An Idaho hospital announced this month that it will stop delivering babies, citing among other reasons the state’s restrictive legal and political climate around reproductive healthcare.
“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving,” hospital leadership for Bonner General Health said in a news release. “(T)he Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care.”
Bonner General Health is the only hospital with obstetrical services in the northern Idaho city of Sandpoint. When it shutters its labor and delivery services in May, pregnant patients will have to drive nearly 50 miles for care, the Idaho Capital Sun reported. The hospital also attributed its obstetrics closure to difficulty with staffing and a decrease in the number of deliveries at the hospital.
“We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services,” said Ford Elsaesser, board president at Bonner General Health in a statement. “We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are impossible to overcome now.”
Idaho has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation, with exceptions made only for rape, incest or the life of the pregnant person. Doctors face felony charges and loss of their medical license for violating the law.
Idaho legislators also recently chose not to support a law that would have allowed the state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which studies pregnancy and birth-related deaths, to continue operating. The committee’s most recent report showed deaths among pregnant Idahoans more than doubled in 2020.
In 2023, pregnant people have lost or will lose obstetric services at hospitals in Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi, Washington, Ohio and Maine, among others. The March of Dimes reported a 5% increase in counties across the country that lost maternity access from 2020 to 2022.
Rural communities and smaller towns are disproportionately impacted by closures. Nearly 90 obstetric units shuttered at U.S. rural hospitals just between 2015-2019, according to the American Hospital Association.
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Obstetricians have been sounding the alarm about the impact that abortion restrictions are having on maternal and reproductive care overall. Applications by medical students for OBGYN specialty slots at medical schools have fallen in the past year, according to preliminary data from the American Association of Medical Colleges.
“You can’t have it all the ways: you can’t make abortion illegal, not have access to maternity care and also by the way, restrict and make it harder for people to access contraception,” Anne Banfield, an OBGYN, told Axios in January. “But we’re going to do all three of those things and expect to have a good outcome? Logic has no place here.”
More than 2.2 million birthing people of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts, which are areas that have no hospital offering obstetric care, no birth center and no obstetric provider. As of 2020, half of rural hospitals didn’t have obstetric care, according to the American Hospital Association.