In its decision Monday on June Medical Services v. Russo, the Supreme Court dealt a win for science. The court ruled that Louisiana’s law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals is unconstitutional, based on the weight of the evidence. Admitting privileges requirements, in effect, have no medical benefit. Instead, they force abortion clinics to shut down and put essential health care out of reach for far too many. By striking down the Louisiana law, the Supreme Court affirmed that medically unnecessary laws are an undue burden on women.
With this victory, though, we must remember that there still exist abortion restrictions rooted not in evidence but rather in ideology. These laws create deep inequities in our health care system that we must address to achieve real justice for people across the United States.
As a public health scientist, and an expert in abortion safety, I know from over a decade of research that admitting privileges laws simply are unwarranted.
The evidence shows abortion is safe
Our study, published in the journal Health Services Research, looked at medical charts of patients who received abortion-related hospital-based care at three abortion-providing clinics. First, we found that emergency transfers following abortions were exceedingly rare. Among over 22,000 abortions over 200 combined months of observation, we found only four patients who had emergency transfers to a hospital: two occurred before and two occurred after clinicians had admitting privileges. In all cases, the admitting privileges of the abortion care provider had no bearing on patient outcomes.
When physicians apply for admitting privileges from hospitals, they are often denied or ignored for several reasons: because they are required to admit a steady stream of patients into the hospital per year (which they cannot meet), or the hospital is religiously-affiliated and anti-abortion, or because it is politically risky. Thus, when these physicians cannot obtain privileges, their clinic is forced to shut down, creating another barrier to care.
Our admitting privileges study confirmed decades of research showing that abortion care is extremely safe. After an exhaustive analysis of health claims data of over 55,000 patients over two years, we found that less than a quarter of 1% of all abortions result in a major complication.
In fact the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, one of the top research institutions of the country, has underscored this fact with a report on the safety and quality of abortion care in the United States.
Anniversary action plan: Sure, let's protect Roe v. Wade. But as abortion rights erode, we must do much more.
Abortion has been shown to be safer than the simple procedures of a tonsillectomy or a wisdom tooth extraction.
Yet even with the overwhelming evidence on abortion safety, there are still multiple laws that ignore the science and restrict access to this essential care. In total, 24 states have extremely restrictive laws on abortion, including 11 states with admitting privileges requirements or similar laws still in place.
Restrictions hurt low-income women
States with more abortion restrictions tend to have fewer abortion providers, requiring residents in these states to travel greater distances for care. This creates large areas where no abortion provider exists, known as abortion deserts. Currently the nation has 27 abortion deserts, major cities where individuals have to travel 100 miles or more to obtain abortion care. Most are throughout the South and Midwest.
Poor access like this exacerbates inequities. Increased travel distance means increased costs for transportation and overnight accommodations, lost wages from taking time off work, and paying for child care. For those who are struggling financially, having to travel a long distance could put an abortion out of reach, leading them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
Damaging and unscientific: Abortion restrictions can harm women. Let's follow evidence, not ideology, in 2019.
Denying someone a wanted abortion can have significant negative impacts on their lives, such as lowered financial security, poorer physical health, reduced life aspirations and harm to the development and economic well-being of existing children. The research shows that individuals should be able to have the children they want, in the time that is best for them.
On Monday, the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, followed scientific research and evidence when it comes to abortion in Louisiana. We need state and local lawmakers, federal and state courts to follow suit, so that people everywhere can have real access to abortion care, regardless of their economic status or zip code.
Ushma Upadhyay is an associate professor and researcher with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco and Director of Research at the UC Global Health Institute's Center of Expertise on Women's Health, Gender, and Empowerment. Follow her on Twitter: @UshmaU
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Louisiana abortion restrictions created burdens for women, not benefits