Do No Harm

This year (2012) our state has been through a difficult legislative session with a controversial mandatory ultrasound bill that got strong reaction from voters. The majority party finally decided to listen when they heard from constituent women.  I write this post about something we did last session(2011) that didn’t get as strong a reaction.


This principle from the Hippocratic Oath was a little hard for me to accept as a young man in my early medical training. I was drawn to the idea of risk, of trying something to see what would happen. But as I aged I came to appreciate this fundamentally conservative value. Be careful. Take limited risks, especially with the lives and welfare of those you serve.

The principle behind this 2500 year old edict may stem from an acceptance of the vector of our life.  We are all born and we all die. So, doctor, do your best for life, but be careful knowing death comes to all. I have seen a lot of modern medicine deny this fact of mortality. Some treatments lose sight that life is limited and we must cherish what we are allotted.

Here in public policy I also try to minimize harm. Unfortunately, the choices we are faced with often come down to deciding who wins and who loses. I would hope our wisdom can strike a balance. I don’t think we did in the case I will discuss.

Last session we passed a law called The Fetal Pain Act. It put into Idaho law many things that will help the folks nationally who want to overturn Roe vs. Wade.  I predicted it would harm a few innocent folks here in Idaho. I have now found out that it did.

In short, this law banned ending any pregnancy after 20 weeks gestation for any reason other than to improve the likelihood of a healthy baby. In 2009, before there was any law there were 6 abortions done after 20 weeks in the state of Idaho. We don’t know exactly why each of these was done, but we do know there are approximately 4-6  anencephalic babies born each year in our state. These babies have no brain development and cannot survive long after birth. Few even take a first breath, though some do.

Here is a link to a photo of an anencephalic baby but I warn you, the appearance can be disturbing.

I would like you to put yourself in the position of a young woman, anxious about her pregnancy, who now is told her baby has this deformity. Sometimes the condition isn’t discovered until the mid trimester, around 18-20 weeks gestation. Because of this law now she is also told, if it is after 20 weeks gestation, she must carry this baby to term or travel to another state, away from her home to end this nonviable pregnancy. Three such cases have occurred in the last 7 months since this law took effect. The law we passed last year made these women go away from their home and out of state to obtain care. Over 90% of women who are carrying a fetus with this deformity chose to end the pregnancy early. They no longer can in the state of Idaho after 20 weeks gestation. Our law says if you choose such action we consider it a criminal act.

I understand objections to abortion.  I believe the state should only very carefully interject itself in this most delicate, most painful circumstance for a woman, a family. I believe we did harm to these women, these families.  I am sorry.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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