Strict abortion laws aren't based on science

Strict abortion laws aren't based on science
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Last month Gov. Mike DeWine (R) added Ohio to the growing list of states banning abortion after only six weeks. And since then, we’ve seen states take up and advance similar laws banning abortion early in pregnancy, including the Georgia ban on abortion at six weeks and the Alabama law that would criminalize almost all abortions.  

These three states join Mississippi in denying women access to care early on in a pregnancy, and now Missouri is poised to enact a bill that would ban abortion after eight weeks. This coordinated political strategy is a baseless attack on women’s health that will only make it harder, if not impossible, for women to access the health care they need.

As an adolescent medicine pediatrician, I regularly see teens who need access to the full spectrum of reproductive health-care services, including in some cases abortion care, but who routinely face unnecessary barriers in seeking that care.  

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As the bill in Ohio was moving its way through the legislature and to the Governor’s desk, I was reminded of a patient who recently visited my office seeking birth control. After her examination, she was shocked to learn she was pregnant, and already past six weeks of pregnancy. It breaks my heart to think of seeing a young patient who learns she is pregnant and has no option to access abortion care here in Ohio. Because girls often have irregular menstrual cycles, it is not uncommon for teenagers to be unaware of an early pregnancy. Banning abortion care ties the hands of medical providers, like myself, who want to ensure our patients have access to the best care to meet their needs.

When access to abortion care is limited, women in communities that already face systemic barriers to care — including women of color; lower-income women and women living in rural areas — will be disproportionately impacted. They are less likely to be able to take time off work or away from their children to travel, likely out of state, to access the medical care they need and may not be able to afford care after the costs of travel, time away from work and childcare.  

In addition to the hurdles of traveling for abortion care, women are increasingly subject to additional medically unnecessary barriers, including waiting periods, limitations on the number of providers able to offer care and onerous restrictions on the facilities where abortion care is offered. Our elected officials should be working to decrease, not increase, health-care disparities.

When someone decides to have an abortion, it should be safe and accessible. When people can make decisions that are best for their lives and families, we build communities where each of us can participate with dignity and equality.

Abortion is safe and effective. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, limiting access to care by imposing medically unnecessary regulations hurts women. They are medically unnecessary, they cause delays and they ultimately hinder the quality of care delivered. Abortion is also common — one in four women in this country will have an abortion in her lifetime.

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In every way, all out bans and six-week bans are detrimental to women’s health care. Every patient should be able to make her own decisions about her body, life and future. That’s a basic human right.

We must leave these decisions to be made between a patient and her health-care provider, and insist our elected officials legislate based on medical realities, not personal ideologies that conflict with high-quality medical care.

Elise Berlan, MD, MPH, is an associate professor in the department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and is a faculty physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in the Division of Adolescent Medicine. The views are those of the author and not the views of Nationwide Children's Hospital.