Dr. Curtis Lowery, chairman of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, expanded on his testimony yesterday before the House public health committee on what Sen. Jason Rapert's bill to prevent abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected would mean for women.
Rapert's bill, as well as the bill that Rep. Andy Mayberry will bring before the Senate public health committee next week to ban abortions from the 20th week of pregnancy, make no exclusions for fetal anomalies; it does, however, allow abortion to save the life of the mother. But Lowery asks, who makes the decision whether the abortion is life-saving?
For example: If a woman with a congenital heart problem is told she has a 50-50 chance of surviving delivery and choses to terminate the pregnancy, is that covered under the bill? Or will a court later declare that because she had a 50 percent chance of surviving, the doctor is guilty of a felony? Medical decisions such as these are always based on percentages. Who's to judge which percentage is allowable?
The bill also would require women who present with a rupture of the membrane protecting the fetus, thus causing its lungs to stop developing, from choosing to abort what is medically known as an inevitable miscarriage. The physical danger to the pregnant woman in this situation — not to mention the psychological damage — is that she will develop a uterine infection. Unless she is less than 12 weeks pregnant (under Rapert’s bill) or less than 20 weeks pregnant (under Mayberry’s), her doctor will have to wait until that infection becomes systemic and threatens her life to intervene.
Lowery said UAMS doctors see about 150 obstetrical patients a year who have suffered a premature rupture of the membrane protecting the developing fetus, something that can happen at any time in a pregnancy.
UAMS' genetic counselors and physicians now offer counseling to women on the kinds of anomalies their fetuses have so they can make an informed choice on whether to carry the infant to term. Under these bills, a woman may discover the fetus has abnormalities of the sort described in the letter published here yesterday about why a surgical nurse decided to terminate — “encephalocele” and “holoprosencephaly" — and be required to carry the fetus until it dies in utero or is born. The letter urges readers not to look those terms up because it will break hearts. I'd say some people need to look those terms up to see what these women are faced with.
UAMS offers the largest prenatal diagnosis program in the state. State law prohibits the medical center from performing elective abortions, so its students do not get training in the procedure. Students who want to learn the procedure must be trained elsewhere. Under the new abortion bills, UAMS would be further restricted in its ability to perform what the U.S. Supreme Court has defined as non-elective, legal abortions, and its accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education could be withdrawn. Pregnant women who need a non-elective abortion would have to travel outside Arkansas, which for many poor women would not be an option.
Mayberry’s bill gives a woman until 20 weeks, unlike the 12 weeks Rapert's would impose, to have an abortion. But unlike Rapert's, it makes it more difficult to obtain an abortion after the gestation cut-off, excluding abortion in the case of rape, incest or psychological threat, even suicidal ideation. Lowery will testify against it before the Senate public health committee next week. Neither bill is constitutional, because the fetus cannot survive outside the womb until 23-25 weeks, the standard of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Legislators have heard from several women who have chosen to deliver infants with serious health problems, including fatal ones, who've said it was right for them. What about women for whom it would not be right?* See a video about a Nebraska woman who was not allowed to terminate her pregnancy after the fetal sac ruptured here.
*Oh, yes, forgot. Mayberry said these are immoral women.
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