Physicians show by their words and actions that they are reluctant to practice in places where deciding what is best for a patient could result in hefty fines or even imprisonment. And when clinics that offer abortions close their doors, all the other services they offer will also shut down, including regular checkups, breast cancer screening, and contraception.
Concerns about the impact on women’s health are not only voiced by pro-choice advocates. A recent warning comes from Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general in the Trump administration.
in one tweet thread In April, Adams wrote that “the compromise between restricting access (and criminalizing doctors) to reduce abortion could actually make pregnancies less safe for everyone and increase infant and maternal mortality.”
A first hint of the impending medical “brain drain” came in February, when 76% of respondents in a survey of more than 2,000 current and prospective doctors said they would not even apply for work or training in abortion-restricted states. “In other words,” the study’s authors wrote in an accompanying article, “many qualified candidates would not even consider working or training in more than half of the U.S. states.”
In fact, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2023 states with abortion bans saw a larger decline in medical school graduates applying for residency compared to states without abortion bans. While applications for OB/GYN residencies nationwide declined, the decline in states with total abortion bans was more than twice as large as those without restrictions (10.5% vs. 5.2%).
That means fewer doctors have to perform critical preventive measures like Pap smears and screening for sexually transmitted infections that can lead to infertility.
Pregnant women’s care, in particular, is at risk as hospitals in rural areas close maternity wards because they can’t find enough skilled workers to staff them – a problem that existed before the abortion regulation but has only gotten worse since.
In March, Bonner General Health, the only hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, announced it would be suspending its labor and delivery services, in part due to “the legal and political climate in Idaho” causing state legislatures to continue to ” Introduce and pass laws criminalizing doctors”. for medical care that is recognized as a national standard.”
Heartbreaking reports from across the country show that abortion bans are also threatening the health of some patients who suffer miscarriages or other non-viable pregnancies. Earlier this year, a pregnant woman with a nonviable fetus in Oklahoma was told to wait in the parking lot until she got sick after being told doctors “shouldn’t touch you unless you fall in front of us.” away”.
A study by researchers at the State University of New York-Buffalo, published in the journal Women’s Health Issues, found that physicians practicing in states with restrictive abortion guidelines were less likely than physicians in states with supportive abortion guidelines to have been trained to do so early on perform abortion procedures used in women who experience miscarriage early in pregnancy.
But it’s more than just a shortage of doctors that could make pregnancy and childbirth difficult. States with the strictest abortion restrictions are also the least likely to provide support services for low-income mothers and babies. Before the overthrow of roeA report by the Commonwealth Fund, a non-partisan research group, found that the maternal mortality rate was 62% higher in states with abortion restrictions or bans than in states where abortion was more accessible.
Women who know their pregnancies could be at high risk think twice about conceiving or becoming pregnant in states with abortion restrictions. Carmen Broesder, an Idaho woman who opened up about her struggles treating a miscarriage in a series of viral videos on TikTok, told ABC News she has no plans to try and conceive again.
“Why would I want to see my daughter almost lose her mother to have another child?” she said. “That seems selfish and wrong.”
The anti-abortion movement once seemed more sensitive to arguments that its policies neglect the needs of women and children, a charge made most famously by former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who once said, “Conservatives believe that From the federal government’s perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”
In fact, an icon of the anti-abortion movement – Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), who died in 2007 – made a point of working with Liberal Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) on legislation to expand Medicaid in the late 1980s Coverage and provision of other services to combat child mortality.
Few anti-abortion groups are following suit, urging action to make it easier for people to conceive, give birth and raise children. Most of these efforts remain under the radar.
This year, Americans United for Life and Democrats for Life of America issued a joint position paper urging policymakers to “make births free.” Their proposals include automatic coverage with no deductibles or co-payments for pregnancy and childbirth; removing incentives to pay for cesarean sections and hospital deliveries; and a “monthly mother’s grant” for the first two years of a child’s life.
“Giving free births to American mothers can and should bring national unity at a particularly divided time,” the newspaper said. Not only could such policies make it easier for women to start families, but they could also eliminate the country’s woeful record of maternal mortality.
However, in a year when the same Republican lawmakers who advocate a statewide ban on abortion are even more vehemently pushing for large federal budget cuts, it seems unlikely that a birth-exemption policy will advance very far, or very quickly.
This leaves anti-abortion activists at a crossroads: will they follow Hyde’s lead in championing policies that expand and protect access to health care? Or will women’s health suffer as a result of the victory of the anti-abortion movement?
HealthBent, a regular feature of KFF Health News, provides insight and analysis on guidelines and policies from Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for KFF Health News, who has been covering healthcare for more than 30 years.
KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues and is one of the core operating programs of KFF – an independent source for health policy research, surveys and journalism. Learn more about KFF.