Skip to main content

Abortion law ruling a win for women

By John C. Jennings
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Jennings: Court strikes down Alabama law that erects barriers for abortion doctors
  • He says law purported to protect women, but instead bars them from medical care
  • Hospital privileges requirement an anti-abortion ruse. Abortion a very safe procedure, he says
  • Jennings: Legislators who truly care about women's safety will work to prevent these laws

Editor's note: John C. Jennings is president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- On Monday, a federal court struck down Alabama's medically unnecessary law that singles out doctors who provide abortions and requires them to secure admitting privileges at a local hospital. The court called the justification for the law "exceedingly weak."

As an obstetrician-gynecologist, I couldn't agree more. This decision is an important win for American women and for the practice of medicine.

John C. Jennings
John C. Jennings

Let me be clear: We all want women to receive safe medical care. But these laws (a number of states have adopted them) do not make women safer. In fact, they have quite the opposite effect, as they will make it harder for women to access medical care, potentially forcing them to seek abortion services later in their pregnancy. These laws also jeopardize women's safety by forcing qualified physicians to stop providing abortions for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with medical safety.

That is why leading medical groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose them.

Whether a physician who provides abortions has hospital admitting privileges is not a reflection on the physician's ability to provide quality abortion care. While hospital privileges in theory should be awarded based on physician competency, they in fact are often denied for reasons unrelated to the physician's medical qualifications.

For example, to obtain privileges, hospitals often require physicians to admit a certain number of patients each year. But doctors who provide abortions will likely never admit the minimum number of patients because complications are very, very rare.

Here's what is important to remember: Abortion is already extremely safe, and for the vast majority of abortions, hospitals do not need to play a role in the patient's care. Abortion has a more than 99% safety record, with a less than 0.3% risk of complications that could merit hospital treatment. More than 90% of abortions in the United States are performed in outpatient settings and almost all the complications that do arise can be treated on an outpatient basis.

It's one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States today, period.

In the exceedingly rare event of a complication, women's health centers have procedures in place to ensure that a woman gets the care she needs. Admitting privileges -- or lack thereof -- don't have any effect on a woman's ability to receive emergency care if she needs it. In our modern care delivery model, emergency room physicians, hospitalists and hospital staff are trained to identify and treat all these types of patient situations.

Mississippi puts 'personhood' on ballot
Court strikes down abortion buffer zones

Even procedures with much higher rates of complication and mortality, such as colonoscopy, are not subject to these burdensome requirements because it's clear that they are not needed to keep patients safe. These baseless restrictions serve solely to prevent qualified, competent physicians from providing safe abortion care to women who need it. To put it simply, there is no medical reason to treat abortion providers any differently than other medical professionals.

As the Alabama court found, the law would have forced all but two health centers in the entire state to stop providing abortions. A similar law in Mississippi would force the last remaining clinic in the state to shut its doors, leaving women in the state with no place to safely end a pregnancy. Similar requirements have devastated women and families in Texas and threaten to close clinics in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Wisconsin.

These laws are clearly not motivated by women's safety, but by making access to safe, legal abortion difficult -- even impossible.

Monday's court opinion recognizes that a woman is safest when she can make the decision about abortion with her family in consultation with her doctor, free from political interference. It clears one obstacle in the path of women -- and their doctors -- in Alabama. In states across the nation, legislators who truly care about women's safety would do well to work to eliminate unfounded restrictions to abortion, instead of continuing to introduce them.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT