Doctor to Ohio Senate: I Do Not Want To Tell My Patients I Cannot Help Them

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Commentary Abortion

Doctor to Ohio Senate: I Do Not Want To Tell My Patients I Cannot Help Them

Dr. Lisa Perriera

I strongly urge the Ohio Senate to oppose the "heartbeat bill." Lawmakers do not belong in the consultation room with me and my patients.

Lisa Perriera, MD, MPH, gave this testimony live before an Ohio Senate committee yesterday afternoon at a hearing of the so-called “heartbeat” bill, H.B. 125.

Good afternoon. My name is Lisa Perriera and I am a board certified ob/gyn working at an academic medical center in Cleveland.  I come today representing myself and my patients.

I strongly urge the Ohio Senate to oppose “the heartbeat bill.” Lawmakers do not belong in the consultation room with me and my patients.  As an OB/GYN, I offer the full spectrum of care for women.  I deliver their babies, I screen them for cervical and breast cancer, and sometimes I perform their abortions.  Abortion is a safe and legal medical procedure that women deserve to be able to access here in Ohio. This bill is effectively a ban on abortion, since the heartbeat is usually detected between the 5th and 6th week after the last menstrual period, often before a woman even realizes that she is pregnant. Banning abortion has never stopped abortion from happening; it has only made abortion unsafe or more difficult to obtain. Worldwide 48 percent of abortions are unsafe. As a physician do not want to go back in time and see unsafe abortion in Ohio.

I also don’t want to tell any of my patients that I cannot help them. I am particularly concerned about my patients with fetal anomalies, as these are the patients that will be most adversely affected by this law. I have countless stories I can tell, but I’ll just share a couple.  Kristen and Steve were expecting their first child. Kristen had had two miscarriages, so she and Steve were so excited when they made it to 20 weeks in this pregnancy. They were eagerly anticipating the anatomy ultrasound, when they would find out their baby‘s gender. It was a girl! But then the terrible news: her heart was malformed. Kristen and Steve were referred immediately to a pediatric heart surgeon who told them that their daughter would need several surgeries to have a chance of surviving her heart defect, and that each operation posed a high risk of death. Even if the surgeries were successful, there was a substantial chance that she would be severely disabled. Kristen and Steve decided with great anguish that they could not put their little girl through so much pain and suffering without a reasonable chance that she would have a normal childhood. They chose to end the pregnancy.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Another is the story of Jamie and David.  They already had one son Luke, and were so thrilled to be pregnant again.  Jamie decided to have screening tests performed to determine if her baby was at risk for any chromosomal malformations.  She thought that since she was less than 35 there was a low chance the screening test would be positive. Unfortunately she was wrong.  The test showed that she was at risk for trisomy 18, a chromosomal abnormality that is not compatible with life.  This diagnosis was confirmed with an amniocentesis.  Jamie and David had to decide if they would continue the pregnancy knowing that their baby girl would die before birth or soon after, or if they would terminate this very desired pregnancy.  After much soul searching they decided to terminate the pregnancy.  They didn’t want to put Jamie through the risks associated with delivery when there was no hope of a healthy baby. Many people do not realize that abortion is actually safer than a full-term delivery. The risk of death from a first trimester abortion is 1 in a million, while the risk of death from childbirth is 6.6/100,000 live births.

They also didn’t want to go through the emotional agony of watching their little girl die. While they wish they didn’t need to have an abortion, they felt like they did what was best for themselves and their baby girl Grace.  They were referred to me and I did their procedure.  The bond we formed while I cared for them during that pregnancy led them to switch care to me when they conceived their next pregnancy.  They felt abandoned by their first OB/Gyn, and Jamie also didn’t want to have to explain everything she had been through; I was there with her and knew it all.  I was privileged to deliver Elise about a year after Grace died. 

The heartbeat bill would have forced Jamie and Kristen to continue their pregnancies or required them to go to another state to have an abortion.  It may seem easy to you to pass a law that bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected, but I’m the one that has to explain to my patients why I can’t provide the care that they need and deserve.  I urge you to please let me go on practicing medicine as I see fit.  Don’t bring this bill to a vote. Let me continue to care for patients and provide a safe and constitutionally legal medical procedure.  Thank you for your time.