New Orleans health director fears state abortion bans will harm patients and discourage doctors

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – New Orleans Health Department Chief Dr. Jennifer Aveno says Louisiana’s anti-abortion laws will hurt patient care and worsen the state’s doctor shortage. And Aveño thinks the state Legislature can improve the situation.

Doctors say bans on most abortions affect more than just this procedure. They say the bans threaten other health care and that women will suffer as a result.

“There are a lot of doctors who have worked very hard to keep it from getting to this point,” Aveño said. “And I have to say, we’re incredibly disheartened and disappointed by what we’ve seen.”

The three trigger bans went into effect immediately after the US Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that gave women federal abortion rights.

“With the trigger bans in place, it makes it even more difficult, more confusing not only for our patients but also for our doctors who now face criminal liability if they do anything trying to care for a woman who is interpreted as illegal,” Aveño said. “All of this will lead to delays in care that will only make things worse for our patients.”

Louisiana law includes the possibility of jail time for doctors who violate abortion bans.

“Whether you’re an OB-GYN, whether you’re an emergency physician, whether you’re a high-risk specialist, we see pregnancy complications all the time,” Aveño said. “And we have quite a few proven and safe ways to manage those that allow us to preserve health and put the patient’s life first.”

“What’s happening now is we’re being asked to judge so much of this, and it’s a terrifying position to put a doctor in.”

In Baton Rouge this week, there were new lawsuits related to a lawsuit challenging the bans. The case was originally filed in New Orleans, but a judge ruled last Friday that it should be heard in the state capital. Judge Ethel Julien also refused to extend a temporary restraining order blocking the bans.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry was asked about the doctors’ concerns while speaking with reporters on Friday.

“These doctors can become plaintiffs if they choose, and they can go to Baton Rouge and we can litigate this matter in the courts,” he said.

On June 29, Landry sent a letter to the Louisiana State Medical Society stating that the temporary restraining order then in effect “does not—and cannot—immunize medical providers from liability for criminal conduct.”

“We’ve talked to both the medical society and the medical board,” Landry told reporters. “We’re trying to work on certain issues that doctors should try to clarify concerns that they have.”

Aveño says maternal outcomes in the state are already suboptimal, especially for black women.

“Louisiana is a state that consistently ranks at the bottom for maternal mortality and morbidity in a country that ranks at the bottom compared to other developed countries,” she said. “So we no longer have a system in place to really keep women’s health stable, especially for our black women, who have an even higher rate of bad things happening during pregnancy.”

She believes the abortion laws will make doctors question whether they want to practice in Louisiana when there’s a chance they could be jailed for making what they believe is the best decision to care for their patients.

“Any delay in care worsens outcomes,” Aveño said. “What it also does, for a lot of my fellow doctors, is make them wonder, ‘Do I want to practice medicine in a state where I could go to jail for trying to do what I was taught to do? , what I know to be good medical care? Many of them will make a decision that they don’t. We already have a shortage of doctors, especially a (obstetrician-gynecologist) shortage, especially in rural areas of the state. So it affects everyone.

In an affidavit filed July 5 in the lawsuit, obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Alexandra W. Band said a patient could not get the drug Cytotec at a pharmacy for a Navy procedure, given concerns about Louisiana’s strict anti-abortion laws .

Part of her affidavit reads: “Walgreens called my office. They asked if the prescription was for an abortion. And when the answer was “No, it’s prescribed to put in an IUD to make it less painful,” the response from Walgreens was that it still wouldn’t fill the prescription because they couldn’t be sure we weren’t prescribing this for an abortion, so that they will no longer dispense the medicine. For obvious reasons, this interferes with the best, medically appropriate care I can provide to my patients and interferes with any medical judgment and my patient-physician relationship.”

Fox 8 has reached out to Walgreens for comment, but has not yet heard back from the company.

Aveño was asked if the Louisiana Legislature should change the controversial laws.

“Absolutely,” she said.

Aveño detailed what she thinks the legislature should consider.

“For example, two doctors must certify a medically infertile pregnancy. There is a real burden on women who live in a third of our parishes where they don’t even have a single GP provider, much less two doctors,” she said. “Hard time in prison for doctors has a chilling effect on their ability to practice and this can be removed.” And much of the uncertainty about the drugs commonly used to treat miscarriage that we now find our pharmacies are afraid to dispense.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is telling hospitals they “must” provide abortion services if the mother’s life is at risk. It says the federal Emergency Treatment Guidelines Act preempts state laws in jurisdictions that now ban the procedure without any exceptions.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Monday cited the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires medical facilities to determine whether a person seeking treatment can give birth or is facing a medical emergency — or one that could become in an emergency – and provide treatment.

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