruit doctors, with most physicians staying where they trained.

What they're saying: The legal jeopardy OB-GYNs face under the new ban could discourage them from practicing in Utah, at a time they're needed.

  • "What health care provider wants to practice in a state where they can’t provide the full range of services to their patients?" Dr. David Turok, a Salt Lake City OB-GYN and professor at the University of Utah, told Time.

By the numbers: Among U.S. cities, Salt Lake City was at the second-highest risk of an OB-GYN shortage, according to a study by Doximity, an online network of medical professionals.

  • More than half of Utah OB-GYNs already report their practices are at or near capacity, with an average wait time of nearly 21 days for a new patient, the state Medical Education Council found.

Meanwhile: Utah's ban could also leave medical residents who do come here less prepared to care for patients who suffer miscarriages or complications, Gawron said.

  • "So much of that is going to be fraught with challenges of what they can't do," she said.

The University of Utah, which has one of the top OB-GYN residency programs in the western U.S. according to Doximity, says medical students and residents can still train on abortion techniques in miscarriages and for patients who qualify for one of the ban's exceptions.

  • Yes, but: The U's residents previously had the option to train in abortion clinics outside the hospital, which allowed "procedural repetition" to develop the skill, Gawron said.
  • Miscarriage procedures are far more irregular, Gawron said — and a lot of abortions for medical complications will have to be referred out of state, further reducing chances to train.
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