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New “Criminalized Care” Report Shows How Louisiana’s Abortion Bans Endanger Patients and Clinicians

Researchers document the stark reality of harm, erosion of medical trust, and human rights violations in Louisiana

Today, Lift Louisiana, Physicians for Human Rights, Reproductive Health Impact, and the Center for Reproductive Rights published an extensive fact-finding report titled “Criminalized Care: How Louisiana’s Abortion Bans Endanger Patients and Clinicians.”

This is the most rigorous and expansive study to date on the impacts of the Dobbs decision on pregnant people and clinicians in Louisiana – one of the U.S. states that has been most aggressive in criminalizing abortion care. The report shows how Louisiana’s criminalization of abortion care endangers patients and clinicians and violates evidence-based public health guidance, long-standing medical ethical standards, and international human rights. 

The study details how Louisiana’s laws have changed the day-to-day practice of medicine and the devastating impact this has had on both patients and providers. Among the many alarming findings identified in this report, participants revealed that the state’s abortion bans

  • Erode clinicians’ ability to use their best medical judgment to treat patients;  
  • Cause delays and denials of abortion care even when patients present with serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions; 
  •  Lead to delays in provision of prenatal care; 
  • Create an impossible situation for clinicians who must navigate between their medical and ethical duties to patients and fear of state-imposed penalties like fines and jailtime.  

Furthermore, the report shows how existing federal statutes put in place to protect patient access to emergency care, including the federal law known as EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act), are being nullified by Louisiana’s abortion bans.  

This research features a collection of dozens of interviews from patients, clinicians, and community-based organizations that illustrate how the bans’ prohibitions on care and narrow and ill-defined exceptions create confusion, uncertainty, and fear for both patients and clinicians.  

Interviews include a patient whose care was delayed while suffering an ectopic pregnancy and expressed fears of dying, a physician whose colleague performed an invasive abdominal surgery instead of the standard method of care on a patient suffering from PPROM (premature rupture of membranes) out of fear of state persecution, and another physician who felt powerless to help a patient in need of an abortion while suffering serious cardiac complications. 
The interviews also underscore how Louisiana’s abortion bans disproportionately harm historically marginalized communities and groups. Even before Roe fell, Louisiana lacked adequate access to reproductive health care, and now that health care crisis is only getting worse. The state’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the country, with Black women dying twice as often as white women. The majority of all pregnancy-related deaths in Louisiana are preventable

The full report includes specific recommendations on how to address these harms, including repealing Louisiana’s abortion bans, decriminalizing abortion, and ensuring that Louisianans have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care. 

“We knew that the abortion bans were impacting the care that pregnant people were receiving and creating anxiety and confusion for physicians, but we didn’t understand the extent until now,” said Lift Louisiana Executive Director Michelle Erenberg. “I am overwhelmed by the stories we heard and the devastating reality of what patients and providers are confronting in my home state. This should be a wake-up call for Louisiana’s lawmakers to take action and address the harm that the bans are doing to our communities.” 

“As an organization committed to communities being able to achieve their full potential for reproductive health, wellbeing, safety, and joy, we recognize that abortion bans, especially in Louisiana, exacerbate existing harms to historically marginalized people and communities,” said Inas-Khalidah Mahdi, RH Impact’s VP of Equity Centered Capacity Building. “In a landscape where there are existing reproductive and maternal health crises compounded with poor sexual and reproductive health education and healthcare deserts, it is apparent that these laws further endanger women and birthing people rejecting their ability to prioritize their health. Instead of addressing the factors that have created this crisis, Louisiana’s legislators enact bans adding another critical blow to women’s reproductive health, wellbeing, and safety.” 

“State-level abortion bans like those in Louisiana are fueling a public health crisis, threatening the lives of patients, and disrupting the day-to-day practice of medicine,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, PHR Medical Director and Professor of Public Health and Internal Medicine at University of Michigan. “Abortion bans undermine the state’s health system by tying clinicians’ hands, blocking them from providing evidence-based care. Today Louisianans cannot access essential health care, health inequities are exacerbated, and the state health system is overburdened. Medical professionals across the nation should support their colleagues by calling for the immediate repeal of these destructive and discriminatory bans.” 
“This report vividly documents how Louisiana’s abortion bans violate pregnant people’s human rights to health, life, and reproductive autonomy,” said Karla Torres, Senior Counsel for US Human Rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These findings are a stunning indictment of the medical care pregnant people receive in a post-Roe America. In a state already facing a maternal health crisis that disproportionately impacts Black people, the findings reveal how the bans put the life and health of pregnant people at risk every day. The Louisiana government must urgently meet its human rights obligations by repealing the state’s abortion bans and ensuring that all Louisianans have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion.” 

The research, which began in May 2023 and was completed in November 2023, was designed to assess the impact of Louisiana’s abortion bans on pregnant patients and clinicians in the state. The report was informed by interviews with 30 Louisiana clinicians, 13 patients of reproductive age, and two focus group discussions with eight community-based organizations in the state.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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