Law’s unjust consequences

“It’s a safety issue,” said the doctor who sent the column. “One of our doctors got 25 threatening phone calls. Unfortunately, because of intimidation, we have to find a different way to get our message out.”

The IPCGA opinion follows:

House Bill 954 hinges its basis for a challenge to the U.S. Constitution on the notion that a growing baby inside the womb feels pain at 20 weeks. Although all recent research from the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists refutes this rationale, its proponents pressed on.

Why? Because HB 954 was really not about fetal pain. Even its supporters — lobbyists and legislators — shockingly advised Judiciary Committee members “not to focus on it.” So, as their lawyers set sail for the Potomac on a leaky boat to challenge Roe v. Wade, Georgia’s women and their doctors are left to figure out new pregnancy-care laws.

As originally introduced, this bill would have forced a woman to carry a baby to term that her doctor had diagnosed would not survive outside the womb. Women in other states where this law has passed have been caught in a tragic legal bind that stopped their physician from providing care to allow their babies to be born, named, pass away and mourned. These laws dictate medical care and the terms of a family’s grieving process after the family learns they will not be bringing their baby home from the hospital.

HB 954 provides a compassionate exception for families who may face the heart-wrenching news that a medical condition will prevent their unborn child from sustaining life outside the womb. We appreciate the careful consideration of the General Assembly to allow Georgia families to avoid additional pain and suffering as they face tragic endings to their once-hopeful, but now medically futile, pregnancies.

The bill’s sponsor described the amendment in a Chicago Tribune article, stating: “If it is clear that the child is to pass away after birth, there are exceptions.” In that same story, Georgia Right to Life President Dan Becker said: “The futile pregnancy exception leaves the door open to destroy a whole class of babies a doctor decides may be less than perfect.”

This inaccurate, red-meat rhetoric provides a disservice to Georgia. When we, as physicians, encounter pregnant women whose babies have no brain, no liver and will surely die at birth, we do not find an “open door.” We find profound grief, sadness and loss. Then, we help our patients begin the grueling process of closing a door.

The bill reads that a diagnosis must be “incompatible with sustaining life after birth.” The leader of a pro-life organization should have a basic understanding of these words and show respect for Georgia families dealing with the loss of a pregnancy.

While we’re pleased with this amendment, HB 954 still mandates that physicians provide care that may be medically inappropriate. Although Georgia doctors testified that they are medically unable to save a 20-week premature baby with inadequate lung development, a physician who treats that patient without performing a cesarean section faces one to 10 years in prison. This bill mandates C-sections even when the uterus is so small that it will make the mother a permanent high-risk for future births. Georgia’s pregnant women need to work with their doctors on what is the best care for them and their babies.

When laws include unintended consequences, care suffers. Georgia’s pregnant women and their doctors are now left with the consequences.

The Infertility and Perinatology Consortium of Georgia is a locally based group of doctors.

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