As Supreme Court hears arguments on Mississippi court case, health organizations advocate for patient rights to reproductive health care services
Dec. 3, 2021 (ACP) – As the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization -- a crucially important court case on reproductive health rights -- the American College of Physicians has taken a strong stand in favor of patient rights.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, ACP and 24 other medical organizations united behind a firm message to the nine justices: They must reject a Mississippi law that imposes a ban on the provision of abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“ACP strongly opposes any legislation that unnecessarily increases barriers to health care, including reproductive health care services,” said Dr. George M. Abraham, president of ACP. “Our patients have the right to bodily autonomy and to make health care decisions about matters that affect their personal, individual health. … Access to care needs to be protected for our patients.”
The New York Times has referred to the legal challenge to the Mississippi law as “the most important abortion case in a generation,” even more crucial than the legal battle over a law in Texas that has led clinics there to stop providing abortion services.
At issue is whether Mississippi can ban most abortions after 15 weeks. If the law is allowed to stand, “it could force some women to carry their pregnancy to term or travel outside the state to obtain abortions.,” said Shari Erickson, ACP interim senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. “The law impedes on the ability of a physician to exercise their own medical judgment as to what's best for their patients, and it prevents clinicians from providing patients with necessary care. This is government interference in the exam room.”
ACP signed the friend-of-the-court brief -- designed to provide expert guidance to the Supreme Court justices -- along with major organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Among other points, the brief states that there is no justification for the 15-week ban, and it will hurt poor, rural and minority patients the most.
The brief adds that “the integrity of the medical profession is not protected by preventing physicians from utilizing their extensive training and reliance on medical evidence to safely perform a routine procedure that a patient has made an informed decision is in her own best interest. Instead, the medical profession's integrity is safeguarded when physicians are permitted to exercise their duty to counsel and care for patients based on ‘objective professional judgment’ and ultimately respect patients' autonomy to make decisions about their own bodies and health.”
ACP's position is in line with its women's health policy that states “ACP opposes government restrictions that would erode or abrogate a woman's right to continue or discontinue a pregnancy.”
As Erickson explained, ACP speaks up about legal disputes that impinge on patient rights. “We get engaged when the implications of a court case are important, and we have policy statements in place that guide our advocacy on behalf of the College,” she said.
The Supreme Court is not expected to make a decision in the Mississippi case for several months.
The ACP position paper, “Women's Health Policy in the United States: An American College of Physicians Position Paper,” is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.