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Obstetricians are taking a political role in the abortion debate

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News Politics: OB-GYNs are a surprising political force that are preventing red state lawmakers from passing new abortion restrictions.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, these doctors—many of whom have never before engaged in political activism—are uniting to lobby state legislators, testify before committees, establish political action committees (PACs), and run online campaigns opposing proposed abortion restrictions. Physician legislators are persuading their colleagues to lessen some of the harsher provisions of proposed anti-abortion bills by drawing on their expertise in the medical field.

In West Virginia and Indiana, doctors secured smaller wins, stripping provisions out of bills that would have imposed harsher criminal penalties on physicians and patients, and ensuring exemptions for cases of rape, incest and threats to the health of the pregnant person.

In Nebraska, OB-GYNs’ advocacy scuttled attempts to pass abortion restrictions in a summer special session, and the Republican-controlled legislature has punted the issue until early next year.

“Physicians have expressed concern and, I would say, to some degree, fear. Like, ‘Please don’t interfere because you do not understand,’” Nebraska Sen. John Arch, a Republican who chairs the legislature’s health committee, told POLITICO. “There is such a thing as bad legislation, and that is borne of not understanding the topic or the issue before legislation is passed.”

“In my eight years in the legislature, I have never seen medical providers organize themselves in the way they did for this,” said Nebraska Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat. “They came together in the past for Medicaid expansion and other things, but that was mainly through existing associations and professional lobbies. Those are powerful, too, but not as powerful as hearing directly from individual doctors who have to make life-and-death decisions every day.”

Even where the doctors aren’t able to stop legislatures with Republican supermajorities from prohibiting nearly all abortions, they are working to mitigate what they see as harmful provisions. “Our work didn’t stop them from passing the ban, but it certainly made the bill itself much less bad, and it’s important to remember the small victories when we think of this as a long fight,” said Katie McHugh, one of many Indiana OB-GYNs whose lobbying shaped key provisions of the near-total abortion ban the state passed earlier this month. “The changes we won are meaningful for the patients we’re going to see tomorrow and they lay the groundwork for the patients we’re going to see in 20 to 30 years.”

Data show the country has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, in part due to a severe shortage of OB-GYNs. Half of U.S. counties have no OB-GYN, forcing patients to travel tens — or sometimes hundreds — of miles to receive care.

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