Idaho Hospital's Response To Near-Total Abortion Ban Signals Maternal Healthcare Crisis

Following the supreme court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the state of Idaho scrambled to put its own abortion bans and "trigger laws" into effect. This included a ban that blocks all abortions after six weeks and forbids all abortions (except select scenarios that involve victims of rape, incest, or when the life of the pregnant person is in danger). The state's laws also allow family members to file civil lawsuits against any medical providers who facilitate an abortion. Most recently, another ban went into effect that restricts anyone from helping minors get an abortion or travel across state borders to obtain an abortion, known as the "abortion trafficking" bill. "They will stop at nothing to control what we do and where we go — even if it means holding people hostage when trying to access essential health services," the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Alexis McGill Johnson, told the Associated Press about the state's latest prohibition.


Sadly, that's just the beginning of Idaho's problems. Recently, the state has also experienced a decline in the number of obstetric services available to its residents. In response, Bonner General Health, a hospital located in Sandpoint, Idaho, opted to discontinue its obstetric services altogether. "We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are impossible to overcome now," the hospital's board president, Ford Elsaesser, lamented in a bombshell news release about the labor and delivery unit's closure.

But what does this mean for the future of maternal healthcare? In short: it's not looking good.

Bonner General Health cites Idaho's legal and political climate for the closure of their labor and delivery unit

According to Bonner General Health, the decision to discontinue their labor and delivery services was not ideal but necessary. Within the news release announcing the closure, the hospital cited three reasons for their decision: "loss of pediatrician coverage" and "volumes and changing demographics" as well as the last but certainly not least important, "Idaho's legal and political climate." 


The release went on to state that many "highly respected, talented physicians" were fleeing the state, and finding replacements was also growing increasingly difficult. "In addition, the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho Physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines," the institution penned.

But don't just take their word for it...

Many physicians admit they are leaving states with abortion bans

Dr. Amelia Huntsberger is out. The Idaho OB-GYN wrote a blistering email to States Newsroom, explaining that she was not only leaving Bonner General Health but the state as well. "What a sad, sad state of affairs for our community," she penned. 


Sadly, however, Huntsberger is not an outlier but part of a larger trend in healthcare. Many physicians in states notorious for their oppressive abortion laws are in the midst of a mass exodus. Dr. Anne Banfield hightailed it out of West Virginia in April 2022, just before the state signed a law banning abortions at all stages of pregnancy. She told The Guardian, "I don't want to tell [people] in a horrible situation, they can't receive the healthcare they need in their home state because of the law." Meanwhile, Dr. Alireza Shamshirsaz uprooted his family from Texas to Boston after he was prohibited from selectively terminating a near-fatal twin fetus of a woman 21 weeks pregnant in order to save the other fetus. "They needed to get all the way to the east coast or west coast before they would find a doctor who could help them, and they needed to do it in the next 24 or 48 hours. Even in the best scenario, I don't think 99% of people could have made that trip in the time they had." 


Alas, providers opting to flee states with abortion bans are just the tip of the iceberg...

Studies suggest there's a correlation between states with abortion bans and 'maternity care deserts'

The future of maternal healthcare is at stake. 

In 2022, a study conducted by the March of Dimes revealed that around 2.2 million women in the US live in areas that offer no maternal care services, like birthing centers or hospitals. The research also highlights that these "maternity care deserts" negatively impacted more than 150,000 infants. According to the nonprofit organization, a county constitutes a "maternity care desert" if it does not have a provider specializing in obstetrics or a hospital or birthing center providing obstetric services. Aside from the lack of obstetric care means patients have to travel further for maternal care — not exactly an ideal situation for expectant mothers — the quality of care the patients receive is also on the line. "Hospital closures, combined with the lack of access to outpatient and inpatient obstetrical care, results in the extremes of maternal and infant mortality that we see in my state," an Indiana OB-GYN, Katie McHugh, explained during an interview with CQ Roll Call.  


And as it turns out, studies suggest a correlation between states with abortion bans and maternity care deserts. The Commonwealth Fund found that "maternity care deserts" occur in nearly 39% of the counties inside states with restrictive abortion laws. Meanwhile, only 25% of counties in states with access to abortion fall into the same "maternity care desert" category. Coincidence? We think not.