HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Health professionals in Alabama are still trying to sort out what the overturning of Roe v. Wade means for miscarriage care.
“It really puts the physicians in such a difficult situation, you know? When you have to do the right thing for your patient and then you’re restricted by your legislation,” said Dr. Joanne Stone, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine President, OBGYN.
Maternal-fetal medicine specialists say miscarriages happen in nearly 20% of all known pregnancies. Medically speaking, if a woman needs medical assistance to pass the non-viable fetus it is considered a “spontaneous abortion” in medicinal terminology.
“We’re talking about a pregnancy that does not appear to be viable we know that it’s in the uterus and it’s only up to about 20 weeks in pregnancy,” stated Dr. Sanithia Williams, an OBGYN with Alabama Women’s Wellness Center.
Williams says management options include giving the woman time to naturally pass the non-viable fetus, giving medication assistance, or surgical management to empty the uterus.
“While spontaneous abortion is as it in is in the name… ‘spontaneous’ the management of spontaneous and induced abortions are the same,” said Dr. Williams.
The course of action depends on gestational age, the woman’s current health, provider training, and hospital policy.
“Keeping in mind that if someone is sick, especially bleeding excessively having a severe infection the treatment for that is to evacuate the uterus or remove the pregnancy,” Williams continued.
Alabama law now states abortions are illegal unless deemed necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the woman.
“If it’s life-threatening and you have to empty the woman’s uterus to save the woman’s life, I think that’s where you would enact that exception to save the life,” says Dr. Stone.
If a woman shows signs of infection or starts to bleed, doctors say medical intervention is necessary. That treatment is classified as a spontaneous abortion, which is where the legal waters are currently murky for doctors in Alabama.
“It’s very very hard, for people to say… At what point… When is saving the life imminent? When do you call it? How close do you have to be? Somebody is bleeding heavily but they aren’t unstable yet, do you have to wait?” Stone concluded.
Williams says because miscarriages are so common, she encourages women to be familiar with their options and to talk with their health care providers ahead of a medical emergency, even in wanted pregnancies.
For a doctor to avoid civil or criminal penalties, Alabama’s law states a second physician would have to sign off on any abortion they deem would prevent a serious health risk for the mother.