At a time when there is a national consensus that quality health care should be evidence-based and patient-centered, that we should eliminate unnecessary medical tests and focus tightly on improving health outcomes, lawmakers in a majority of states have enacted laws that put ideology above women’s health care. Abortion restrictions on the books in 33 states, and in effect in 29 states, contradict evidence-based practices and undermine the high-quality, patient-centered care that health care providers strive to achieve, according to a new report from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
“Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health Care,” demonstrates that anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law. The new report looks at abortion restrictions that relate to ultrasound requirements, biased counseling, mandatory delays, and medication abortion that are not supported by medical evidence.
While 33 states have at least one of these types of restrictions on their books, 16 states have all four: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. (Some of the anti-choice laws have been enjoined by the courts in Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.)
“Politics are taking over our exam rooms and that is a dangerous, disturbing trend,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness. “More and more, lawmakers across the country are enacting laws that mandate how health care providers must practice medicine, without regard to their professional judgment or their patients’ needs. That is unacceptable, and it flies in the face of the essential work being done to promote higher quality health care. Laws that put the ideological beliefs of politicians ahead of patient needs, medical evidence, and the professional judgment of doctors are bad medicine and deserve to be rejected.”
“Health care treatment decisions are best made between a patient and her physician, not a politician,” said John C. Jennings, MD, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “American women need unimpeded access to the care that is appropriate for them, when they need it, period. We must stop treating reproductive care of women differently than other, equally important parts of health care.”
“It’s past time we take politics out of the exam room,” Ness continued. “Abortion is the canary in the coal mine. The imposition of ideology on medical care has much broader implications. We see state lawmakers considering ‘gag laws’ that restrict doctors from talking to patients about gun violence or sharing information about exposure to toxic chemicals caused by fracking. This trend should disturb anyone who cares about the well-being of our country and the integrity of medical practice. Every patient deserves the best possible health care based on science, evidence and the training and professional judgment of health care providers.”
Lawmakers’ widespread interference in the patient-provider relationship means the country needs the Women’s Health Protection Act more than ever, Ness said. It is federal legislation that would ensure that women can make personal health care decisions regardless of the state they live in, and protect the relationship between a woman and her health care provider. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee meets tomorrow to discuss that bill.
The National Partnership’s new “Bad Medicine” study found that 24 states regulate ultrasound by abortion providers, 13 states have passed laws mandating ultrasound, and five have passed laws that would require the provider to display and describe the image to a patient seeking an abortion. In addition:
Biased Counseling: Twenty-eight states have measures that require health care providers to give or offer patients seeking abortion state-developed written materials that often force women to receive information unrelated to their individual circumstance. Nineteen states require providers to give, or to offer, information that is medically-inaccurate.
Mandatory Delays: Thirty states have passed laws that impose a mandatory delay before a woman can have an abortion. Eleven require that a woman receive state-mandated counseling in person, necessitating at least two trips to clinics.
Medication Abortion Restrictions: Eighteen states have passed medically unnecessary restrictions on how health care providers can administer medication abortion. Five of these states have passed laws preventing providers from administering medication abortion in accordance with the standard of care that reflects the most up-to-date evidence. Seventeen states have passed measures prohibiting providers from administering medication abortion via telemedicine, which is a safe way to make health care more accessible. Four states have done both.
Some laws in each of these categories have been enjoined. For more information, see the full “Bad Medicine” report.
“It is essential that states reject onerous abortion restricts that undermine, rather than advance, women’s health care,” Ness added. “Politicians have absolutely no place in our exam rooms.”