Ohio abortion law forces pregnant patients to carry dangerous, doomed pregnancies to term

"What if [the patient] gets a blood clot? What if she needs a cesarean section?" asks one Ohio doctor

Published February 11, 2014 6:51PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Stephen Lam)
(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

Doctors in Ohio are speaking out against a series of abortion restrictions recently passed by the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly, saying that measures such as an absolute ban on abortion at 24 weeks prevent them from practicing medicine and helping their patients make responsible choices about their pregnancies.

As Catherine Candisky and Jim Siegel at the Columbus Dispatch note, doctors -- even those who personally oppose abortion -- now feel they must consult a lawyer before dispensing medical advice to their patients.

“Doctors can’t give their best advice in some situations because of possible repercussions of the law,” Dr. Phil Cass, chief executive officer of the Columbus Medical Association, told the Dispatch.

Cass and other medical professionals have criticized the absolute ban at 24 weeks for failing to meaningfully distinguish between so-called elective abortions and abortions that are deemed medically necessary. While elective abortions are also necessary and currently under attack in the state, doctors have pointed to the absolute ban on abortion at 24 weeks as an extreme infringement on their practice of medicine. Fetal testing sometimes cannot detect severe anomalies or complications -- to the pregnant person or the fetus -- until after 20 weeks. But because of the ban, doctors are unable to recommend termination to patients with non-viable pregnancies or who run an elevated risk of life-threatening complications during labor.

This is a dangerous medical precedent, doctors say.

Dr. Jason Melillo, a Columbus OB-GYN who personally opposes abortion and does not perform them, said he recently counseled a patient to terminate her pregnancy because the fetus had a fatal chromosomal anomaly and the woman carrying the fetus had an increased risk of dangerous complications during labor.

“She was saying if this baby is not going to make it, I don’t want to carry to term. By this point she was 27 weeks. The doctors were saying they can’t do it. There wasn’t even a medical debate about it. Everyone agreed she shouldn’t deliver but were afraid they would run afoul of this law,” Melillo said. “What if she gets a blood clot? What if she needs a cesarean section? Now you’re putting this woman through risky medical procedures for no good reason.”

Another of Melillo's patients was carrying a fetus with no kidneys, a fatal anomaly because it prevents the lungs from developing. If the fetus remained viable through the duration of the pregnancy, it would suffocate at birth. Melillo advised this patient -- who was 19 weeks along -- to terminate her pregnancy, again citing the medical risks associated with carrying such a pregnancy to term.

“Nobody likes to end a pregnancy for a fetal problem,” Melillo said. “But it’s worse to leave a patient without medical care because doctors are afraid of violating the law.”

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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