Bill to ban abortion procedure risks women’s health
As a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, I feel grateful for meaningful work and for the opportunity to make a positive difference in women’s lives.
I feel profound appreciation for the skilled and caring physicians who mentored and trained me, particularly those compassionate experts who taught me to be an abortion provider. They gave me the skills necessary to help women who would not have had safe access to this needed care just 42 years ago, before the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Roe v. Wade. Today, when a physician does not have those necessary skills, I am one of the few who is able to help, and I step in to provide safe, high-quality and compassionate care for women whose health and well-being depend on it.
This is why I am alarmed and infuriated by HB 4833/4834, which would ban the safest form of abortion I can provide for some of the most ill women under my care.
Michigan lawmakers with no training or expertise in the practice of medicine have introduced this dangerous legislation that would ban dilation and evacuation (D&E), which is the surgical approach to abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. First, it bears noting that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures we have. A D&E is a straightforward procedure for second-trimester pregnancy termination, but particularly for women with pregnancy complications, it is the best option. The alternative is inducing labor, which can be painful, inordinately expensive, physically demanding on the patient, and involves serious risks of bleeding and infection.
Health problems are often unpredictable, and women deserve the safest and most effective care possible. Women like the patient I’ll call Helen, whose fetus had a heart defect that was incompatible with life. Helen developed life-threatening high blood pressure herself, requiring hospitalization. The D&E helped preserve her health and future fertility. Another patient of mine I’ll call Karen, a mother of four, had her water break at 18 weeks’ gestation — a severely premature and nonviable point in pregnancy, one with a very poor prognosis had the pregnancy continued. Karen had had four prior cesarean sections, making labor induction life-threatening. She ultimately had a safe D&E in the hospital. If she’d been forced to endure a labor induction, her four children might have lost their mother.
I could share with you innumerable other stories of the many other women I have cared for with other serious complications: A patient with a molar pregnancy in the second trimester; patients with heart failure, kidney failure, uterine or blood infections; and patients with disorders that could lead to hemorrhage in labor. All of these women needed safe and timely treatment to improve their health, and this is the role that D&E serves — and that I serve as an abortion provider.
We live in the only developed nation in which the maternal death rate has risen. According to the 2014 Trends in Maternal Mortality report issued by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, the World Bank and the U.N. Population Division, the maternal mortality ratio in the U.S. increased 136 percent between 1990 and 2013. That is an alarming rate, and we must do better. As a physician, I applaud any and all momentum in the direction of improving women’s health. However, legislation like HB 4833/4834 does nothing to that effect, and in fact endangers it. We should be working toward expanding women’s access to health care, not limiting it.
This year, we have already seen too many baseless and ideologically motivated attacks on comprehensive reproductive health care. I do not want to look back on 2015 as the time during which our state Legislature disregarded women’s health and safety in such a misinformed and irresponsible way. I am a women’s health expert. I know how to take care of women facing the complex physical and emotional challenges of ending a pregnancy in the second trimester. And I know that HB 4833/4834 will make Michigan an unsafe place for women.
Dr. Katherine Starr is an OB/GYN who works in southeast Michigan and is the advocacy chairwoman of the Michigan Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.