I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant women in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.
My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.
But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.
To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.
I began to explain the medical situation, how ill she was. He interrupted me after a few seconds: “Whatever you think is best, doctor.”
My patient got the abortion and her health improved as a result. But I was furious. How dare some legislator applaud this monstrous law in public all the while deferring to a doctor’s expertise in private.
And things could have gone very differently. If the hospital’s attorney had agreed that the abortion fit the legal requirement, then I would have provided the abortion without calling the legislator. But someone could still have reported me to the police. And then who would have adjudicated whether I was in acting in line with the law? The police? The district attorney? Twelve jurors? The governor?
How would I have defended myself if I had been arrested? Medical malpractice insurance does not cover criminal prosecution.
Or what if the hospital attorneys had simply said no? I could have risked being fired. Or I could have faced a malpractice lawsuit for not intervening as was medically indicated. I would have had to endure the emotional burden of knowing I had the training to help save a patient but did not act because I was afraid of the government.
If abortion restrictions come to pass, doctors may have to start calling politicians at home to find out how a law applies to their patient or else deal with the various ways these situations can go wrong.
This content was originally published here.