The full impact of the strict abortion ban movement is rapidly coming into view, and it’s far from the life-honoring picture painted by its “pro-life” advocates. Over and above the human rights implications of a forced-birth regime, states with strict abortion bans have amplified the long-simmering issue of unequal medical treatment based on gender. The bans have set off a time bomb in the human resources departments of corporations all across the U.S., and it is ready to explode.
Abortion bans create a second class of citizens
So-called “pro-life” activists deny that outright cruelty is the underlying principle of strict abortion bans, but the truth is undeniable. In the context of 21st-century medicine, strict abortion bans are the definition of cruelty.
Socioeconomic factors often undercut the ideal of equal access to medical treatment in the U.S. However, for millions of Americans all the sophisticated resources of modern medicine are readily available, on demand, for all sorts of conditions.
As a matter of course, that on-demand access to medical care should include terminating an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. Pregnancy is a medical condition that carries with it a certain measure of risk, whether or not the pregnancy is desired. In the U.S., hundreds of maternal and post-partum deaths occur every year.
In addition, many pregnancies result in miscarriage, whether or not the pregnancy is desired. Withholding or delaying treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, an unviable fetus or a medically complicated miscarriage can result in risks to the health and safety of the patient, up to and including death.
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Nevertheless, strict abortion bans are spreading from state to state on the heels of the Dobbs decision. These bans set up a second, inferior class of citizenship for pregnant people, denying them the modern medical resources that could safely terminate a dangerous or unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.
In addition, the bans are straining resources in other states as pregnant people travel in search of treatment, leading to triage and delays in care.
“Pro-life” is weak tea in a nation where appropriate medical attention is so readily available on demand for other conditions, but not pregnancy.
Second-class citizenship for all women, pregnant or not
As much as “pro-life” advocates try to deny that their extremist position intentionally harms women, children, and anyone else capable of carrying a pregnancy, the effects of strict abortion bans have already rippled out far beyond the field of pregnant people, to have an impact on anyone who even looks like they could be pregnant, now or at some future date.
These effects, too, need to be viewed in the context of modern medical practice.
Specifically, strict abortion bans have an impact on drugs that have been approved to induce abortions in the earlier weeks of pregnancy. These same drugs are also used to treat other medical conditions.
As a result, in states with strict abortion ban every female — and anyone who identifies as female — who needs those drugs for other medical conditions must prove, somehow, that the drugs will not be used for an abortion.
In contrast, no male-identified person must face this kind of sex-based interrogation, or deal with the possibility that care will be denied.
Last month, Medical News Today reported that some states have banned abortion-inducing medicines including methotrexate, mifepristone and misoprostol.
Those bans can have a huge impact on pregnant people needing prompt treatment for a complicated miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. “Pro-life” advocates claim that abortion bans permit such usage, but that is no comfort to health care workers who fear getting caught up in the justice system simply for prescribing a medication.
“… the fear of penalties, including being charged with a felony, has resulted in some pharmacists refusing to dispense these medications for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages,” writes Medical News Today.
That fear extends to other conditions, too. Medical News Today cites a list of methotrexate-treatable autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and lupus.
“Methotrexate is also used for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and lung cancer,” they add.
Since methotrexate can cause birth defects, female patients are advised to double down on their birth control when using the drug for other conditions. However, birth control can fail, and access to birth control is also under threat. Physicians prescribing methotrexate could face liability if an unintended pregnancy occurs during treatment for another condition.
“According to some reports from individuals with autoimmune disorders on social media, rheumatologists have stopped renewing prescriptions for methotrexate,” Medical News Today observes. “Reports from arthritis patients in states with anti-abortion laws have also reported pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions.”
The cruelty is the point
To raise the cruelty level to the boiling point, some of these non-pregnancy medical conditions disproportionately have effects on females, including breast cancer and arthritis. In addition, some of these conditions, including lupus and inflammatory bowel disease, can flare during pregnancy and threaten the life of the mother.
“My fear is that in this new age of widespread abortion restriction, people who have a uterus and are within reproductive age will suffer from undertreated diseases,” explains Dr. Birru Talabi, a rheumatology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, as cited by Medical News Today.
Another source emphasized that “these abortion laws will further widen the already existent inequity in healthcare as women with autoimmune conditions will be disproportionately impacted compared to men.”
Other state laws that can have an impact on pregnant people can further complicate access to medicines. In Missouri, for example, a pregnant person cannot finalize a divorce during the pregnancy, potentially enabling the estranged partner or other self-appointed community police to interfere with medical decisions during the pregnancy.
The impact of prescription denial also goes beyond the privacy of the doctor’s office, and extends into the local pharmacy. Last week, NBC News4 of Washington, D.C. and the Associated Press reported that CVS Health is requiring pharmacies to verify that their prescriptions will not be used to end a pregnancy.
That may sound mild enough, but it can easily become an aggressive interrogation and result in prescription denial.
The reporters cited Anna Hyde, the head of advocacy and access for the Arthritis Foundation, who explained that “some of the stories we’ve gotten in are of women who are over the age of 50 — they are past their reproductive years — and they’re still being asked really invasive questions and having roadblocks thrown up.”
So far, the CVS verification requirement covers Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas. It is all but certain to spread as other states enact strict abortion bans.
As for the impacts on corporate human resources departments, those committed to gender equity in health care — including their own benefits packages — will have to do more than send pregnant employees flying off to other states for abortion care. Many other people, especially, women, are already suffering the consequences of strict abortion bans, and there are many more to come.
Image credit: Manny Becerra via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.