HomeHealthAs Abortion Laws Drive Obstetricians From Red States, Maternity Care Suffers

As Abortion Laws Drive Obstetricians From Red States, Maternity Care Suffers

One by one, doctors who handle high-risk pregnancies in Idaho are disappearing due to restrictive abortion laws and a hostile state legislature. Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, a family doctor who also delivers babies in McCall, is among the doctors left behind, facing an uncertain future. When caring for patients with pregnancy complications, Dr. Gustafson seeks counsel from maternal-fetal medicine specialists in Boise, the state capital. However, two of the experts she relied on have moved away to Minnesota and Colorado. More than a dozen labor and delivery doctors, including five of Idaho’s nine longtime maternal-fetal experts, will have left or retired by the end of the year. These departures have worsened the situation, depriving both patients and doctors of support and advice. The exodus of obstetricians is not unique to Idaho but is also occurring in other red states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. This trend may result in new maternity care deserts, particularly affecting rural areas where hospitals are closing their obstetrics units due to economic reasons. Restrictive abortion laws are exacerbating the problem. Doctors in Idaho operate under a web of abortion laws, including a 2020 “trigger law” enacted after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and a strict abortion ban with limited exceptions. These laws not only affect doctors primarily providing abortion care, but also those who care for expectant mothers and babies and may require terminating pregnancies for medical reasons. Dr. Gustafson, who has been practicing in Idaho for 20 years, continues to provide care despite the challenges. She sees patients at the Payette Lakes Medical Clinic and works with St. Luke’s Health System. However, the departures of key doctors have made it harder to provide comprehensive obstetric and gynecologic care. The vacancies are difficult to fill, and the strain is causing some smaller hospitals to close their labor and delivery units. Obstetricians in other states like Oklahoma and Tennessee are also considering leaving due to similar concerns. In order to ensure patients’ well-being, strong medical networks are crucial, and the loss of experienced doctors threatens the entire system. Efforts to change Idaho’s abortion laws have been met with resistance from state legislators, leading doctors like Dr. Gustafson to feel that their opinions are disregarded.