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Why unrestricted abortion access should be the national standard of care

As a licensed obstetrician and gynecologist, I have borne witness to the importance of abortion care more times than I can count. I’ve helped provide this life-saving health care in multiple states — both at home in Massachusetts as well as in places like Mississippi and Alabama, where the political landscape looks much different. 

I am keenly aware of the harmful effects of abortion restrictions, and I’m losing patience with them. 

Our Supreme Court is preparing to issue a decision on FDA v. Alliancea case with the potential to dramatically restrict access to a drug called mifepristone, which is used in over half of all abortions in our nation. And while legal experts are hopeful the court will throw out this case based on its complete lack of legal standing, this isn’t the last time we’re going to see access to mifepristone and medication abortion threatened by our legal system. 

It’s 2024, America. Life-saving medical care should be readily available for anyone who needs it, regardless of where they live. Abortion access should be the standard of care. 

I have the privilege of helping provide abortions in a state where restrictions, though they exist, are minimal. In Massachusetts, we’ve eliminated the unnecessary waiting periods that result in scheduling gymnastics and delay important treatments. Medical professionals with appropriate licenses beyond or in addition to M.D.s are also able to provide abortion care in our state, vastly improving access. This combined with the availability of telemedicine has all but eliminated abortion deserts in our state. 

In contrast, I think back to my experiences providing abortions in Southern states like Mississippi and Alabama. There, my work was constantly being hampered by the effects of targeted restrictions for abortion providers, otherwise known as TRAP laws. These harmful restrictions made providing legal abortions a daily challenge for me and my colleagues. And as I look at the news headlines surrounding mifepristone today, I worry for the future of health care in these states. 

Mifepristone is a demonstrably safe medication that has been well-established in medical care for over two decades. The risk of serious complications (including hemorrhage) is less than 1 percent for medical abortions, with only a .05 percent risk of transfusion. Compare that to the risk of transfusion during childbirth — 3.8 percent. 

And it’s not just used for abortions, either. Having ready access to this medication also allows me to provide safe, effective care management for my patients who experience miscarriages. And while misoprostol alone can be used for both induced abortions and miscarriages, the addition of mifepristone makes procedures more effective and further reduces the already low risk of complications.  

As a reproductive health care provider, I’m outraged that a group of political ideologues would attempt to restrict access to life-saving health care nationwide. In Massachusetts, we’ve prioritized maintaining full access to high-quality reproductive healthcare, but I’ve also provided care in states where restrictions to abortion care are much more real — and it’s frightening. 

As a nation, we need to follow medical research and trust our doctors and medical professionals to perform the life-saving care they’re licensed to provide. While I remain optimistic that our Supreme Court will have no choice but to throw out FDA v. Alliancewe need greater federal protection for abortion urgently, because this isn’t going to be the last time the courts will threaten our fundamental right to health care. 

Abortion access should be readily available without restriction for the management of complicated and nonviable pregnancies, regardless of where a patient lives. That should be the standard of care in 2024. 

Dr. Cheryl Hamlin is a licensed obstetrician and gynecologist at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She previously served at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi.

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