In updated policy paper, ACP builds on existing policies related to reproductive health care services and protecting patient access to care
March 10, 2023 (ACP) — In a recently updated policy paper, the American College of Physicians calls for protection of patient access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, including family planning, sexual health information, the full range of contraception methods and abortion without undue government interference.
Published in the Feb. 28 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the new policies are in response to restrictions and prohibitions placed on abortion services since the Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case in 2022 and serve as an update to the 2018 ACP position paper on women's health policy in the United States. The Dobbs decision essentially eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion and gave states the authority to regulate or ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
In its wake, some states began enforcing pre-Roe abortion bans or pursuing new restrictions and prohibitions. “Because of this new policy environment and novel challenges that were unanticipated several years back, ACP believed that now was the appropriate time to update and strengthen its policy,” said Joshua Serchen, ACP associate for health policy.
Specifically, the new policy brief “clarifies ACP's existing policy by removing reference to case law to support access to reproductive health care services, including abortion, independent of and without regards to underlying court decisions,” he explained. “It also expands and builds upon ACP's existing policies as they relate to reproductive health care services and protecting patient access to care.”
The new recommendations support the freedom to travel to seek medical care and the ability to receive medication abortion through the mail. ACP also opposes inappropriate government interference in the provision of medical care and efforts to criminalize the practice of evidence-based medicine that is in the patient's best interest. Moreover, ACP opposes policies that allow private citizens to enforce state laws and the use of personal health information to prosecute or penalize individuals.
In the policy paper, ACP also reaffirms the need for public policy to address underlying social drivers of health that perpetuate health inequities to ensure that everyone has access to equitable health care, regardless of where they live or work.
“Reproductive health decisions are intensely personal and private decisions and are most appropriately addressed within the confines of the patient-physician relationship without undue third-party interjection,” Serchen said. “These laws set a dangerous precedent and impose uncertainties and barriers to physicians being able to provide the best and most appropriate care to their patients.”
There are several ways ACP members can help inform and influence policymaking regarding reproductive health care freedom. “Members are urged to reach out to their lawmakers -- whether that's a meeting, phone call or letter -- and call on them to oppose laws that restrict patient access to reproductive health care and impose undue government interference on the professional practice of medicine,” Serchen said.
While federal advocacy is important, nearly all of the activity on this issue is happening at the state level. “It is critical for members to engage their state policymakers,” he added.
In addition to opposing restrictive legislation, members should urge state lawmakers to enshrine protections to abortion in their state laws and constitutions in the absence of federal protections. ACP offers members a comprehensive toolkit that includes customizable advocacy letter templates to be sent to state policymakers.
The position paper, “Reproductive Health Policy in the United States,” is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.