When I was a new physician, my mentor taught me not only medical techniques, but also the stories of those who sought abortions before they became legal. He told me about the hospital wards that filled with pregnancy and abortion complications, and the relief the physicians felt once they could terminate a pregnancy without fear of being thrown in jail.
Dr. Stimmell would be horrified to see us facing this again just a few decades later.
As one of the few abortion providers in the conservative state of Arizona, I’ve already gotten a glimpse of what a post-Roe America will look like. Heightened restrictions on performing abortions, a hostile environment for doctors that perform them and political and financial pressures on medical schools that train physicians have created an environment where fewer medical professionals have the ability to end a pregnancy even if it becomes medically necessary.
The medical consequences of anti-abortion politics already have life or death consequences in the U.S., even for those who find themselves needing a medically indicated termination under today’s current abortion laws. Doctors who now have to seek out additional training to perform any abortions, much less later terminations, combined with hospitals fearful of the potential wrath of anti-abortion protesters and politicians, are responsible for a deepening void in women’s health care that will only grow worse if Roe is overturned.
Just recently a colleague shared a story of a patient hospitalized in a large urban hospital in Phoenix for an impending miscarriage. She was in the second trimester, still well over a month before even the cusp of fetal viability, and rapidly bleeding out. A D&E procedure could have quickly ended her ordeal, but was a procedure no one currently on staff at the hospital could perform. Instead, they induced labor, giving her blood transfusion after blood transfusion as the process continued for hours. Throughout the entire process, the patient begged the staff not to let her die.
She survived, but her life never should have been at risk. Never.
But it was put at risk, all because a growing portion of the medical community is placing women’s lives at stake by not training to do life-saving essential surgical or medical interventions. They’ve chosen not to make waves, determining that it’s too politically fraught to learn to end a pregnancy in (THE) safest way possible and in medically appropriate situations. And that number will grow even larger should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
The end of Roe doesn’t just mean an end to legal abortion in certain states across the nation. It means the end of training of local medical students to allow them to assist in medical emergencies. It means the elimination of medical best practices when it comes to dealing with pregnancy complications for areas that already have some of the worst health care access and maternal outcomes in the nation.
It means more women, lying in hospital beds, begging not to die.
When Dr. Stimmell trained me to follow in his footsteps, these were not the footsteps I wanted to walk in. We can never go back to those overflowing hospital beds.
Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick is the owner and medical director of Camelback Family Planning, one of only four private abortion clinics left in Arizona. She also serves on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona.