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North Carolina physician: Why I’m terrified about the prospect of an abortion ban in our state

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“What if I am raped?”

I have been hearing this question from women throughout the state coming to me for permanent sterilization. Often, they are in monogamous relationships with partners who have had a vasectomy (a male sterilization procedure).  But even with one of the most reliable birth control methods, they are worried that it wouldn’t be enough. That if they were raped, they could still get pregnant and be forced to continue their pregnancy if an abortion ban were put in place in North Carolina. There isn’t much I can say to ease their fears. While abortion is still legal in the state of North Carolina, I don’t know how long this will be the case. Depending on the outcome of the midterm elections, we could see an abortion ban here, like in so many of our surrounding states.

As an Ob/Gyn physician in the state of North Carolina and as a woman, an abortion ban terrifies me and it should scare us all. I have seen firsthand how abortion bans threaten patient’s lives.

In Georgia, a woman with stroke-range blood pressure from her pregnancy was denied an abortion.

In Tennessee, a patient who developed an infection in her uterus was forced to travel hundreds of miles to get her life saving abortion out of state.

These are the stories I thought about when my patient came in stating she already had an IUD in place and her husband had a vasectomy, but she wanted a sterilization procedure as a back-up to prevent pregnancy. This patient had two prior pregnancies that threatened her life and she was worried that if she got pregnant, she could die. With an abortion ban she would not be able to have the life-saving abortion she would need. How can I say she is safe?

Even now with a post-20-week ban in place in North Carolina, so many people are being impacted. I just saw a patient whose pregnancy was diagnosed with a lethal genetic anomaly. All she wanted was to be a mother and when she first learned that her pregnancy had some features of this disorder, she wanted confirmatory genetic testing before deciding what to do. By the time the genetic analysis returned confirming that her baby would not survive birth the 20-week ban was re-enacted, and she was too late in her pregnancy to have an abortion in this state.

If the North Carolina legislature were able to gain a supermajority of anti-abortion lawmakers in this midterm election, an abortion ban is a real possibility. A ban would mean that an 11 year-old who was raped by a family member would either have to travel hundreds of miles and spend thousands of dollars for an abortion or carry that pregnancy to term. A ban would mean the neighbor whose pregnancy was diagnosed with anencephaly, a lethal fetal diagnosis, will have to carry her baby for nine months knowing it will not survive birth. A ban would mean the friend with three kids already, who doesn’t feel they can care for another child, would be forced to continue the pregnancy. A ban would mean I would have to risk my license and jail time to perform an abortion on the loved one whose water broke at 18 weeks and has developed an infection threatening her life.

Abortion is a healthcare issue, but those opposed to it have made it a political issue. As political pundits and candidates discuss “kitchen table” economic issues as the only thing driving voters, I know many of my patients will be thinking about their access to healthcare when they go to the polls.

Abby Schultz, MD, is Triangle-area OB/GYN physician.

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North Carolina physician: Why I’m terrified about the prospect of an abortion ban in our state