Abortion debate may affect Rx decisions for pregnant women


Obstetrician Beverly Gray, MD, is already seeing the effects of the Roe v. Wade abortion debate in her North Carolina practice.

Dr. Beverly Gray, residency director and division director for women's community and population health and associate professor for obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University in Durham

Dr. Beverly Gray

The state allows abortion but requires that women get counseling with a qualified health professional 72 hours before the procedure. “Aside from that, we still have patients asking for more efficacious contraceptive methods just in case,” said Dr. Gray, residency director and division director for women’s community and population health and associate professor for obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Patients and staff in her clinic have also been approaching her about tubal ligation. “They’re asking about additional birth control methods because they’re concerned about what’s going to happen” with the challenge to the historic Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court and subsequent actions in the states to restrict or ban abortion, she said.

This has implications not just for abortion but for medications known to affect pregnancy. “What I’m really worried about is physicians will be withholding medicine because they’re concerned about teratogenic effects,” said Dr. Gray.

With more states issuing restrictions on abortion, doctors are worried that patients needing certain drugs to maintain their lupus flares, cancer, or other diseases may decide not to take them in the event they accidentally become pregnant. If the drug is known to affect the fetus, the fear is a patient who lives in a state with abortion restrictions will no longer have the option to terminate a pregnancy.

Doctor and pregnant woman in consultation. zoranm/Getty Images

Instead, a scenario may arise in which the patient – and their physician – may opt not to treat at all with an otherwise lifesaving medication, experts told this news organization.

The U.S. landscape on abortion restrictions

A leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban has sent the medical community into a tailspin. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirms the constitutional right to abortion. It’s anticipated the high court will decide on the case in June.

Although the upcoming decision is subject to change, the draft indicated the high court would uphold the Mississippi ban. This would essentially overturn the 1973 ruling. An earlier Supreme Court decision allowing a Texas law banning abortion at 6 weeks suggests the court may already be heading in this direction. At the state level, legislatures have been moving on divergent paths – some taking steps to preserve abortion rights, others initiating restrictions.

More than 100 abortion restrictions in 19 states took effect in 2021, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such metrics. In 2022, “two key themes are anti-abortion policymakers’ continued pursuit of various types of abortion bans and restrictions on medication abortion,” the institute reported.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have introduced 2,025 restrictions or proactive measures on sexual and reproductive health and rights so far this year. The latest tally from Guttmacher, updated in late May, revealed that 11 states so far have enacted 42 abortion restrictions. A total of 6 states (Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) have issued nine bans on abortion.

Comparatively, 11 states have enacted 19 protective abortion measures.

Twenty-two states have introduced 117 restrictions on medication abortions, which account for 54% of U.S. abortions. This includes seven measures that would ban medication abortion outright, according to Guttmacher. Kentucky and South Dakota collectively have enacted 14 restrictions on medication abortion, as well as provisions that ban mailing of abortion pills.


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