We are committed to serving patients to the best of our abilities, putting their well-being first, maintaining their confidentiality and avoiding harm to them. The seriousness of our oaths moved us deeply.
Being a doctor is different from being a business executive, salesperson or politician – we are committed to a very high moral code. That’s not to say someone in another line of work can’t do the same, but for doctors it’s part of the job description.
The oath, a version of which was written some 2,000 years ago, remains our traditional moral compass, our North Star, deeply embedded within us to guide us when faced with conflicting demands – those struggles in the middle of the night. with sick patients when we would rather just go home and sleep.
It should be noted that patients discuss potential abortions not only with OB-GYNs but also with internists, psychiatrists, and others in the medical field. As a psychiatrist and researcher, I have spoken to women about the abortion decisions they have faced. I am fortunate to work in New York, a state that will undoubtedly preserve the right to abortion, but many of my medical colleagues in other states are terrified and deeply troubled by the court’s opinion. With the fall of Roe, doctors must now face the troubling decision between following the law or the Hippocratic oath.
I try to put myself in the shoes of colleagues in states where abortion will be banned or severely restricted and I can imagine the immense pressure these doctors are currently under.
But in the vast majority of states, darkness prevails and doctors are worried.
States across the country are expected to enact similar protections, but whether they will and how this patchwork of varying state laws will play out is uncertain.
Unsurprisingly, in states with restrictive abortion laws, my fellow OB-GYNs talk about moving. Medical students tell me they don’t want to train in states where they can’t talk about abortion. Far fewer interns from our country’s top medical schools who want to provide reproductive health care are likely to want to move to those states, which will only hurt the quality of care there.
Now that Roe is overthrown, we are forced to tread the slippery slope of the question of which elements of bodily autonomy should be restricted in certain states, and this question presents physicians with an extremely long list of potential conflicts between respect state laws and acting in the best interests of their patients. I implore state legislatures and governors to keep this in mind when considering laws that will impede quality health care for the citizens of their state.
We must all recognize these broader harms to society as well as the negative impact this decision will have on doctors, hospitals, our healthcare system and patients, whether they support abortion or not. An understanding of these dangers can help state and national policymakers as well as voters carefully reconsider whether to support banning abortion.
Overthrow Roe v. Wade doesn’t just hurt women who seek abortions, it hurts all of us.