The Legislature is fast-tracking a bill with the misleading title of “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality.” It would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and would increase neonatal, infant and maternal mortality. And the fact that it doesn’t make exceptions for sexual assault is even more cruel. I am an obstetrician/gynecologist who works in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, and let me tell you what will happen from firsthand experience. But first, I plead with lawmakers to vote against the bill (HB 5/SB 146).
Nearly all of my patients who terminate after 15 weeks have highly desired pregnancies. But then they are heartbroken to learn about an anomaly through genetic testing or a fetal ultrasound. Fifteen weeks is the earliest that an amniocentesis (for genetic testing) can be done, and 18 to 20 weeks is the earliest you can do a detailed anatomy ultrasound.
I am aware that the bill allows exceptions for lethal anomalies. There are far too many anomalies that are not fatal (or not fatal enough by the definition of the bill) and yet result in significant impairment that require multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, lifelong care due to poor health or cognitive or physical impairment, shortened lifespans and poor quality of life. It is not fair to force a family to deal with the emotional turmoil involved in caring for a very sick child. Or worry about who will take care of the child if they, the parents, become sick or die.
There is a nationwide focus on decreasing our maternal mortality rates. This law will increase mortality rates. There are other issues that can develop between 15 and 24 weeks that put the mom’s life in danger (placental abruption, preeclampsia, early rupture of membranes). And patient status can deteriorate quickly, within hours or less, in these situations. Doctors who work in small hospitals will not have timely access to another physician to “sign off” on these situations (as the bill will require).
Some doctors will fear legal ramifications and be less willing to follow evidence based-guidelines on management of these situations. A patient should not have to risk having a stroke because she develops severe preeclampsia at 22 weeks. A patient should not have to risk her life or her uterus because her bag of water breaks at 20 weeks but there is still a heartbeat.
I would like to know the state’s plan on how they will manage the dramatic increase in children requiring expensive medical care and the negative impact of increased maternal deaths. Expand Medicaid/Medicare for the child with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, who basically spends the first year of their life in the hospital? A tax break for the parent who must quit their job to care for their child? Home health benefits to help with the child who is home bound? More quality long-term care centers? Free mental health services for the grieving families who lose their mother/sister/child because of a pregnancy complication?
What will be the name of that bill?
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Dr. Kristen M. Witkowski practices at Gentle Hands OBGYN in Wesley Chapel.