Are pro-life laws to blame for Idaho hospital’s labor and delivery department closure?

pregnant, rape, abortion, newborn

Bonner General Health in Sandpoint, Idaho, announced that it will shut down its labor and delivery department — something both the hospital and media coverage are attempting to attribute to Idaho’s pro-life laws despite various factors contributing to the decision.

On March 17, Bonner General Health (BGH) released a statement on Facebook announcing the upcoming closure of its labor and delivery department in May. The statement gave a variety of reasons for its closure, including that “highly respected, talented physicians” are leaving the state due to pro-life protections passed by the Idaho Legislature, which the hospital claimed makes attracting physicians more difficult due to laws that they claim “criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care.” 

Idaho’s pro-life laws went into effect in January after the Idaho Supreme Court ruled against Planned Parenthood in a protracted legal battle, as Live Action News reported. The laws – which had been blocked for several years during litigation – include protections for nearly all preborn babies in the state from abortion, a heartbeat law, and a law that allows family members of a preborn child to sue for damages after an abortion.

Induced abortion is the direct and intentional killing of a preborn baby and does not constitute health care, nor is it medically necessary), nor does it apply to treatment for miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Yet, a number of local, national, and even international news outlets attributed the restriction of abortion as a main contributing factor to the hospital department’s closure. Yet as Live Action News has reported, most OBGYNs do not commit abortions

However, the remainder of Bonner General’s statement, largely overlooked by the media, provided more plausible and nuanced reasons for the closure. 

“Our low patient volume is insufficient to attract candidates for pediatric hospitalists, and we cannot afford to continue having locum tenens physicians. […] Without pediatrician coverage to manage neonatal resuscitations and perinatal care, it is unsafe and unethical to offer routine labor and delivery services,” said the hospital’s news release, according to the Idaho Statesman (emphasis added). “BGH has reached out to other active and retired providers in the community requesting assistance with pediatric call coverage with no long-term sustainable solutions.”

Pediatricians care exclusively for children who have already been born. It is unclear why media outlets claim abortion restrictions have caused the closure of the labor and delivery ward when Bonner General’s statement places heavy emphasis on the lack of available pediatricians. 

BGH attributed the low patient volume to changing demographics of the local area that have caused a steady decline in the number of babies and pediatric patients, as well as the construction of a “new, updated unit with Neonatologists and OBs in-house 24/7” at Kootenai Health, a 40-minute drive from Bonner General Health.

In 2022, Bonner General Health delivered 265 babies and admitted less than 10 pediatric patients, according to the Idaho Statesman — a marked decrease from prior years. 

Idaho Representative Dorothy Moon criticized the narrative characterizing the nature of the closing as one related to abortion, rather than to changing demographics that affect rural communities across America, as well as a nationwide decline in birth rates. “The real issue here is one facing all of rural America: the failure of large health care entities to provide financially affordable healthcare in a sustainable fashion,” she said in an email to The Washington Post. “This isn’t about abortion; it’s about making excuses for staffing issues.”

In fact, Secular Pro Life has pointed out that the legislation BGH mentioned is a proposed amendment, composed with the Idaho Medical Association, to clarify what does and does not constitute an abortion — including the removal of a deceased baby, treatment of an ectopic pregnancy, and treatment when a woman is no longer pregnant. According to the bill’s sponsor, it “clarifies that the woman’s life is also very important to us and that if it’s a life-threatening situation, then the physician has the ability to make a determination,” said Rep Megan Blanksma to CBS 2 Boise

Bonner General Health is located in the city of Sandpoint, Idaho, with a population of 9,000. Several hospitals within driving distance continue to offer labor and delivery services, as the Idaho Statesman reported.

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