Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — the decision that legalized abortion nationwide — doctors who provide this type of medical care and practice in states where the procedure has been banned or severely restricted have had to navigate medically and ethically murky waters. Yahoo News spoke to three physicians about what it's been like to provide abortion care in a post-Roe world.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: Now with "Roe" gone, let's be very clear. The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.
KATHERINE MCHUGH: I was working at my abortion clinic when the decision was released that "Roe v. Wade" had fallen. And instantly our phones lit up and we had an incredible wait because we were being called by people from the waiting rooms of other abortion clinics in different states who were saying that they had an appointment, they were going to have their abortion that day, and now they couldn't get it because of the decision. People were so afraid and so desperate to receive this care. And that has been the tempo over the last few months, is this sort of race to try to take care of as many people as we could over the last few months.
We saw so many more people from Ohio and Kentucky and Tennessee and Alabama and Texas. And this whole list of states that had banned abortion we were able to help and it felt really good for a moment. And then we joined the ranks of those states that stripped away the right to decide what happens to a person's own body. And now we are sending our patients away in the same manner.
TANI MALHOTRA: So much has changed in our practice. I think when we look at the maternal side of it, we have to be able to prove that someone is sick enough to not have to continue their pregnancy. And that's a really poor position to put physicians and their patients in. Previously when patients came in, if they had health conditions, we would talk about what the implication of a pregnancy would be on that health condition, would it make their health worse, would it not really impact their health, is their risk for progression of their disease as they're pregnant or postpartum. And then ultimately the decision lies with the patient whether she wishes to accept those risks or not.
I had a patient last week with a chronic health condition who after hearing the risks did not want to continue that pregnancy. Now, we need to run it by our lawyers, to say, oh, this is medically justified care, but can I legally perform this care? It's just horrible to have to prove someone is sick enough or wait for someone to get sick enough when things are worse.
And so we're battling, on the one hand, criminal charges for doing an abortion where someone would not agree with a patient really requiring an abortion. And balance that against malpractice lawsuits that are likely to come when we wait for patients to get sicker before we're able to provide them the necessary care. So it's putting physicians in an absolutely impossible position.
NISHA VERMA: I think what you'll find in many of these states, like these laws are written by non-medical people to regulate their practices of medicine and they often don't make sense for the doctors that are actually on the ground providing this care in terms of how to interpret them, how they apply to a particular situation.
KATHERINE MCHUGH: It's very confusing. It's very intimidating. And to be clear, that is the point of all of these abortion bans. The goal of abortion bans is to confuse patients and to intimidate both patients and health care providers and clinics away from this kind of health care.
NISHA VERMA: We're working on putting systems in place to figure out. Traditionally, it's been the doctor and the patient work together to come up with the best decision. And that could include the patient's family. And now that's involving a lot of people, a lot of things that are outside of that physician/patient relationship. And I think what most of my patients want is for their doctor to be able to work with them to create the best plan, not to have to think about whether we're going to go to jail for providing them the best medical care.
KATHERINE MCHUGH: It will largely be hospital policy dependent about whether a person can have an abortion or not, even if they do meet the medical criteria. And that is simply because the law is so nebulous, it is so vague and confusing that it really discourages people, like hospital lawyers or physicians from taking the risk, because the risk is so severe. So as a physician and as an abortion provider, I am facing potential felony charges, loss of my medical license, which, of course, includes my revenue and supporting my family, and then also potential jail time-- up to six years in jail.
And so these are not light consequences to be facing. And we all want to think that in the moment we will do whatever it takes to save the patient in front of us, but what about the next patient in the next room. How do I guarantee that I can take care of that patient if I'm in jail for taking care of the patient in front of me? It's a really complicated mental gymnastics that we're trying to weigh the balances of taking care of people and doing what is right and doing what is legal, which are not the same thing.