INDIANAPOLIS — As a mother of five, Ali Schaffer says abortion wasn’t for her. However, as an experienced birth worker of 10 years, she knows every woman’s story is different.
“I’ve worked with several women, who have needed to utilize resources that now will not be available, and not to any fault of their own,” she said.
Concern comes after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which overturned Roe v. Wade. The ruling eliminates federal protection for abortion access in the U.S. and leaves individual states to decide their own abortion laws.
“Many doctors are afraid that with this decision, people are going to be in danger,” said Dr. Alison Case, family doctor.
Currently, abortion is still legal in Indiana. However, local medical providers, like Case, are concerned it won’t be for long.
Statistics show Indiana already has a high maternal mortality rate. With the possible banning of abortion in the state, some experts believe it’ll only contribute to the rising numbers.
“In states where abortion is more restricted, maternal mortality rates increase,” said Dr. Caitlin Bernard, OBGYN at IU Health.
Bernard, who is also faculty at the IU School of Medicine and Department of OBGYN, said pregnancy is a risky process. For those already facing concerning health conditions, the risk increases even more.
“When a pregnancy is unwanted or if they had severe complications in a prior pregnancy, and they’re trying to ensure that they’ll be alive and healthy for the children they already have, then that’s really an unacceptable risk to their health and their life,” Bernard said.
During pregnancy, experts said women and the fetus can develop severe or deadly complications, in which abortion may be their safest option.
“We know, just in general, abortion is fourteen times safer, or continuing a pregnancy is fourteen times riskier than ending a pregnancy in a safe, legal abortion,” Bernard said. “In terms of things that can happen, that starts as early as an ectopic pregnancy, so pregnancy that’s implanted outside the uterus.”
Bernard said the law may include exceptions in dire medical cases, but it’s not as clear cut as people think.
“Even if the law makes those types of exceptions, there’s lots of situations in which doctors, if they’re constantly having to worry about if they’re going to be prosecuted, won’t necessarily take or provide the care that is medically necessary if they’re worried about going to jail for any medical decision that they may make,” she said.
Pregnancies can also result in fetal anomalies, where an unexpected or unusual condition develops within the fetus. Bernard said they don’t usually see fetal anomalies until 18-20 weeks in pregnancy, when an ultrasound is performed.
“You can see things, like Anencephaly, where the entire brain of the baby hasn’t developed. That is uniformly lethal, nobody can survive with that condition,” she said, “and yet the options, at that point that they’re facing, are to continue a pregnancy for the full 40 weeks and they know the entire time that their baby is going to die.”
“I can’t imagine the trauma that that puts somebody through, not to mention the risks associated with carrying the pregnancy that entire time,” Bernard said.
Another element of worry, experts said, is the extremes people will go to if abortion access is banned. Case said she’s especially concerned for certain populations, where resources and access are already limited.
“The truth is there are people with means, who will be able to travel to get abortions, but poor people, minorities, the LGBTQ population, these are the folks who are already at risk and are not going to be able to access care,” Case said. “That’s really what we’re looking at is the risk of increased death and morbidity in those populations that just aren’t going to be able to get the care they need.”
“One of the arguments people say is ‘just go to another state’,” Bernard said. “Luckily, we have Illinois nearby, imagine being even further, but still that’s several hours drive.”
Bernard and Case said transportation, time off work and child care are all needed when taking that step, and lack of support could greatly change the outcome for a woman.
“People, who can’t access abortion either in other states or other means, will resort to risky and unsafe abortion practices,” Bernard said. “That can increase the risk for complications, like bleeding and infection, that are completely avoidable through access to safe, legal abortion.”
Indiana lawmakers are set to meet for a special session on July 6th, where abortion is expected to be discussed. As the days pass, concerns continue to grow as some feel there is more at stake than people realize.
“This is all about health care, this has nothing to do with politics,” said Bernard. “We’re just trying to keep people healthy and keep them alive for their other babies that they have.”
“This decision made by politicians and not doctors is going to put people carrying pregnancies, carrying unwanted pregnancies, at extreme risk,” said Case.
“This has turned into a political, religious, ego situation, and so much less about helping these women find resources and being compassionate about other people’s situations,” said Schaffer. “Just because we are not living those circumstances ourselves doesn’t mean that they’re not happening or that we get to turn a blind eye towards them.”