ACP Decries New Laws Limiting Access to Reproductive Services as Harmful to Doctor-Patient Relationship

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Laws also put women's autonomy on health care decisions at risk, College says, and make physicians subject to criminal charges

June 7, 2019 (ACP) – The American College of Physicians is deeply concerned about the growing number of states – including Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia – that have recently passed laws intended to create barriers to health care.

Because ACP firmly rejects any laws that threaten access to medical services, the College has joined with other leading physician organizations to raise the alarm about the new legislation regarding abortion.

“ACP is concerned that such policies infringe on the very private patient-physician relationship, as well as other aspects of patient autonomy,” said Dr. Robert McLean, ACP's president. “In a broader perspective, ACP strongly believes that a woman has the right to make health care decisions about matters that affect her personal, individual health.”

In a 2018 position paper, “Women's Health Policy in the United States,” ACP calls for respect for the principle of patient autonomy, particularly on matters impacting women's health and reproductive decision-making rights. The paper states that while ACP recognizes and is respectful of different views that individuals, including physicians and patients, have on these issues, ACP believes that a woman has the right to make health care decisions about matters that affect her personal, individual health.

This year, eight states have passed bills limiting abortion. Alabama banned the procedure in almost all cases, while Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio passed “so-called heartbeat bills that effectively prohibit abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can usually start detecting a fetal heartbeat,” the New York Times reported. “Utah and Arkansas voted to limit the procedure to the middle of the second trimester.”

The Alabama and Georgia laws allow prosecution of physicians who perform abortions, according to the Washington Post. The Alabama law says physicians can be punished with up to 99 years in prison.

“These restrictions generally are meant to provoke legal challenges that ultimately elevate the issue to the Supreme Court,” the Post reported.

ACP issued a statement decrying the new legislation in conjunction with the American Psychiatric Association, American Osteopathic Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Family Physicians.

The coalition, which represents more than 560,000 physicians and medical students, said that it “is firmly opposed to efforts in state legislatures across the United States that inappropriately interfere with the patient-physician relationship, unnecessarily regulate the evidence-based practice of medicine and, in some cases, even criminalize physicians who deliver safe, legal and necessary medical care.”

“Physicians should never face imprisonment or other penalties for providing necessary care,” the coalition noted in its statement. “These laws force physicians to decide between their patients and facing criminal proceedings. Physicians must be able to practice medicine that is informed by their years of medical education, training, experience and the available evidence, freely and without threat of criminal punishment.”

ACP understands that its members have different views about abortion, McLean said, and it respects the variety of perspectives within the organization. “However, public policy decisions need to be kept in a broader context than what a particular individual, even a member of ACP, believes on a given issue,” he said. “ACP supports the current legal framework and a woman's constitutional right to privacy in medical decision making as upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Moving forward, McLean said, the states' legislation must be rolled back or declared unconstitutional.

“The ACP stands behind a commitment to advocate for access to quality and affordable health care services for all Americans,” he said. “We urge state legislatures as well as national health care leaders to embrace policies that ensure patients and their families have access to preventive and reproductive health care services.”

More Information

The position paper, “Women's Health Policy in the United States is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.

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