Attorneys In, Doctors Out

Photo via Kline & Specter

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Two major cases currently dominate the discourse around the legality of abortion, specifically as emergency healthcare. On both the state and federal levels, American courts remain divided. 

On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated a law from 1864 barring all abortions except in cases of saving a pregnant woman’s life. The archaic law predates the state of Arizona itself, stemming from a time when the age of legal consent was 10 and women were politically disenfranchised. By their third attempt to propose a repeal of the law, three Arizona Republicans finally joined Democrats for a final vote of 32-28. The repeal will head to the State Senate next week for possible consideration. If signed before June 30, the end of the legislative session, the abortion ban would be lifted after 90 days. 

On April 24, a nearly identical case left the Supreme Court of the United States in a heated dispute. An unprecedented number of pregnant women have been airlifted out of Idaho to receive emergency medical care due to the state’s near-total ban on abortion, save for cases of incest, rape, or when it is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” 

Lawyers on behalf of the federal government argue that Idaho’s ban violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA. President Biden’s administration asserts that EMTALA, which requires hospitals that receive Medicare funds to stabilize patients in an emergency, includes abortion care as prescribed by doctors. However, lawyers defending Idaho claim abortion is an “unavailable” treatment under the statewide ban. Doctors who perform abortions are punishable by two to five years in prison.  

Should doctors have to seek clearance from state legislators to provide emergency medical care? 

Medical professionals like Dr. Michele Heisler, the director for Physicians for Human Rights, believes not. Financially, the cost of transportation for out-of-state care can exceed $10,000 and often falls upon patients. More crucially, the prolonging of necessary medical care for pregnant women “until you can say they’re at the brink of death” gives way to avoidable complications including organ failure, sepsis, and yes, even death. 

Conservative politicians who preach “pro-life” sentiment contradict their own definition of morality by forcibly devastating the lives of women. 

It is important to note that 19 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. live in a contraceptive desert where a full range of contraceptive methods is inaccessible. Income level is a determining factor in the ability of women to leave their jobs in search of contraception. Furthermore, while parenting and adoption are paraded as viable alternatives to abortion, neither are easy paths for people to take. 

For those who choose to parent, the government claims to provide housing assistance, food assistance, healthcare coverage, childcare services, and workplace protections. Yet, the country with the largest economy in the world skimps on paid parental leave and childcare for new parents. Through the Family and Medical Leave Act, the U.S. offers only 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Individual states have the ability to offer more support, but few expand parental leave past the mandated time frame. 

Though the adoption route appears systemically simple, birth mothers are still left in physical, mental, and emotional ruin. Most suffer deeply from a sense of grief which can develop into lasting depression and anxiety. 

The underlying current remains that abortion is a necessary form of healthcare. Women reserve the human right to bodily autonomy and to fundamentally exist over a fetus. If those medically trained to save lives are punished for performing their duties, a larger and much scarier reality confronts the American public. 

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This article was edited by Sarah Davey.