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Brendan Prast is a family physician in Portland. He wrote this column in collaboration with 27 Maine family physicians.
As family physicians, we are horrified by the recent anti-choice law passed in Texas, S.B.8. This new vigilante-enforced law essentially bans abortion care after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks, well before many patients realize they are pregnant. As primary care doctors, we often see patients for their initial prenatal visit well after the six-week mark, which just goes to show how difficult it can be to detect pregnancy at that early stage.
This bill is a near-total ban on abortion for the entire state. We are gravely concerned for pregnant people in Texas who may no longer have access to safe and accessible care.
Although federal judges temporarily halted the ban, an appeals court upheld it, and now a precedent has been set. With almost no exceptions, including for rape or incest, people in need of abortion care will be forced to undertake the burden of leaving the state to access care, or may have to forgo accessing care altogether due to lack of resources. This law hopes to pit communities against one another, allowing any private citizen the ability to sue anyone involved in providing abortion care or assisting someone who gets an abortion, whether a health care provider or even the taxi driver who drove the patient to a clinic.
All this has done is further widen the massive disparities in our health care system that disproportionately impact those who already face obstacles in accessing care, worsening health outcomes. Time and time again, medical professionals have argued that criminalizing abortion won’t eliminate abortion, it just pushes access to safe, legal abortion care further out of reach, especially for communities who face systemic marginalization. Political agendas have no place in the exam room, and vigilante neighbors, co-workers, disgruntled partners or anti-choice activists have no business restricting access to necessary health care.
Following the passage of S.B. 8, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to take action, anti-choice politicians across the country are emboldened. Already we have seen anti-choice politicians in other states making clear that they intend to introduce legislation using Texas’ cruel law as a blueprint for their own attacks on reproductive freedom. Just a few short weeks after S.B. 8 went into effect, lawmakers in Florida formally introduced copycat legislation attacking abortion and encouraging private citizens to spy on their neighbors and friends, all in hopes of entirely eliminating abortion access in the state.
That is why we need the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect the right to abortion across the United States and prevent laws such as S.B. 8 from going into effect. This legislation would safeguard the legal right to abortion in the absence of Roe v. Wade. It is absolutely critical that the Senate pass the act before the Supreme Court has the chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.
More than that, we need strong statements from medical professionals, such as the joint statement from the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Psychiatric Association. This statement, encompassing the views of more than 500,000 health care providers, shows that medical professionals overwhelmingly support access to abortion. In a similar vein, that is why we, as family physicians in Maine, support the passage of the act and the rights of our patients to access necessary medical care and our right to provide that care.