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New abortion ban law could effect medical professionals in North Carolina

PlannedParenthoodChapelHill2.jpg

Chapel Hill's Planned Parenthood location is one of the reproductive health clinics across the state that could be affected by Senate Bill 20. Photographed on May 18, 2023.

On May 16, a supermajority of both houses of the N.C. General Assembly voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 20 — a 12-week abortion ban with some exceptions.

The law, most of which goes into effect on July 1, prohibits most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy and medication abortion after 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The law says that an abortion can be performed at any time during the pregnancy when a physician determines there is a medical emergency, through week 20 if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and during the first 24 weeks if a physician determines there is a life-limiting anomaly for the fetus. 

During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, an abortion must be performed by a state-licensed physician in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center or clinic certified by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

To proceed with a medical abortion, patients are now required to wait 72 hours after their doctor informs them — in person — of the information in the consent form. 

N.C. Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said that the legislation includes restrictions that threaten to close abortion clinics across the state. 

He also said the law includes standards, physician and facility licenses, that would not allow any currently operating abortion clinics to stay open. 

“If this law were to go into effect today — it actually goes into effect on July 1— then many abortion clinics would be forced to shut down,” Buansi said. “So what that means, ultimately, is that many women, millions of women, would not have access to the care that they need to save their lives or to maintain their health.”

Abby Schultz, a UNC OB-GYN family planning clinical fellow, said healthcare providers will be put in a difficult situation when deciding what constitutes a medical emergency with a 12-week ban.

She said there are delays in care when doctors have to determine whether a person is sick enough to provide an abortion, which can be dangerous for the patient. 

“It puts you in a really difficult position as a doctor where you’re having to interpret, you’re not just making decisions based on the patient's needs and your medical expertise,” she said. 

Physicians that violate the law will be reported to the North Carolina Medical Board and may receive a fine. Physicians who provide medication abortions after 10 weeks would have to pay a fine of $5,000.

“We’re having to make decisions that you have to figure out whether or not they abide by a law that was not created by healthcare providers,” Schultz said. 

Buansi said there is fear among doctors that their actions will be misconstrued and they will be charged for providing care in the case of exceptions.

“Sometimes just being charged is enough to damage a doctor's reputation,” he said. 

Shultz said, since doctors are not trained in interpreting the law, they may not fully understand the risks associated with this law.

She also said the fear of legal punishment often alters their medical decision-making. 

Shultz said she provides abortions in clinical and hospital settings. She said that following the new law, her ability to provide clinic abortions is extremely limited. 

“It’s more costly to our healthcare system,” she said. “We already have long waitlists for care and it’s only going to make that longer and more difficult for other people to access all types of care.” 

People in low-income communities are in the most danger from this legislation because they may not be able to afford to travel to other states for abortion care, Sarah Zhang, the outreach chair for the UNC Planned Parenthood Generation Action group, said.

“When this legislation really cuts down the number of abortion providers that are able to offer support to people in North Carolina, it sets a really dangerous precedent for low-income minority communities not only in North Carolina but honestly, all across the deep South,” they said. 

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Schultz said she is worried that doctors will decide not to practice in North Carolina, a state that she said already has a shortage of OB-GYN physicians. 

She said providing abortions is an essential skill for OB-GYNs and that the law will limit the training available to residents. This legislation will likely stop doctors from wanting to complete their residency programs in North Carolina, she said.

“I worry that patients won’t get care when they need it or will be denied care when they need it in certain places,” Schultz said.

@ZoeWerner356

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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