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Abortion law spurs obstetrician exodus in Idaho

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  • SARAH A. MILLER/IDAHO STATESMAN VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                An attendee at Planned Parenthood’s “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally for abortion rights holds a sign outside of the Idaho Statehouse in downtown Boise, Idaho, in May 2022. More than 50 Idaho obstetricians have stopped practicing in the state since a near-total abortion ban took effect in August 2022, according to a newly released report Tuesday.

    SARAH A. MILLER/IDAHO STATESMAN VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    An attendee at Planned Parenthood’s “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally for abortion rights holds a sign outside of the Idaho Statehouse in downtown Boise, Idaho, in May 2022. More than 50 Idaho obstetricians have stopped practicing in the state since a near-total abortion ban took effect in August 2022, according to a newly released report Tuesday.

BOISE, Idaho. >> More than 50 Idaho obstetricians have stopped practicing in the state since a near-total abortion ban took effect in August 2022, according to a newly released report.

Data compiled by the Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative also shows that only two obstetricians moved to the state to practice in the last 15 months, the Idaho Statesman reported on Tuesday. Obstetricians provide health care during pregnancy and childbirth.

The number of obstetricians in Idaho decreased from 227 in 2022 to about 176 in 2023, a decline of 51 doctors, the report said. The Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative was created in 2018 by local doctors to address problems affecting physicians and patients in Idaho communities, according to its website.

The numbers “should concern every person living in or considering a move to Idaho,” the Idaho Coalition for Safe Healthcare said this week in a news release. The coalition is the parent group of the Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative.

Additionally, the report said two hospital obstetrics programs — at West Bonner General Health in Sandpoint and at Valor Health in Emmett — have closed since Idaho’s law banning abortion took effect, the report said.

A third hospital obstetrics program is in “serious jeopardy” of closing, the report also said.

Only 22 of 44 counties in Idaho have access to any practicing obstetricians, the report said. About 85% of obstetricians and gynecologists in Idaho practice in the seven most populous counties.

Idaho banned nearly all abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Idaho makes it a crime with a prison term of up to five years for anyone who performs or assists in an abortion.

Post-Roe, many maternal care doctors in restrictive states are deciding whether to stay or go. They weigh tough questions about medical ethics, their families and whether they can provide the best care without risking their careers or prison time.

Dr. Kylie Cooper, a maternal-fetal specialist, left Idaho last year. She told The Associated Press at the time that it was a very difficult decision but that she and her family needed to be where they felt reproductive health care was protected and safe.

Data also shows Idaho is at the 10th percentile of maternal mortality outcomes, meaning 90% of the country has better maternal and pregnancy outcomes than Idaho.

“In a time when we should be building our physician workforce to meet the needs of a growing Idaho population and address increasing risks of pregnancy and childbirth, Idaho laws that criminalize the private decisions between doctor and patient have plunged our state into a care crisis that unchecked will affect generations of Idaho families to come,” Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, an OB-GYN and the board president of the Idaho Coalition for Safe Healthcare Foundation, said in the news release.

The loss of obstetricians further strains a health system that was already experiencing a physician shortage, the release said. The national average of live births a year per obstetrician is 94 compared to 107 in Idaho, the news release said.

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