Guest Columnist

Physicians: Heartbeat law devalues medicine and women

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 359 in her office at the Iowa State Capitol building on Friday, May 4, 2018. (Rod Boshart / The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 359 in her office at the Iowa State Capitol building on Friday, May 4, 2018. (Rod Boshart / The Gazette)

For most of our childhood in the Midwest, the Iowa we called home was a swing state proud of its investments in education, welcoming to refugees from around the world, and the third state to legalize marriage equality. We proudly told friends that the University of Iowa’s inaugural medical school class of 1870 had a historic number of women — eight, to be exact.

We are now ashamed to admit Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the most restrictive anti-woman law in the country.

As citizens, as physicians and physicians-in-training, and as Iowans, we submitted our strong opposition to Senate File 359: “An Act Prohibiting and Requiring Certain Actions Relating to a Fetus and Providing Penalties.”

For every woman seeking an abortion, the law now requires doctors to perform an abdominal ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat. If a heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the physician cannot perform the abortion.

Working in primary care clinics, we have counseled countless women who carefully consider the complex social, financial and medical considerations when deciding to continue or end their pregnancies. No matter their choice, we connect with our patients as humans first through respect and support.

No doctor should have to practice in an environment in which fulfilling job duties and caring for patients is a crime. The law grants women legal immunity for seeking an abortion, but does not offer physicians the same protection.

The medical student community, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics OB-GYN department, and the Iowa Board of Regents strongly opposed this bill because it is detrimental to women’s health care across the state, and the people of Iowa deserve better.

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According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Iowa ranks second to last in the number of OB-GYN physicians per capita of women. Because of this law, the only OB-GYN residency in the state is at risk of losing accreditation.

Essential women’s health care services in Iowa were already decimated by then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2017 rejection of more than $3 million in federal Medicaid funding for family planning services. That decision closed four of 12 Planned Parenthood clinics — hitting rural southeast Iowa especially hard, and robbing women of vital preventive health services like Pap smears, mammograms and contraceptives.

The state could ill afford to pass more draconian, restrictive legislation that devalues medicine and devalues women.

While independent, women-centered facilities such the Emma Goldman Clinic still exist in Iowa City, a non-existent public transportation system between rural and urban areas of the state means women forego essential health care.

As medical professionals, we cannot turn our backs on our patients. Abortion is health care. It is a common surgical procedure backed by evidence-based medicine.

This law doesn’t put patients first. It could destabilize the entire women’s health care system in Iowa.

Let doctors be doctors. Trust Iowa women who, in turn, trust their physician to provide sound, scientific and safe medical care.

• Melissa Palma, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Sarah Gross is an M.D. candidate and president of Medical Students for Choice at the University of Iowa. Deepika Rghavan and Hannah Pope are M.D. candidates and co-presidents of the American Medical Women’s Association at the University of Iowa.

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