The only hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, has announced that it will no longer be providing obstetric services for events such as childbirth due in part to Idaho’s extremely restrictive abortion bans and an increasingly hostile environment toward medical providers in the state.
The hospital, Bonner General Health, announced the decision in a press release last week, as first reported by the Idaho Statesman. The press release describes the decision as “emotional and difficult,” and specifically calls out increasing criminalization of health care providers in the state as a reason that the hospital cannot offer labor and delivery services anymore.
“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving. Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult,” says the release. “In addition, the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines.”
The hospital says it will attempt to continue deliveries until mid-May and is no longer accepting new patients. Those seeking labor and delivery care in the over 9,000-person town will now have to drive 46 miles away, according to the Idaho Statesman.
“What a sad, sad state of affairs for our community,” Amelia Huntsberger, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Bonner General Health, told the Idaho Statesman. Huntsberger said that she is planning to leave the state because of its abortion laws.
The hospital also cites demographic changes of the local communities and a lack of pediatricians as a reason that it’s stopping obstetric care. “Without pediatrician coverage to manage neonatal resuscitations and prenatal care, it is unsafe and unethical to offer routine Labor and Delivery services,” the press release said.
Idaho has among the most restrictive abortion bans in the country — and, in fact, state law is so hostile toward the procedure that it has three separate bans. Its strictest anti-abortion law bans abortion from the moment of conception, with supposed exceptions for rape, incest or when the parent’s life is threatened, though those exceptions are essentially never granted in practice.
The total abortion ban allows reproductive health care providers to be convicted in criminal court for performing the procedure, and could face up to five years and prison and could have their medical licenses suspended, though this portion of the law was partially blocked after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit over the law.
Another abortion ban in the state bans the procedure after six weeks, overlapping with the total abortion ban law, while the third one allows family members of a parent who received an abortion to sue abortion providers in court.
The hospital’s announcement shows the vast effects that abortion bans can have not just on abortion care, but also reproductive care in general. Not only do abortion bans prevent physicians from being able to act ethically and provide the best standard of care for their patients, it will also make the infrastructure for reproductive care across the country even worse than it already is.
The U.S. already has by far the worst parental mortality rates of any other wealthy country — an issue that especially affects Black people. With fewer reproductive care providers — because they’ve been incarcerated, lost their licenses or stopped practicing out of fear — analysts say that the quality of reproductive care for people who can give birth will worsen in the U.S.
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