The reverberations of the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, with conservative states rushing to enact abortion bans, are yielding an astonishing outcome that proponents of these bans may not have fully anticipated: a severe reduction in medical services available to all women residing in those states.
Physicians, through both their expressions and actions, are demonstrating a hesitancy to practice in locations where making the best decisions for their patients could result in exorbitant fines or even imprisonment. When clinics providing abortion services close their doors, a domino effect occurs, causing the cessation of other essential healthcare services, such as routine examinations, breast cancer screenings, and contraception.
Concerns regarding the repercussions for women’s health are being voiced not only by abortion rights advocates but also by respected figures like Jerome Adams, the former surgeon general during the Trump administration, who now focuses on health equity issues at Purdue University in Indiana. Adams recently took to Twitter to express his apprehension, stating, “The tradeoff of a restricted access (and criminalizing doctors) only approach to decreasing abortions could end up being that you actually make pregnancy less safe for everyone, and increase infant and maternal mortality.”
The ‘brain drain’ in the medical field is emerging as an early sign of the impending crisis. In a survey of over 2,000 current and future physicians, conducted in February, a staggering 76% of respondents revealed that they would not even consider applying to work or train in states with abortion restrictions. The authors of the study accompanying the survey underscored that “many qualified candidates would no longer even consider working or training in more than half of U.S. states.”
Indeed, states with abortion bans experienced a more substantial decline in applications from medical school seniors seeking residency in 2023 compared to states without such bans, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges. While applications for obstetrics and gynecology residencies have decreased nationwide, the decrease in states with complete abortion bans was more than twice as large as those with no restrictions (10.5% vs. 5.2%).
Consequently, there will be fewer doctors available to provide critical preventive care, such as Pap smears and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, which can lead to infertility.
The jeopardy extends to the care of pregnant women, particularly in rural areas where hospitals are closing maternity wards due to an inability to secure an adequate number of professionals to staff them. This problem predates the abortion ruling but has intensified since then.
In March, Bonner General Health, the sole hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, announced the discontinuation of its labor and delivery services, partly attributing the decision to “Idaho’s legal and political climate,” which includes the continuous introduction and passage of bills criminalizing physicians for providing medical care recognized nationally as the standard of care.
The risks are further amplified when it comes to patients experiencing miscarriages and nonviable pregnancies. Heart-wrenching reports from across the country highlight that abortion bans also jeopardize the health of these individuals. Earlier this year, a pregnant woman with a nonviable fetus in Oklahoma was instructed to wait in the parking lot until her condition worsened, being told by doctors that they “can’t touch you unless you are crashing in front of us.”
Researchers at the University of Buffalo found in a study published in the Women’s Health Issues journal that doctors practicing in states with abortion restrictions are less likely to have received training in the same early abortion procedures used for women experiencing early pregnancy miscarriages compared to their counterparts in states where abortion is permitted.