Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, left, and Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, right, talk as the Texas Senate debated an abortion bill on July 12, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Eric Gay, Associated Press - Ap

Doctors weigh in

The American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians has been a high-profile opponent of abortion restrictions being put in place nationally. Read its open letter to Texas legislators

Women's health at stake in 2014

  • Article by: Editorial Board
  • Star Tribune
  • July 18, 2013 - 6:37 PM

What’s going on in Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa ought to be a wake-up call to Minnesotans who prefer that physicians, not politicians, guide an individual’s medical care.

Minnesota’s neighbors have moved with alarming alacrity to cripple women’s access to a safe and legal medical procedure — abortion. Minnesota, where Gov. Mark Dayton sensibly vetoed a slew of abortion restrictions passed when Republicans controlled the Legislature, is now a health care island in the Upper Midwest.

Women here who have made the painful decision to have an abortion can still get the care they need without having to endure an invasive, government-­mandated ultrasound, a requirement Wisconsin just enacted. Women here also generally have more access to medication-induced abortions; more clinics at which to seek care, and a broader window of time in which to seek an abortion. North Dakota, which this year passed some the most far-reaching restrictions in the nation, now bans abortions after six weeks. Iowa now requires individual gubernatorial approval for abortion funding for women on medical assistance.

The increasing abortion barriers enacted regionally and elsewhere — Texas recently passed controversial limits — are alarming evidence that access to this essential, constitutionally protected medical care should not be taken for granted here. While taxes and the economy will likely dominate the debate in Minnesota’s upcoming 2014 gubernatorial and legislative races, abortion also needs to be a headline issue.

Voters must push candidates to clearly define their stance on reproductive rights. If not, Minnesota could be engulfed in the rising tide of state-level abortion restrictions put in place by politicians who didn’t run on that issue but who nevertheless quickly passed sweeping new limitations that are not proven to enhance patient safety but instead allow religious beliefs to dictate medical care.

The alarming number of restrictions should re-energize abortion-rights advocates in this bitter, long-running debate, and should mobilize a younger generation.

Physicians’ professional organizations already have swung into action to protect both patients and providers. North Dakota’s respected medical association took a strong public stance, to no avail, against restrictions in that state. In Wisconsin, the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (ACOG) as well as the Wisconsin Medical Society have objected to the ultrasound requirement and the state’s new requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, a requirement that could close two abortion clinics and force patients in rural areas of the state to travel much farther for care. This week, a Wisconsin judge extended a delay on the admitting-privileges requirement.

While abortion opponents contend that the measures are needed for patient safety, the reality is that abortion is already a safe procedure. “Fewer than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience a complication requiring hospitalization,’’ according to the Guttmacher Institute. Wisconsin, where about 7,250 abortions are performed annually, had one death related to the procedure from 2007 to 2011.

Requiring an ultrasound will add to costs but won’t reduce that complication rate, according to medical experts. Neither will the requirement that physicians have hospital admitting privileges. Hospitals are required by federal law to take patients needing emergency care, and in the age of electronic medical records and communication, there’s little if any lag time on getting information about the procedure they may have had.

What this requirement will do is reduce the number of abortion providers in Wisconsin. Hospitals often require physicians to admit a certain number of patients — a threshold abortion providers are unlikely to meet. In addition, many Wisconsin hospitals are Catholic-affiliated and unlikely to grant this to an abortion provider.

Minnesota abortion providers could face similar hurdles for admitting privileges, which is why limitations being enacted in Wisconsin can’t be allowed to gather momentum here.

“Uneducated legislators in either party … are making decisions that should be made between a patient and a doctor,’’ said Dr. Douglas Laube, a Wisconsin physician and ACOG spokesman.

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