Guest Column
I’m a Tampa Bay OB-GYN, and here’s what a 6-week abortion ban will do | Column
Here’s why the Legislature needs to understand the danger of this bill it’s about to vote on.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Capitol for a news conference Wednesday to voice their opposition to the six-week abortion ban bill coming to the Senate this week.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Capitol for a news conference Wednesday to voice their opposition to the six-week abortion ban bill coming to the Senate this week. [ ALICIA DEVINE/TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT | AP ]
Published March 30

I’ve been an abortion care provider for more than six years. I’ve treated tens of thousands of patients, and I want to share my experience as a Florida doctor who provides reproductive and women’s health care. But first, I need to clarify something important: I believe a six-week abortion ban will kill patients.

Robyn Schickler
Robyn Schickler [ Provided ]

There’s no medical basis for these bills, which are barreling through the Legislature. And their passage will result in extreme levels of suffering for anyone who’s unlucky enough to need abortion care in our state.

Once upon a time, doctors could discuss options openly and honestly with their patients. What are the risks if they decide to continue the pregnancy? What are their options for terminating if it’s too dangerous? Now, Florida doctors can no longer treat some of our patients when they’re in trouble. We can’t discuss options because there are none. Our only choice is to violate our Hippocratic oath and allow the patient to get sicker and sicker before we intervene.

Doctors are at the point where we have to say, “Yes, you will die if you don’t have an abortion. Yes, I am capable of providing an abortion. No, I am not allowed to provide that abortion because some politicians don’t like it, but here’s a state you can travel to instead.” Or better yet, “Maybe I can do it, but I need to ask a lawyer before I’m allowed to save your life.” Because that’s what a sick, scared patient will need in order to receive treatment — to wait for permission from a lawyer.

I recently treated a patient who was nearing the current 15-week cutoff. She had hyperemesis, severe nausea and vomiting, and was admitted to the hospital multiple times because of the resulting complications. When you can’t keep any food or water down, your body can’t function anymore, and that’s what she was experiencing. The patient became so dehydrated that her liver started shutting down. Her body was clearly unable to carry this pregnancy to term. This pregnancy that was intentional and, at one point, thoroughly desired by this young woman.

So, what does a doctor do when their patient’s organs are failing? In Florida, nothing. If your patient is pregnant, all you can do is sit on your hands and wait until they get sicker. If the hospital you work in isn’t sure how to interpret these laws or isn’t sure if a patient’s condition is “severe enough,” the solution is to send the patient home until they suffer enough organ damage and come so close to death that you and your colleagues know you won’t violate this (incredibly vague) law by providing treatment. Which brings us to another issue. How close to death is close enough? If a patient has a 50% chance of dying due to a pregnancy, are they barred from receiving abortion care? What about 70%?

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Should we wait until there’s a 99% chance of death to intervene? Let me ask in another way. You’re diagnosed with a condition. A doctor tells you that you have a 100% chance of survival if you treat it today, or you can wait eight months and you’ll have a 5% chance of survival. When would you like to start treatment?

To those who are silent on these bans, especially my fellow health care providers, please speak up. Even if you’ve never needed or been involved in abortion care, it doesn’t mean this legislation won’t impact you. Banning abortion is cruel, dangerous and countless people will die because they can’t receive the care they need. These attacks on patient rights will only continue. Please don’t wait until things are at their worst to make your voice heard.

To those who are in favor of these bans, to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo who is allowing this legislation to speed toward the floor today, I’ll ask again: How long would you like to wait, how close to death would you like to be, before receiving treatment?

Robyn Schickler is an OB-GYN practicing in the Tampa Bay region. She serves as the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.