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Feature Obstetrics and Gynecology

US doctors worry about rise in unsafe abortions

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 21 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2267


The cost of new efforts to restrict abortion in the US

  1. Kim Painter, freelance journalist
  1. McLean, VA, USA
  1. kimpainters{at}

Many women already lack access to legal, safe abortion services, and a flurry of new state laws will do nothing to improve women’s health, doctors tell Kim Painter

On May 8, the morning after the governor of Georgia signed a law that would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, the phones at Planned Parenthood Southeast’s offices rang nonstop, says its executive director, Staci Fox.

“We were inundated with calls from people who were worried abortion was already illegal,” she says. Some women with abortion appointments in Georgia, she says, wondered whether to cancel them.

For now, abortion remains legal throughout the US despite extremely restrictive laws passed by state legislatures and signed by governors in five states so far in 2019. It’s legal even in Alabama, where this month the governor signed the most extreme of these bills: one that bans nearly all abortions, at all stages of pregnancy, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

The reprieve could be temporary. Although these laws are not expected to go into effect soon because of legal challenges, they are part of a strategy to challenge the legal foundation of abortion in the US—the 1973 Roe v Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that found abortion to be a constitutional right. That decision made abortion legal and limited the restraints that states could apply.

Advocates on both sides, however, say that the legal debate is just part of their battle: they’re also engaged in an information war. And they’re planning for a future in which access to abortion from state to state is even more uneven than now. …

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