On Tuesday, Republicans introduced a new bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks nationwide, a move that would "put the United States abortion policy in line with other developed nations such as France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, and other European nations."
Providers unsure of when abortion is legally protected post-Roe
In June, the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion. Under the ruling, the legality of abortion returned to the purview of individual states.
Since the Supreme Court's decision, 12 states have completely banned abortion, and Georgia and Ohio have enacted six-week bans. In several other states, the legality of existing or new abortion bans is still being decided by the courts.
After the ruling, two dozen medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians, filed an amicus brief saying that bans on abortion will force "clinicians to make an impossible choice between upholding their ethical obligations and following the law."
Some abortion laws do not explicitly cover instances like miscarriages or the impact of other health conditions like cancer on pregnancy. Providers have expressed concerns about whether the care they provide to terminate pregnancies in these instances will also be criminalized.
Recently, Sermo surveyed more than 460 physicians and found that 74% are unsure about what situations would constitute a life-threatening emergency that would allow them to legally perform an abortion in states where it is otherwise prohibited.
"It's very frightening and confusing for physicians and the whole team that cares for patients to know, what can we do, what is OK and what's not OK?" said Lisa Harris, an OB-GYN and professor at the University of Michigan. "… Nobody has the answers right now, and my fear is that the fear that doctors and nurses and health care administrators and leaders will feel–their fear of intervening–will mean that some patients will die when they didn't need to."
In addition, 84% of physicians said they are concerned that many abortion bans will make providing or attempting to provide an abortion a felony—opening doctors and clinics to legal liability rather than individual patients.
Because of the potential legal risks associated with abortion care, over 80% of respondents said they believe doctors will likely make decisions about the necessity of abortion based on their own legal safety.
"From a medical malpractice and legal standpoint, I think a lot of health care systems, and even individuals, are going to be very risk averse," said Amy Addante, an OB-GYN and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.
Republicans introduce nationwide abortion ban
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy nationwide, except in cases of rape, incest, or risks to the life of the mother. A version of the bill was also introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).
"There is a consensus view by the most prominent pro-life groups in America that this is where America should be at the federal level," Graham said, adding that the 15-week ban "will put the United States abortion policy in line with other developed nations such as France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, and other European nations."
However, reactions to the bill have been divided among Senate Republicans, with many saying that the decision over abortion should be decided at the state level instead.
When asked about the bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) said Tuesday that most Senate Republicans think abortion access should be handled "at the state level. "
Similarly, Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) said the bill was "an individual senator's decision" and that his preference "would be for those decisions to be made on a state-by-state basis."
"I don't think there's an appetite for a national platform here ... I don't think there will be a rallying around that concept," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
According to the Washington Post, the White House has spoken out against the bill. In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the bill is "wildly out of step with what Americans believe."
However, polling indicates this policy "syncs with nearly half of Americans' views on when the procedure should be legal," Axios reports. In July, an AP-NORC poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases in the first trimester, and 53% said they believe states should allow pregnant individuals to get an abortion 15 weeks into their pregnancy. Support falls to 42% in the second trimester and 24% in the third trimester.
Currently, many abortion rights groups are working to mobilize voters around the country over the issue ahead of the mid-term elections in November.
"For anyone who is in a state where abortion is not yet restricted or banned, we especially want to tell those voters, 'This is everybody's issue. It could come to your state, too, if they're voting against efforts to protect abortion,'" said Jacqueline Ayers, SVP of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. (Lagasse, Healthcare Finance News, 9/13; Frieden, MedPage Today, 9/13; Rogers/Raju, CNN, 9/13; Everett et al., Politico, 9/13; Gonzalez/Owens, Axios, 9/14; Snell, NPR, 9/13; Wang/Kitchener, Washington Post, 9/13)