The October 18 edition of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) features a compelling “sounding board” titled, Legislative Interference with the Patient-Physician Relationship. “Increasingly in recent years,” the authors argue, “legislators in the United States have been overstepping the proper limits of their role in the health care of Americans to dictate the nature and content of patients’ interactions with their physicians.” The piece addresses laws regarding a number of areas of health care, but a primary focus of the interference the authors challenge is women’s health, and particularly access to abortion care.
This argument comes not from an advocacy group with a political agenda, but from leaders of the medical community—the heads of the American College of Physicians, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American College of Surgeons. It follows on the heels of a resolution by the American Academy of Family Physicians and a Statement of Principles on the Role of Governments in Regulating the Patient-Physician Relationship by the American College of Physicians. The piece was endorsed just this week by the Council of Medical Special Societies, which represents 39 organizations and over 700,000 physicians.
And around the country, state medical associations have been taking up the cause, openly opposing harmful laws. From the Idaho Medical Association:
“It is the policy of the IMA [Idaho Medical Association] to oppose inappropriate interference by the government and third parties that causes a physician to compromise his or her medical judgment as to what information or treatment is in the best interest of the patient.” (Idaho Medical Association House of Delegates July 27 – 29, 2012, Resolution 04 (12) Protecting the Patient-Physician Relationship)
And the Texas Medical Association:
“The sanctity of the patient-physician relationship is the foundation of health care in America, and it must be preserved to assure candid communication and allow patients to evaluate their care options. The Legislature’s role should not be to dictate how physicians and patients communicate with one another or what procedures and diagnostic tests must be performed on a given patient.” (Letter from the Texas Medical Association opposing SB16 requiring an ultrasound before a woman can obtain an abortion, full letter available here.)
These statements are a sharp rebuke to legislators around the country busy passing laws that interfere with women’s health care. These are laws that mandate ultrasounds whether or not they are medically necessary; laws that require women to receive baseless, medically inaccurate information such as being told abortion causes breast cancer or suicidal tendencies; laws that make women wait as much as three days before getting an abortion; and laws that limit access to medication abortion, forcing some women to have an unnecessary surgical procedure, and the list goes on. As stated in the NEJM, “by reducing health care decisions to a series of mandates, lawmakers devalue the patient–physician relationship. Legislators, regrettably, often propose new laws or regulations for political or other reasons unrelated to the scientific evidence and counter to the health care needs of patients.”
Anti-choice lawmakers often try to argue that these laws promote women’s health and protect women from bad decisions. But the reality is just the opposite; they harm women by taking the important decisions about their individual care away from them and their doctors and instead put them in the hands of politicians.
The medical community has been clear, intrusive laws restricting abortion care undermine the relationship between health care providers and their patients and are based on political ideology, not on providing the best possible care. This latest series of rebukes should put to rest the specious, transparent and patently false argument that these laws help women. They have no purpose other than to put up barriers to accessing abortion care and shaming and stigmatizing the women who are able to overcome those barriers.
They do not promote women’s health – they harm it. Don’t believe me? Just ask your doctor.