UW doctors worry Roe v. Wade ruling could impact healthcare services

With the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion ending in some states, doctors with UW Medicine said this would disproportionately affect women, people of color and those who can’t travel for medical care.

"Health is so important for women and pregnant people that we cannot ignore or deny it. And, really, access to adequate health, which includes abortion care, is a human right that we are now being denied," said Dr. Sarah Prager, Obstetrician-Gynecologist with UW Medicine.

Leadership with UW Medicine said they are reaffirming its support of abortion care, stating it’s an important part of full reproductive healthcare services. With Roe vs. Wade overturned, doctors said they worry the ruling could be life-threatening for some.

"Pregnant people are going to be the ones that bear these consequences, and we are going to see increased maternal morbidity and mortality," said Dr. Prager.

Dr. Emily Godfrey, an associate profession of Family Medicine at UW Medicine, said the risk of maternal morbidity and mortality is even greater for women experiencing ectopic pregnancies.

"If a pregnancy outside of the uterus continues to grow, it can essentially cause death. It’s the number one reason why people of reproductive age, women of reproductive age, die, is due to ectopic pregnancy. So, it is concerning that people aren’t going to get care in a timely manner," said Dr. Godfrey

In a statement, UW Medicine said: 

We will continue our current practice of broad access to abortion for our patients, where permissible, and seek to minimize any impact this change will have on our teaching programs and the provision of abortion care for our clinicians, faculty and staff.

The Court’s decision does not affect abortion services provided in Washington, which are protected under state law. However, we recognize that there may be implications for UW faculty, clinicians, residents and students in the WWAMI region outside of Washington, as well as patients from states who may seek care in Washington because of this decision.

UW Medicine has convened a team including clinicians, faculty and attorneys to review the Supreme Court decision and provide guidance to ensure that all faculty, clinicians, residents, students and staff are aware of implications for the practice and teaching of reproductive care within Washington as well as the other WWAMI states.

UW Medicine has an FAQ on its website about implications and other questions after the ruling. 

Abortion care remains legal in Washington. Now that other states can ban it, doctors said they fear an influx of people will come to the state to receive care—adding more stress to an already strained healthcare system.

"The Guttmacher Institute has estimated that the number of patients that will come to our state will increase by almost 400 percent. So, providers in the state are going to have to care for these patients. And it’s going to affect patients who are already in the state. They may not be able to get access to abortion services with such a huge influx," said Godfrey.

Another concern is that the influx could be followed by more restrictions in the healthcare system.

"There is so much discussion and concern about what we can even legally do for patients coming from out of state. It just creates a whole mess of regulations and complications for doing abortions and primarily for people who are needing abortions," said Dr. Prager.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not affect access to Plan B or other forms of contraception. However, health experts said the worry that could be next on the docket for further restrictions.

See more coverage on the Roe v. Wade ruling here.