CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons via Stephen Melkisethian
In the majority of this country, Americans’ medical care is determined by politicians instead of by doctors. That’s because a wave of anti-choice legislation has completely reoriented the women’s health landscape, ensuring that medical professionals are forced to ignore their best judgment in order to remain compliant with the law, according to a new report from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
“Politics are taking over our exam rooms and that is a dangerous, disturbing trend,” the National Partnership’s president, Debra L. Ness, noted in a statement released to coincide with the new findings. “More and more, lawmakers across the country are enacting laws that mandate how health care providers must practice medicine.”
Ness’ group argues that four different anti-abortion restrictions — unnecessary ultrasound requirements, biased counseling sessions, mandatory waiting periods, and regulations on the abortion pill — fall into a broad “bad medicine” category. Even though there’s no scientific evidence to justify those policies, they’re incredibly common. Thirty three states currently have at least one of those laws on the books, and 16 states have enacted all four types:
CREDIT: National Partnership for Women & Families
For instance, 26 states require abortion patients to wait 24, 48, or even 72 hours before receiving medical care. That forces their doctors to delay a time-sensitive procedure regardless of their professional opinion about whether the abortion should wait. A growing number of states are passing laws that require doctors to follow an outdated protocol for administering the abortion pill, which actually forces them to violate current practice and give their patients an unnecessarily high dosage of the medication. And ultrasound and counseling laws — which are each in place in more than 20 states — often make doctors present their patients with implicit anti-abortion messages that communicates they’re making the wrong choice, even if they’d rather not approach the medical procedure that way.
“It is time to take politics out of the exam room and return abortion care to women and their health care providers,” the report concludes.
Indeed, doctors have been speaking out about these type of state laws for years. Medical professionals frequently testify against proposed state-level abortion restrictions, pointing out they’ll unfairly intrude into the doctor-patient relationship. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the biggest group of OB-GYNs in the country, has officially come out against state-level abortion laws that interfere with their work. “Nowhere is legislative interference more rampant than in the world of women’s health care,” the group’s senior director of government affairs pointed out last year.
But the state legislators who are insistent on limiting abortion services tend to disregard medical professionals’ opinions. Even when lawmakers admit they’re not qualified to make decisions about women’s health, that’s not necessarily enough to stop them from imposing new laws in this area. A particularly clear example of this dynamic was recently evident in Ohio: After a state legislator there introduced a measure to limit low-income women’s access to certain types of contraception based on the false assertion that they can induce abortion, he acknowledged, “This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.”
The National Partnership for Women & Families isn’t the only organization working to highlight this issue. Last month, the Center for Inquiry, a secular humanist organization that works to promote scientific reason, launched a new campaign to fight to keep junk science out of government. The “Keep Health Care Safe and Secular” project hopes to encourage more Americans to fight back against the laws that limit women’s access to health services. Similarly, NARAL Pro-Choice America sometimes uses the slogan “Politicians Make Crappy Doctors.”
The push to keep abortion-related laws grounded in scientific fact has also made its way to Congress. Last year, a group of Senate Democrats unveiled the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, a measure that stipulates new abortion regulations shouldn’t require doctors to go against their best judgment. That measure — a somewhat historic piece of proactive legislation within a political environment focused on limiting abortion rights — will go before a Senate committee on Tuesday.