The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion is creating “chaos” in the health care sector as some states see a spike in women seeking abortions and physicians are unsure of their legal rights, lawmakers were told in a hearing on Tuesday.
The ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization has quickly created a patchwork of abortion laws across the country, with legal battles now playing out at the state level to determine what laws will be enforced, and whether they adhere to state constitutions.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on the legal reality around abortion and reproductive care in a post-Roe America.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told lawmakers that physicians are fearful of prescribing certain medications that may contribute to miscarriage or be used for abortions because of the potential legal repercussions.
“We are already seeing mass chaos among OBGYNs, emergency room physicians, and quite frankly pharmacists. We’re talking about people being denied or delayed care for pregnancy and non-pregnancy related conditions,” McNicholas said.
“When the consequence of violating a law is criminal, doctors are put in impossible positions where they know the right care, they know what to do to help somebody, but yet they have to wait, making folks sustain totally preventable harm,” McNicholas added.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said the impact could also extend to medical training, not only limiting abortion care but also how to treat related issues like miscarriages or ectopic pregnanacies in states banning abortion.
Responding to Hirono’s concerns, McNicholas said, “We will be creating an entire cohort of physicians who are underprepared to take care of pregnancy emergencies,” noting that the procedures and medication used in abortions is the same as for people experiencing pregnancy loss.
Khiara M. Bridges, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, said that some clinics in Kansas and Oklahoma saw a one thousand percent increase in patients after Texas passed SB 8, which banned abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
“That makes it difficult, of course, for people from Texas to access abortion care because now they have to travel hundreds of miles for abortion care, but it also makes it difficult for the residents of Oklahoma and Kansas to access the care in their state because the supply simply cannot meet the demand,” Bridges said at the hearing.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said their states, where abortion remains legal, will see influxes of patients seeking abortions from surrounding areas following the Dobbs decision. Klobuchar said providers in Minnesota, which is near a number of states banning abortions, expect to see up to 25 percent more people seeking abortion care.
“States like Connecticut and Illinois face an impending surge of women seeking their rights, healthcare rights, reproductive rights, human rights, in our states. What we face is an unprecedented cost to our healthcare system, to the providers of clinics,” Blumenthal said at the hearing.
Despite these concerns, Republicans at the hearing celebrated the return of power to the states to set their own abortion laws.
“What the Supreme Court has done is return this deeply personal, deeply important, deeply contentious issue to the voters — to let the American people decide, that’s democracy,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said.
However, McNicholas said it meant that in states banning or restricting abortion, it meant doctors would need to weigh the potential of prison time against the health of patients.
“People will suffer unnecessary harm as doctors wait for permission from hospital lawyers to tell them that they can proceed,” she said.