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Opinion —  Physicians in West Virginia facing a new reality: State legislators now practicing medicine

By Dara P Aliff, DO, FACOG 

OB/Gyn, Charleston WV

Today physicians in West Virginia are waking up to a new reality. As board-certified OB/GYN‘s we now have more uncertainty than ever regarding how to do our jobs safely and legally. I am one of many obstetricians in West Virginia who stood ready to speak before our elected officials to help educate and guide them. We were denied the opportunity to do so.

This week our legislators decided that they would now be practicing medicine on our behalf.

I have spent my career caring for women. Many of them pregnant and in various stages of motherhood. I have stood by them as they received horrible news regarding their unborn child’s health or their own. They are often faced with the most horrific of decisions. Decisions none of them wanted to make when they chose to enter motherhood. The people who voted yes on senate bill 302 will tell you that there are provisions for women like that. What they will not tell you is that these pregnancies will still be registered with the board of vital statistics, and that these families must now go through additional steps to do what they feel they must for their and their child’s well being. 

Your elected officials will tell you that this is about the sanctity of motherhood and about uplifting women and mothers. If that were true, we would have seen parallel bills going through that impose stricter penalties on dead beat dads or sex offenders. We would have seen parallel legislation being pushed through that provided free medical care for pregnant women, more comprehensive maternity leave and free daycare and medical care for dependent minors. They did none of those things. They instead passed a resolution filled with flowery language about the sanctity of motherhood hoping the general public wouldn’t notice that they actually did nothing to help them.

I reject the notion that West Virginia voters are not smart enough to see through this. But they are counting on it. At this time in West Virginia, 34% of practicing obstetricians are over the age of 60. Prior to the passage of this bill, we have areas in this state devoid of obstetrical services. We already have difficulty recruiting doctors here. Now, many of my colleagues are deciding if they even want to stay. These were all points raised by Senator Stollings when he spoke against this bill. 

“When I saw the new bill just the evening before we were to vote yes or no I saw gaping concerns! What would this bill do to an already Ob/gyn shortage in WV? What would my physician colleagues say when they were prescribed what a medical emergency was by the WV state legislature? I was more concerned about the young family trying to have a healthy happy normal pregnancy than the poor girl or woman seeking an elective abortion.”

The practice of medicine is often a very difficult one. But one that most of us feel chosen to do and feel honored to do. Those of us in obstetrics and the related fields (anesthesia, pediatrics) recognize that this field is often the best of times but can be the absolute worst of times for a family. Those moments have now been made harder for all involved. The specialty often demands that physicians make decisions in a split second that can result in life or death. Now those same physicians must pause to consider the legality of their actions even if they morally and medically know the right answer. That pause will hurt women and thereby, our state as a whole. 

To the women in this state waking to a new and frightening landscape, know that there are physicians out there like me who have always been, and will continue to be dedicated to your health and safety and getting you the care you need. 

These elected men and women ignored every poll that has been conducted that stated fewer than 5% of West Virginia voters felt that this was an issue that needed to be dealt with. They also ignored that the majority of West Virginians believe in medical exemptions and exemptions for rape and incest. They have now even made that harder by saying that the rape and incest exemptions do not apply unless they are reported to law-enforcement. Sexual violence is already grossly under reported and incest even more so. They have also decided that mandatory reporters aren’t good enough to receive this information. If it doesn’t go through law-enforcement, it doesn’t count. That further cuts into the already extremely limited amount of time that women have to act. So their exemptions are hollow at best. 

Regardless how most of us feel about elective terminations of pregnancy, this bill does not represent that. It has ventured into the West Virginia legislature practicing medicine without a license. I would strongly encourage any West Virginian to do their homework and vote out anyone who voted in favor of this archaic and cruel legislation.

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