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Open Letter to North Carolina Legislators: We'll Say It Again: Get Out of Our Exam Rooms

July 17, 2013

The following Op-Ed was published in the July 17, 2013, print and online subscription editions of The Charlotte Observer:

North Carolina is yet another example of legislators wanting to play doctor, telling real doctors how to practice medicine and how to care for our patients. Medical decisions must be based on scientific evidence and made by patients in consultation with physicians, not the state or federal government.

Let’s be clear. Senate Bill 132 and Senate Bill 353 collectively have one purpose: To restrict the reproductive rights of women in North Carolina by interfering with the practice of medicine. The two leading state ob-gyn associations—the North Carolina Obstetrical and Gynecological Society and the North Carolina Section of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have joined together to stand against these bills because they undermine the very fabric of what’s important:  Patient safety and access to quality medical care for all women in our state.

ACOG respects our members’ deeply held personal beliefs on abortion. While we can agree to disagree about abortion on ideological grounds, we must draw a hard line against any legislation that threatens women’s health. That’s why we’re setting the record straight for all politicians:

Get Out of Our Exam Rooms
Physicians from all specialties agree that the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship is central to good medicine and is embraced by ACOG and the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Surgeons, and American College of Physicians. These organizations recently wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine:

“Legislators, regrettably, often propose new laws or regulations for political or other reasons unrelated to the scientific evidence and counter to the health care needs of patients. Legislative mandates to the practice of medicine do not allow for the infinite array of exceptions where the mandate may be unnecessary, inappropriate, or even harmful to an individual patient.” 

Facts Are Important
SB 132 would require North Carolina schools to teach students that abortions lead to preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies. This is a perfect example of why legislators should not pretend to be doctors. The medical science behind this issue is complex and doesn’t support this conclusion.

SB 353 would force the closure of many of the state’s abortion clinics, decrease the number of doctors who can care for women in these circumstances, and ultimately deny women safe medical care.  For example, it would impose irrelevant structural requirements, such as door width, that will not improve patient safety.  Also, very few clinics would be able to meet the unnecessarily stringent surgical standards, which are much higher than those required for other similar low-risk procedures, such as colonoscopy. Abortion is actually one of the safest medical procedures, with fewer than 0.5% of abortions involving major complications. That rate soars, however, when women go elsewhere for abortions.

Women Can Make Their Own Medical Decisions Without State Interference
Women across this nation are fully capable of making their own medical decisions with their physicians, just as they make many other important decisions every day for themselves, their families, and their businesses. Women do not need—or want—any government to make medical decisions for them.

All women must have the legal right to safe abortion and should have access to all needed health care based on scientific facts, not political ideology. ACOG opposes SB 132 and SB 353 which interfere with medical practice and the patient-physician relationship. Politicians are not elected to, nor should they, pretend they’re doctors or step foot into our exam rooms.

Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD, President
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Washington, DC

Haywood L. Brown, MD
Chair, District IV, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Durham, NC