As a high-risk obstetrician, I am privileged to walk alongside families on the best days of their lives and on the worst days too. This privilege comes with responsibility to speak up for my patients and colleagues. That is why I must speak out against the abortion bans N.C. legislators are now considering, some as early as six weeks.
These laws will make it more dangerous to become a parent in our state.
A few months ago I cared for a patient who was 21 weeks pregnant and developing preeclampsia, a pregnancy disorder that only gets worse until delivery. Preeclampsia can cause sudden, catastrophic harm, including bleeding, kidney failure, stroke and seizure. It’s a leading cause of maternal mortality.
An ultrasound on my patient showed that the fetus was not growing, and was too small to survive. The recommended treatment was to perform an abortion before the preeclampsia got worse. However, following the Dobbs decision, abortion became illegal in North Carolina after 20 weeks. So we had to wait until she was “sick enough” for us to legally perform an abortion under N.C. law.
We checked her blood pressure every 4 hours and her labs every 6 hours. I have a duty, as a doctor, to do what is best for my patient, but the 20-week abortion ban forced me to provide dangerous care.
My patient is one of hundreds who develop serious complications in the middle of their pregnancies. An earlier ban will force even more people to wait to be “sick enough” for lifesaving treatment. Families will suffer.
At one hospital in Texas, two-thirds of pregnant people whose care was delayed by the state’s abortion ban had serious complications; one woman lost her uterus, and she will never be able to have children.
Some anti-abortion politicians have suggested that we can ban abortion with exceptions for cases like these. But there is no legal work-around that will keep families in North Carolina safe. I have been practicing medicine for 20 years, and I have learned that every case is unique. Every patient must have the autonomy to make these decisions, with guidance from their trusted providers.
Abortion bans create a chilling effect on healthcare. In states with bans, patients bleeding in early pregnancy are being denied care because doctors fear being accused of performing an abortion if the patient miscarries. A Louisiana mother who was turned away from two emergency rooms said she decided not to have any more children because it is too dangerous.
Abortion bans also drive away providers. Last month, I spoke with a brilliant medical student who is applying for residency — but not in states with abortion bans. North Carolina is home to top-five training programs in Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Family Medicine, attracting the best young doctors to care for the people of our state. If they go elsewhere, all of us will suffer.
Abortion bans impact our healthcare workforce. By forcing clinicians to stand by as patients suffer, legislative interference is yet another moral injury pushing health care workers to quit. Fewer health care workers mean longer waits for appointments, and longer waits in the hospital for all healthcare.
Abortion is healthcare, and laws that restrict healthcare are dangerous. I urge our lawmakers to keep their ideologies out of our exam rooms.
Dr. Alison Stuebe is an obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine specialist. She lives in Chapel Hill.