Opinion: Overturning Roe would threaten Georgians’ health

Abortion rights demonstrators gather at the Michigan Capitol, in Lansing, on May 3 after the publication the day before of a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post.

Credit: For The Washington Post

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Abortion rights demonstrators gather at the Michigan Capitol, in Lansing, on May 3 after the publication the day before of a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Brittany Greeson for The Washington Post.

Credit: For The Washington Post

From an OB/GYN.

The draft opinion leaked from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding abortion access offers a grim prognosis for Georgians. Though not yet finalized, it makes clear that the Supreme Court intends to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling guaranteeing a person’s constitutional right to privacy when deciding whether or not to have an abortion.

As a physician, I’m gravely concerned about the impact this decision will have on my patients and all Georgians.

To be clear, until the ruling is officially handed down, Georgians can still get safe, legal abortions in our state. But just hours after that, a dangerous Georgia law will take effect.

Signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, but put on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, Georgia’s law prohibits a pregnant person from getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, considered to be around 6 weeks – when many women may have just missed their first period and don’t even know they are pregnant. For context and accuracy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says at 6 weeks, a woman is carrying an embryo, not a fetus.

Under this law, a doctor who provides an abortion after this narrow window of time could be imprisoned for up to 10 years. But doctors like me aren’t concerned about getting prison time. We’re concerned about our patients and their rights to making decisions about their health, including choosing to have an abortion. A person who chooses to have an abortion should be able to make it within the privacy and sanctity of the exam room with her physician. The state and the legislators have no place in the exam room.

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Dr. Didi Saint Louis

Credit: contributed

Dr. Didi Saint Louis

Credit: contributed

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Dr. Didi Saint Louis

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Abortions are a safe, normal and integral part of reproductive health care. For many patients, they are vital to overall health and well-being. The American Medical Association, the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the American College of Family Physicians and many professional medical associations agree. At least 24 of these groups signed a letter opposing bans against abortions.

People seek abortions for many reasons, and all are valid. Some individuals who have a history of heart failure, kidney disease, or severe high blood pressure could face life-threatening risks if they go through with a pregnancy. People who were recently diagnosed with serious diseases such as cancer while in the early stages of pregnancy may choose an abortion. Severe preeclampsia, lethal birth defects in the fetus and other catastrophic medical complications are reasons for a patient to undergo an abortion. Some people simply don’t want to be pregnant.

When abortion is banned, many people are forced to flee, traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to seek care. This can take significant resources, ones that many people simply don’t have. Some of those people, then, are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. This can be detrimental to their mental and physical health as well as to the health and wellness of the child.

In a state with an already atrocious maternal mortality rate that is actually worsening, evidence shows that banning abortions would significantly increase the number of women who die during childbirth. These dangers will fall disproportionately on Black women, who are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women and much more likely than white women in Georgia to suffer from hypertension. Hypertensive diseases of pregnancy, and pre-existing hypertension, contribute to the risk of preeclampsia, stroke and cardiovascular disease, which are the leading causes of maternal deaths in Georgia.

Decisions around both pregnancy and abortion should be made between patients and their doctors. As a physician, I trust that my patients are intelligent individuals who know their bodies and deserve the autonomy to make decisions about their health without intrusion from the state and its legislators. Choosing to have an abortion is an emotionally charged, complex decision and individuals who make that decision should be able to do it without fear. It is our job as doctors to ensure they can access the care they need.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and Georgia’s abortion ban goes into effect, they will be interfering in the sacred doctor-patient relationship. The justices, and the leaders of Georgia who passed the ban, will be blocking personal medical decisions and will never know how they permanently changed the course of people’s lives. They’ll be jeopardizing lives too.

Dr. Didi Saint Louis is an OB/GYN in Atlanta and member of the Committee to Protect Health Care.

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