Medical Students Explain What's At Stake With Georgia's Proposed Abortion Bill

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Georgia already faces a dire women’s health crisis and a shortage of health care providers. We cannot afford to further dismantle access to health care or interfere with basic medical practice.
Nevertheless, Georgia’s state legislature is poised as soon as Monday to pass HB481, an extreme anti-abortion bill that bans abortions at a medically arbitrary point, roughly six weeks into pregnancy.
We are fourth-year medical students at Emory University in Atlanta, preparing to begin our residencies in obstetrics and gynecology. Like millions of Georgians, we are enraged by the political push to pass HB 481.
Medical students like us in Georgia and across the country are taught universal values – “first, do no harm,” provide compassionate care, and prioritize a patient’s wellbeing above all else. This bill violates fundamental doctrines taught in medical school and will deter future trainees from committing to careers in women’s health care in this state.
Georgia is at the very bottom of the national report card; it has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality and teen pregnancy. Over half of Georgia already lacks access to ob-gyns, while other areas suffer from a complete absence of care. Georgia’s rural women are disproportionately affected. By 2020, it is estimated that three-quarters of rural areas will lack access to an obstetrician, midwife, or family physician to safely care for women, mothers, and babies.
Let’s be clear: this bill essentially bans abortion in Georgia. If passed, it will deny care to all women and in particular the most vulnerable patients in our communities.
Insufficient health insurance coverage and a lack of health information already prevent the delivery of quality healthcare in our state. We know that these barriers disproportionately affect women of color and low-income women; these populations are less likely to access prenatal care and have worse pregnancy complications, including preterm birth, hemorrhage, and death.
Many of our patients have illnesses that can progress in unexpected ways during pregnancy. Sometimes a safe termination procedure is the best option for a patient’s health and her family’s wellbeing.
Take for example a patient with diabetes, which now affects almost 10% of pregnancies. It can be difficult to predict when a pregnant diabetic woman’s condition may rapidly worsen, leading to blindness or kidney failure. This bill would force healthcare providers like us to wait for a possibly catastrophic outcome before we could legally offer an abortion to protect her health.

We trust women to make reproductive healthcare decisions that are best for themselves and their families – this trust is at the core of why we chose to pursue this field.

Alisha Kramer and Preetha Nandi
This bill will not just undermine women’s health in our state. It also sends a message to future health care providers like us that the government can and will violate the privacy of the clinical exam room. Putting aside personal beliefs, our legislators should understand that this measure will deter future trainees from committing to careers in women’s health care in Georgia.
Many trainees will simply choose not to practice here, where legislative restrictions will diminish their ability to provide the quality care, that they swore under the Hippocratic oath to deliver. In a state already facing a woeful shortage of providers, we must attract, not deter, trainees and providers to make Georgia home.
Finally, HB 481 attacks the fundamental rights of patients when they see their doctors. It takes medical decision-making power away from patients and puts that power into the hands of politicians. It promotes political agendas instead of improving the health of Georgia’s women and families. It does more harm by adding kindle to Georgia’s maternal health crisis and by criminalizing basic medical procedures that are a part of safe, effective medical care.
We trust women to make reproductive healthcare decisions that are best for themselves and their families – this trust is at the core of why we chose to pursue this field.
We call on our local and state officials to support our community’s medical providers. Legislators must support access to safe and evidence-based medical care across our state; prioritize the health and autonomy of women in Georgia; and stop interfering in the medical exam room.
The authors are fourth-year medical students at Emory University in Atlanta. Both will be OB/Gyn resident physicians beginning in July. Ms. Kramer earned an MSc in Health Policy at the London School of Economics. Ms. Nandi is completing a Masters in Public Health and Epidemiology at Emory University. Their views are their own and not those of Emory University. Views expressed here are their own.

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