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Kentucky doctors’ group launches public letter urging GOP-run Legislature to end abortion bans

Dr. Virginia Stokes stands at a podium in front of a 'Kentucky Physicians for Reproductive Freedom' sign. A blown-up version of an open letter that opposes the state's abortion bans is displayed beside her.
Morgan Watkins
/
LPM
Dr. Virginia Stokes and other physicians gathered at the Kentucky Capitol Wednesday to oppose abortion bans.

Nearly 300 Kentucky health care providers called for an end to all the state's abortion bans in an open letter. A group of doctors gathered in Frankfort Wednesday to explain why.

The group Kentucky Physicians for Reproductive Freedom includes over 280 health care providers, and its members say the state’s abortion bans are preventing them from protecting their patients’ well-being.

Several doctors and medical students visited the Kentucky Capitol Wednesday to speak with lawmakers and announce an open letter that asks the Legislature to repeal all the state’s abortion bans.

“Doctors are guided by evidence-based medicine and are bound by our commitment to: DO NO HARM,” the letter declares.

Nearly 300 people already signed the letter as of Wednesday afternoon, including doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

Kentucky officially outlawed abortion in August 2022, and doctors risk criminal prosecution if they provide an abortion illegally.

Several doctors spoke at a news conference in Frankfort Wednesday about how their ability to properly treat patients has been dangerously restricted by Kentucky’s abortion bans.

The Kentucky Legislature enacted many anti-abortion laws in recent years, including a ban that only allows abortion if a pregnant patient’s life is at risk.

Doctors mentioned the myriad ways in which pregnancy complications can seriously harm a patient when Kentucky law pushes physicians to delay a medically necessary abortion until it officially becomes a life-or-death scenario.

“I am pro-life. I am for saving the life of these women who have these early pregnancy complications that require, unfortunately, a cessation of the pregnancy. I believe that we must allow access to evidence-based medical treatment,” Dr. Virginia Stokes said.

“Let us, as lawmakers and influencers, come together to find a way to allow these families’ decisions to be made privately, and in the counsel of trusted caregivers. As an OB-GYN, my first priority is the life of my female patient. Please don't tie my hands.”

In past legislative sessions, the Legislature’s Republican supermajorities repeatedly refused to add exceptions for rape or fatal fetal abnormalities to the state’s abortion bans or to broaden the current exception for life-threatening health risks to encompass more conditions.

Louisville Republican Rep. Ken Fleming and Louisville Democratic Sen. David Yates both proposed bills this year that would add exceptions to the state’s abortion restrictions. It’s unlikely the Legislature will pass either of them during the 2024 session.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Dr. Michelle Elisburg discussed her work as a pediatrician, providing medical care to teenagers and advising them on how to reduce their risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

“But perhaps the most important protection I can teach them is not how to use a condom, but instead how to protect themselves from lawmakers who do not have their individual liberties and freedoms as a priority,” she said.

Medical student Urooj Nasim said Kentucky’s anti-abortion laws restrict the professional training she and her peers can receive in the state, including lessons they need to learn how to treat complicated pregnancies and manage miscarriages.

“In order to make the best calls for the patients of my future, I need to receive high-quality training in all of the tools and procedures available. And in a state where physicians live in fear of being prosecuted for delivering standard care, that is just not possible,” Nasim said.

She said the abortion bans are driving future OB-GYNs away from the commonwealth — and that means fewer professionals will be available to support patients in need of specialized care.

“To avoid throwing away years of our hard work to become doctors, many of my classmates will turn to residency programs outside of the state of Kentucky,” Nasim said. “Among those of us who leave, very few of us unfortunately will come back because we will be forced to choose between acting in the best interest of our patients or potentially facing prison time.”

Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.