As a mother, I know that pregnancy can bring great joy. As a doctor, I also know that pregnancy is an important event in life and is not necessarily without complications. For many, this is easy. Not so for others. Pregnancy can bring grief, life-threatening complications or long-term health problems. Each patient has unique life circumstances.
Just as people make decisions with their providers about any course of action for their health, decisions about the course of pregnancy – including whether to become pregnant or stay pregnant – must be made by a woman with the advice of her family, her faith and her doctor. Reproductive health care should not be dictated by the politics of the day.
The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn a precedent for almost half a century, defending safe, legal abortion, violates the trust relationship between patient and doctor. Physicians around the world swear to “do no harm” to protect the interests of their patients while preserving their privacy; but this law will criminalize our efforts to respect the patient’s decision-making, his autonomy, and their right to make medical decisions that take into account their unique life circumstances.
I have significant concerns about the effect that the 1931 Michigan abortion ban will have on pregnant women’s health if it takes full effect. This will be our new reality:
- Women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest will be forced to carry the baby for a period of time after having experienced the trauma associated with sexual abuse.
- History tells us that abortion bans do not stop abortions. The bans lead to more women who are likely to undergo unregulated procedures that could endanger their future reproductive health or even lead to their death.
- If women and doctors are at risk of prosecution and imprisonment, women who have to terminate their pregnancies for life-saving reasons will have more difficult access to health care to stay alive.
- Fear of prosecution can also hamper women’s access to care for miscarriages, adding mental and physical stress to an already heartbreaking situation.
If we leave this draconian ban on abortion in place – a law that takes us back to a time when people had fewer rights to make decisions about their own health – where does it end?
We must treat pregnancy and reproductive health decisions in the same way as we treat any other private health decision. When I advise patients to receive chemotherapy or to take medication for diabetes or medication for high blood pressure, at the end of the day the decision is theirs. Abortion decisions should not be different – they should be made after careful consideration by the individual, taking into account his or her unique health and social circumstances, and after consulting a doctor. However, we personally believe in abortion, women and their doctors should make the decision, not politicians.
The SCOTUS decision and the Michigan abortion ban not only punish women seeking abortion care and those seeking care for miscarriage and family planning; they punish healthcare providers and can put them behind bars to provide critical care for their patients. This casts a dark shadow over the medical community – and doctors will now be forced to choose whether to abide by our oath to our patients, our communities and our profession, or to uphold a law that is unfair and discriminatory and does not reflect the wishes of the majority. from the people of Michigan.
Doctors like me have spent years of their lives studying the science and art of medicine; for decades they have been learning how to connect with their patients, how to advise them wisely, using medical judgment and the best scientific data.
And now we may be forced to choose between breaking the oath we have taken on behalf of our patients or the possibility of imprisonment.
Could this court decision be just the first step that breaks the trust between doctors and patients? I hate to think about what might happen next.
Natasha Baghdasaryan is Michigan’s chief medical officer and director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.