In a post-Roe world, doctors will increasingly face a terrible choice: to follow heinous laws or to uphold ethical obligations to provide patients the care they need. When law and professional duty conflict, medical personnel must carry out their duty regardless of the state’s commands.

By Lily Sánchez, Current Affairs

Every now and then, in a pediatric medical practice, a parent of a patient will faint or have some kind of medical issue that needs attention. Once, when I was still in practice as a pediatrician, a parent fainted in the clinic lobby, and I was called to assess. It turned out the woman had had an abortion just a day or two prior. I don’t remember whether it had been medical or surgical or where she had gone (this was Texas, so one wonders). But she’d been bleeding, and she hadn’t eaten anything all morning. When I got to her, she was alert and medically stable, but I thought she needed urgent evaluation. She agreed but declined ambulance transport to the local emergency room (I would have done the same thing, as ambulance bills can be a nightmare).

Room at women's health clinic with empty patient table

In the days since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, I’ve been thinking about how most people working in the medical community, even those who do not themselves perform abortions or specialize in the healthcare of pregnant people, will be affected by this blatant denial of patients’ medical freedom. Where there are people of reproductive age, there will be people who need or who have had abortions; some of these people will need (possibly) urgent medical or surgical care, and their healthcare needs may be related to the pregnancy or something else entirely. Hence, the mother in my clinic who fainted for unknown reasons (abortions are very safe, and I never found out the cause of the woman’s symptoms). Even though I was not technically the woman’s doctor, I was for the moments after she fainted. Had I been mandated to call the police on her because she’d had an abortion, I cannot imagine having done so. And calling the police on her would have been a gross violation of the informal trust she had placed in me (and in our clinic to take care of her child).

The problems with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling are many. But a particularly heinous one is that abortion restrictions force doctors and clinical staff to commit ethical violations of the highest order. Abortion is healthcare, and to prevent doctors from providing abortion is to force them to withhold care and act in violation of their basic duties to patients.

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