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ACOG Opposes Fetal Heartbeat Legislation Restricting Women’s Legal Right to Abortion

January 18, 2017

Washington, DCThomas Gellhaus, MD, president of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), today released the following statement:

“ACOG strongly opposes U.S. House of Representatives bill, H.R. 490, banning abortion after the detection of the fetal heartbeat, which occurs as early as six weeks gestation, measured from the woman’s last menstrual period (LMP). This bill is both unconstitutional and unnecessary political interference in the practice of medicine. As long ago as 1973 and as recently as 2016, the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that women have a Constitutional right to abortion prior to fetal viability.  This bill bans abortion long before the point of viability.  Whether a fetus is viable is a medical determination and occurs much later in pregnancy. This bill violates the Constitution, will serve as outright ban on abortion for most women, and will prohibit health care providers from providing ethical, necessary care to their patients.   

“Safe, legal abortion is a necessary component of women’s health care. Many factors might influence or necessitate a woman’s decision to have an abortion, including contraceptive failure, barriers to contraceptive use and access, fetal anomalies, illness during pregnancy, and more. Women often are unaware they are pregnant prior to six weeks LMP, and surgical abortion before six weeks may be difficult or impossible due to limitations on ultrasound imaging so early in pregnancy.  Moreover, complications that threaten the woman’s health and serious fetal anomalies cannot be detected until later in pregnancy.  Decreasing women’s access to abortion will likely increase negative health outcomes and complications, including maternal and infant mortality. It turns back the clock to the time before Roe v. Wade; a time where women seeking to terminate a pregnancy were forced to resort to self-induced and back alley abortions, which often resulted in serious complications and death. We cannot afford to take women’s health care back in time.  

“ACOG is also deeply concerned about how the criminalization of abortion after six weeks gestation will affect ob-gyns’ ability to make ethical and professional decisions in the best interest of their patients.  Under the bill, when a patient’s health is threatened by pregnancy, the physician will be forced to wait to terminate the pregnancy until the patient’s condition so deteriorates that her life is in jeopardy. As a result, physicians who follow the law may risk negligence claims from the patients. And, physicians who act in the best interests of their patients by providing medically necessary care will face criminal sanctions. This places physicians in an impossible position between the law and providing evidence-based, individualized, and medically necessary care to their patients.

“ACOG urges the House of Representatives to reject H.R. 490, and any future political interference in the practice of medicine. Shared decision making between patients and physicians must continue to rely on science, best practices, and individual needs to determine appropriate medical care without political interference.” 

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), a 501(c)(3) organization, is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of more than 58,000 members, The College strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a 501(c)(6) organization, is its companion organization. www.acog.org

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
409 12th Street SW, Washington, DC  20024-2188 | Mailing Address: PO Box 70620, Washington, DC 20024-9998