Shaw: Let North Dakota doctors do their jobs
"Does North Dakota really want women with complicated pregnancies to suffer? Does North Dakota really want a critical shortage of qualified obstetricians and to imprison doctors?" columnist Jim Shaw asks. "The legislature must act."
Highly regarded Bismarck obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Ana Tobiasz of Bismarck chose to specialize in high-risk pregnancies after her son was born with a birth defect.
“I don’t want others to go through what happened to me,” Tobiasz said.
Tobiasz finds her work to be very gratifying. “I just find it interesting and very rewarding,” Tobiasz said. “Helping patients navigate difficult pregnancies gives me meaning.”
Now, Tobiasz is worried about what will happen to her practice and to women with troublesome pregnancies when abortion becomes illegal in North Dakota. She’s heard the horror stories from other states where abortion is now banned. Stories of a woman who nearly died because she had to carry a dead fetus in her body for two weeks. Stories of a traumatized woman whose water broke at 16 weeks into pregnancy and became gravely ill because doctors were afraid to properly treat her.
In those and dozens of other cases, women didn’t get treatment when they needed it because the doctors would have been breaking abortion laws in those states. The treatment would have been ending the pregnancies.
Under the North Dakota ban, abortions can be performed to save the life of the mother, but that provision has been interpreted to mean the mother must be near death.
“This is a nightmare scenario,” Tobiasz said. “These laws don’t help women or families in North Dakota. They create barriers to medical care. We’re worried about going to jail for doing our job.”
Tobiasz says these roadblocks hurt everyone. “The trigger law is bad because there are no exceptions,” Tobiasz said. “I would have to go to court to get a judge or jury to believe what I did was justified. None of us want to go to court. We’re all very fearful of being charged with a crime and losing our medical licenses.”
Tobiasz says she might have to leave the state. She also knows other doctors will be scared away from practicing in North Dakota. “I’ve heard from medical students in obstetrics who want to come here,” Tobiasz said. “However, with these laws, they won’t consider coming to this state where you criminalize medical treatment.”
That would be a disaster for pregnant women in the state. Realistically, the North Dakota Legislature won’t vote to legalize abortion, but Dr. Tobiasz believes there is a middle ground.
“There needs to be legislative exemptions for any condition that poses a risk to maternal health,” Tobiasz said. “We need to be able to help these women before they have organ failure or heart failure.”
Does North Dakota really want women with complicated pregnancies to suffer? Does North Dakota really want a critical shortage of qualified obstetricians and to imprison doctors? The legislature must act.
Remember, these aren’t women who wanted abortions. These are women who wanted babies before something went terribly wrong with their pregnancies. So, let’s not wait until these women are near death. Let North Dakota doctors do their jobs, and let their patients get the proper care when they need it.
As Dr. Tobiasz says, “Otherwise, women will die in North Dakota.”
Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.