I am a physician in training at Western Montana Family Medicine Residency to become a rural family physician. I am also the mother of my laughing 6 month old son, Theodore.
The journey to my baby was long and painful, starting with a five week miscarriage and then a 13 week “missed miscarriage”. On our second routine ultrasound, I was told, “I’m so sorry; there is no heartbeat.
We had survived the first trimester, but for some unknown reason our baby boy had passed away. When I decided I wanted the chance to hold it, rather than having it removed by surgery, my doctor prescribed me misoprostol, a drug known for use in abortions, to induce cervical dilation so that my body lets go. I am immensely grateful for the chance my husband and I had to hold our baby, name it, and bury it.
LR-131 terrifies me because it would take those moments away from parents only if their baby’s heart had, or hadn’t yet, stopped beating.
The ill-conceived objective of Bill LR-131 is to reduce post-viability abortions by punishing physicians who induce premature labor and fail to initiate all possible lifesaving measures. But these are rare: less than 1% of all abortions occur after 21 weeks, and many of these are surgical procedures.
Although this bill is intended to punish abortion, it will have broader effects for women and their babies who experience premature birth and severe fetal abnormalities. We’re already seeing it in Texas, where some pharmacies refuse to stock methotrexate, the drug used to treat ectopic pregnancies by stopping embryo growth, and providers are hesitant to prescribe the drugs misoprostol and mifepristone. which treat missed miscarriages and also trigger medical abortions.
Many patients who receive a terminal diagnosis for their baby are told to continue the pregnancy until the baby dies or is born and is placed on brief, isolating, and even painful life support. The continuation of one of these pregnancies can become medically fatal for the mother, in addition to the mental pain of carrying a doomed child.
Montana, like most of the United States, faces a shortage of primary care providers and will need an additional 200 PCPs by 2030. I intend to fill one of these slots as I’m training in Missoula to be a full-spectrum family physician: I’ll deliver babies, care for inpatients, cover the emergency room, and see patients in the clinic.
“Born Alive” LR-131, however, makes me worry that I can’t stay in Montana to provide the quality care my patients need. LR-131 would allow doctors to be charged with a felony, be fined up to $50,000 or twenty years in prison if they do not resuscitate any child born with a heartbeat.
I am not alone in this fear. Hospital recruiters struggle to fill OBGYN positions in abortion-banning states, even among physicians who do not perform abortions, due to the extensive crossover between abortions, miscarriages, extra-pregnancy and the care of patients who find themselves or their fetuses at risk of death or disability.
I chose drugs to induce labor to give birth to my dead son for the chance to hold him. I wanted to touch her little fingers and look at her face. The only photo I have of him is the most important photo in my world. Inside, he has a sweet smile on his lips and an arm behind his head; he looks relaxed and playful. He is as small as a peach and his skin is too transparent and I love him.
While doctors and parents already know that the best choice for a family is NOT to undergo intensive medical treatment, I can’t imagine taking away those precious minutes of life to inflict pain on a baby, alone. and separated from his parents. As a doctor, I refuse to participate in harming a family like this. As a wife and mother and the sole breadwinner of my family, I cannot risk jail time. I will leave Montana, if that’s what it takes to be allowed to provide quality, compassionate care to all of my patients.
Vote NO to LR-131 to keep Montana a state that protects voters’ right to privacy and bodily autonomy decisions. Vote NO to LR-131 to keep Montana in a state where doctors feel safe to practice appropriate and compassionate medicine. Vote NO to allow heartbroken parents to hold and love their non-viable babies.
— Dr. Emily Young is a physician-in-training at the Missoula Family Medicine Residency.