As abortion bans and new restrictions begin to take hold across the U.S., a recent Sermo poll finds that physicians don’t have enough clarity on medical exemptions under the changing laws.
The poll, which surveyed some 240 U.S.-based doctors, found that 70% are confused over what defines a “life-threatening emergency” in states where abortions are banned or significantly restricted.
Physicians also appear to be worried about the lack of clarity and knowledge around the new bans. Nearly 80% of respondents stated they are highly concerned that doctors are being asked to wait until the last minute to decide whether to perform an abortion in a life-or-death situation. In states where abortions are banned, doctors worry they may have to wait until it’s clear the patient will die before performing one.
More than three-fourths of physicians reported feeling concerned over the legal implications about abortion bans, including that it would be considered a felony if clinics provide an abortion in states where it’s banned.
Those legal consequences are influencing how physicians make their medical decisions, too. Nearly 90% said they expect doctors would be making decisions based on their legal safety when it comes to abortion.
This may not always rule in favor of people needing an abortion in a life-threatening emergency as 68% of surveyed physicians said they expect more maternal deaths in states that have banned abortion.
The grey area around life-threatening situations in regards to abortion has been a concern among healthcare providers and abortion advocates since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in late June.
In states where abortions are banned, there are exceptions to the ban — such as in Texas, where it’s not prohibited to treat ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages. But wording around some of those exemptions remains vague.
Dr. Alison Haddock, chair of the board of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Pew about the “grey area” physicians often find themselves in, “where we know that a person needs treatment but we’re not clear on when or if their condition will become life-threatening.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in July that federal law protecting access to abortions in life-threatening emergencies pre-empts state abortion bans — under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. These include cases of ectopic pregnancies, miscarriage complications or preeclampsia.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra also noted that hospitals that don’t offer abortions when women are facing a risk to their life would have their Medicare provider agreement removed or face financial consequences.But some states have tried to challenge that, including Idaho and Texas. Recently, a federal judge in Texas ruled in favor of the state’s attorney general, arguing that state abortion bans pre-empt the federal law.