“Right to Professional Medical Judgment Act,” Crafted by Doctor, Introduced in Alabama

Posted on March 16, 2012

RH Reality Check, March 16, 2012 by Andy Kopsa

A little over a week ago, Alabama pediatrician Pippa Abston had enough.

In response to Alabama’s forced vaginal ultrasound bill, Abston posted a video expressing her outrage, as a doctor and woman, over the power grab by GOP extremists to act as elected physicians.

I wrote a piece on her video at RH Reality Check shortly after the video posted.  During an initial phone conversation with Abston she mentioned in passing that she was working on a piece of legislation that could potentially be taken up in the Alabama Legislature.  I asked her if it was the first piece of legislation she had drafted.  She laughed out loud for about fifteen seconds and told me, “yes!”

(Anyone anywhere can write a bill, circulate it to appropriate local, state or federal officials for review and possible sponsorship – Pippa’s original draft was only one paragraph long).

Alabama SB 413, the “Right to Professional Medical Judgment Act” was read for the first time March 15 and referred to the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Linda Coleman, who, as we reported, fought Alabama’s forced ultrasound bill as a “rape” bill, is the legislative sponsor of the new “right-to-medical-judgment” bill.

Abston is a bit of a reluctant activist, not because she doesn’t posses a well-educated fire for women’s reproductive health care, but because she is just blown away that Alabama and so many other states are seeking to trump doctors by inserting legislators between a woman’s legs.

“Well, I agreed to do one television interview and I thought it could be kinda risky, but since I don’t even know how to do an abortion I figured speaking out against the ultrasound bill would be okay,” Said Abston of the initial media attention she got from her outspoken video.

Her decision to come out publicly was not an easy one.  Abston is already an advocate for single payer and mental illness and wasn’t sure she wanted to take on something she was afraid she wouldn’t have time for.   Abston said, “I thought I might get in over my head, and I might have done so! But I’m glad I did it anyway and in the process got connected to some folks I never might have met otherwise, it is definitely worth doing.”

The climate for doctors to come out against the Alabama forced ultrasound bill can pose risks.

“When I told people even in my clinic that I was going to speak out about it there seemed to be a look of fear in their eyes,” said Dr. Abston.

The fear exists due to potential loss of patients over speaking out or, as is more likely, fear of extremists.  “These people can be incredibly volatile,” said Abston of some anti-choice activists in Alabama. But, she is quick to point out that that volatility should not keep us from pushing back against them.

The legislation Abston wrote, and Senator Coleman introduced, utilizes neutral language and does not address any particular field of medicine in the text.  Nor should it according to Abston.  Although her decision to write the draft was triggered by the forced ultrasound bill the biggest issue is cutting the doctor off at the knees; the government forcing him or her to act in unethical or medically unnecessary way.

This from HB 413:

No physician or health care provider licensed to practice in the State of Alabama shall be forced by state or local regulatory authority to perform any medical service or component of medical service if the service or component of service is not medically necessary or would be harmful to the patient and the patient does not desire the medical service.  The right to practice within the scope of a medical license supersedes any existing or future legislative act.

Last night, I found out that Democratic Wisconsin Representative Sandy Pasch introduced what I have started calling the Abston Amendment, in the form of a table amendment that was built directly from Abston’s draft.

With the support of other representatives Pasch, an RN and bio-ethicist, introduced the amendment to the misleading “anti-coercion” bill that in reality was crafted to keep tele-med abortion services out of Wisconsin.

I spoke with Pippa last night to let her know the spirit of her bill was picked up by Wisconsin women fighting against the surprisingly large number of governmental pseudo doctors.  She was thrilled all she could say at first was, “What?  Really!”

But the discussion turned to the need to implement bills like this around the country establishing – as if it needs to be established – the propriety of doctor and patient as the only authors of that patient’s care.

I spoke with a representative of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin who sat through over 26 hours of legislative sessions in the past two days.  Once Pasch’s amendment was read, there was only about 10 minutes of debate and then it was soundly voted down.  Planned Parenthood echoed the same sentiment as Abston – that action is needed to protect the rights of women seeking reproductive health care in statehouses across the country.

It wouldn’t hurt if this kind of bill was introduced in DC for that matter.

The legislature reconvenes on March 20.  It is unclear how the debate will go around this non-controversial piece of legislation – or if it will make it out of committee.  Observers of this bill should watch for public hearing schedules for the Judiciary committee on SB 413 after the legislature reconvenes next week.

Follow Andy Kopsa on Twitter, @andykopsa

Posted in: Alabama