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States With Harsh Abortion Laws May Find Fewer Medical Professionals Willing To Practice There

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"States With Harsh Abortion Laws May Find Fewer Medical Professionals Willing To Practice There"

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The anti-choice community’s crusade against abortion affects much more than women’s ability to legally terminate a pregnancy — it can also threaten women’s financial security, inspire increased levels of violent harassment against health clinics, and even restrict access to critical preventative services like family planning programs or sexual health instruction. On top of that, anti-abortion lawmakers may be contributing to yet another unintended consequence in their states: dissuading medical providers from being willing to practice there.

Harsh restrictions on abortion providers — a double standard leveled against abortion care, which is overregulated in a way that isn’t required of other medicals areas — already limits the number of doctors able to perform abortions in states with laws hostile to reproductive rights. But increasingly stringent state-level abortion laws may discourage other types of medical professionals from settling in those areas, too.

North Dakota, which is quickly earning a reputation as the worst state for women as lawmakers currently advance six different abortion restrictions, could find itself in exactly that situation. The nonpartisan North Dakota Medical Association has come out against a proposed “personhood” bill in the state — a measure that would define zygoytes as U.S. citizens, outlawing all abortions and some forms of contraception — because that type of abortion restriction would interfere too much with their work:

The North Dakota Medical Association, which represents many physicians across the state, rarely takes a public position on divisive issues. The group’s opposition to the “personhood” bills has nothing to do with the abortion issue, NDMA Executive Director Courtney Koebele said, noting that physicians themselves are divided over the issue.

“These bills are interfering with the physician practice to such an extent that we didn’t really have an alternative,” she said. “These are just bad bills.”

Mike Booth, president of the North Dakota Medical Association, said if they become law, the personhood bills could make North Dakota less attractive to professional women.

“I see this as a real swipe at women’s rights,” he said. “I find that very depressing in a state that’s trying very hard to push itself forward. That really upsets me.”

Abortion opponents have a long history of proposing measures to come in between a woman and her doctor. Forced ultrasound bills, mandatory counseling sessions, days-long waiting periods, and restrictions on administering the RU-486 abortion pill all prevent medical professionals from making their own decisions about how best to treat their patients. Doctors who want to practice abortion care, as well as women’s health groups or small business owners who operate their own clinics, are likely to take their skills to places where they don’t have quite as many barriers to overcome.

The routine violence and harassment directed at abortion providers make other medical professionals wary to be associated with that type of reproductive service, which has successfully segregated abortion care from the rest of health care. But ultimately, since abortion is just another aspect of women’s reproductive health, it doesn’t exist in an entirely separate world from the rest of medical community. And if states like North Dakota continue to push for harsher and harsher restrictions for a legal medical procedure, abortion care may not be the only health service that’s placed in jeopardy.

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