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Idaho doctors form coalition to revise state abortion law

320+ medical professionals in Idaho have come together and signed a letter detailing their concerns with the new abortion law.

IDAHO, USA — This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

Idaho doctors are coming together in a grassroots effort to understand the impacts of the state’s abortion law, forming the Idaho Coalition for Safe Reproductive Health Care this summer.

More than 320 medical professionals, many of whom are part of the coalition, recently signed a letter imploring citizens to contact their legislators and recommend revising the law, which aims to ban abortions under almost any circumstance.

The coalition’s members include physicians, nurses, health care administrators, and representatives from multiple subspecialty organizations, the letter said.

“Medicine is really complex and making very specific blanket legislation to try to block one entire procedure without thinking about all the subtle gray in between is really, really challenging,” Lauren Miller, a maternal fetal medicine doctor who along with others helped start the coalition, said in an interview.

Miller said she doesn’t know what the legislators intended, but the group wants to help write legislation that protects everyone’s health and the will of the people.

There are varying personal beliefs about abortion among those who signed the letter. However, providers are concerned about potential criminal charges for doctors who provide care to someone in a serious-life-threatening pregnancy complication.

Idaho’s law makes all abortions felonies except for narrow exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to prevent the death of the mother, the Idaho Press previously reported.

And although saving a mother’s life is one of the exceptions included in Idaho’s abortion ban, pregnant women have received care later than needed in other states with such an exception, as previously reported.

“Uncertainty about the risk of criminal charges for providing evidence-based care during such a complication could result in catastrophic outcomes,” the letter said.

Those problems include ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. The tube can rupture and lead to hemorrhaging. Women can also experience an early incomplete miscarriage. In an incomplete miscarriage, there can be heavy bleeding which poses a danger to the mom’s health, said Amelia Huntsberger, an OB-GYN in northern Idaho who signed the letter and has been involved with the coalition since the beginning. 

“What is a woman and her doctor supposed to do in the circumstances where evidence-based life saving recommendations are colliding with state laws?” Huntsberger said. “I think it’s important for people to ask themselves, ‘Do I want the government making my medical decisions?’”

Many conditions also occur along with or because of the pregnancy, for example, pre-viable preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a high-blood pressure situation where the only cure is delivering the baby. Left unchecked, there’s a high risk of the mother having a stroke or other serious medical issues.

A woman could be diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, or have pulmonary hypertension or heart failure.

“With no option but to continue the pregnancy, patients with these conditions face an unacceptably high risk of death or permanent disability,” the letter said. “Sadly, this could result in the loss of two lives, while also taking a mother from her children, a wife from a spouse, and a daughter from her parents.”

There’s also no exception in the law for “lethal or severely life-limiting fetal diagnosis,” the letter said.

For example, a woman could have been trying to get pregnant for years and finally manage to be pregnant, the letter said. But the 20-week ultrasound shows the baby has no skull or brain or chance of survival.

“Continuing this pregnancy increases the risk of major maternal complications, while also further delaying the ability to conceive a healthy pregnancy,” the letter said. “Our mothers, our daughters, our relatives, our friends, and our colleagues – all the women in our state – are depending on us, the citizens of Idaho, the lawmakers, and the medical community, to get this right.”

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, it created a web of varying laws across states that doctors and pregnant women must navigate. Idaho is one of 18 states that has bans in effect or soon will following the decision; legal battles are playing out in several U.S. states. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Idaho over its abortion law, with a hearing set for Aug. 22.

Planned Parenthood has filed three lawsuits against Idaho’s abortion laws.

For Kylie Cooper, a Boise-based doctor specializing in maternal fetal medicine, said the coalition’s biggest concern right now is the vague language which “impacts our ability to care for many types of pregnancies.”

Cooper was drawn to maternal fetal medicine because of the continuity with patients. Pregnancy is a joyous time for most people but for many others is complicated and can end badly, she said. Her drive to be a doctor was to help patients through complex and scary situations.

Overall, the coalition’s goal is to bring together entities like health care organizations and individual providers to talk about the laws and share expertise, she said. Another goal is to protect the doctor-patient relationship.

“We are aiming to help inform future legislation to reduce harm to pregnant people to ensure legislation is congruent with the standards of medical practice,” Cooper said.

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