States such as Texas may be determined to limit access to safe abortion, but one delegation of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is equally determined to safeguard that access.
Policy resolutions submitted by the New York State Academy of Family Physicians (NYSAFP) focus on preserving reproductive rights and opposing restrictions, such as Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which bans nearly all abortions beginning as early as 6 weeks, or as soon as fetal cardiac activity can be detected. The next AAFP Congress of Delegates is scheduled in February 2022.
“The Texas law actually would allow a private citizen to bring an action against an individual … who had an abortion or an individual physician who provided an abortion,” Vito Grasso, NYSAFP executive vice president, told MedPage Today.
In September, the Supreme Court refused to block Senate Bill 8 in spite of multiple legal challenges from abortion providers. In early October, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a lower federal court ruling that temporarily blocked Texas from enforcing its ban.
NYSAFP previously introduced resolutions supporting the right of clinicians — “with the proper training” — to perform any procedures that they are legally qualified to perform, Grasso stated.
In 2019, the AAFP passed a resolution stating that the organization “support[s] family physicians who have the training experience and demonstrated competence in providing medication and first trimester aspiration terminations.” At the time, the statement rankled the anti-abortion faction of the AAFP who wanted the organization to remain neutral on the issue.
Grasso said he anticipates the latest proposed policies will meet similar resistance.
In addition to preserving access, the NYSAFP calls on the AAFP to “oppose legislation to make it a crime to cross state lines to access abortion services or to assist someone in crossing state lines to access abortion services.”
Since 2011, 479 state-based restrictions on abortion have passed, including proposed laws in 15 states endorsing an “outright ban” with few exceptions, according to the NYSAFP. Neighboring states may have less restrictive laws, so “tens of thousands of women” cross state lines each year seeking abortions outside of their home states. Several states have tried to criminalize anyone who supports minors who attempt to secure abortions outside their home state, noted the NYSAFP proposal.
These laws set a “dangerous precedent” for anyone seeking an abortion, particularly if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, according to the NYSAFP proposal.
Grasso explained that the motivation for the NYSAFP proposal is to ensure that physicians and patients have “an unfettered right” to make private reproductive-related decisions without government interference “and certainly without interference from private citizens,” he said.
The New York delegation is also zeroing in on the Hyde Amendment, the 1976 provision that bans federal funding for abortion, except in instances of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. It isn’t a law but has been included in the federal budget every year for decades, explained Grasso.
The amendment is a “kind of compromise provision,” Grasso said, and that’s a concern “as there have been more aggressive actions undertaken by state legislators to create barriers to abortion.”
In 2010, President Obama issued Executive Order 13535, which reinforced the Hyde Amendment by doubling down on the restrictions that prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion in the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
“The fact that the Obama administration took that action reflects the divisions that exist nationally on this topic,” Grasso noted, and AAFP is “as divided on this issue as the general public.”
The New York delegation has called on AAFP to write a letter urging the Biden-Harris administration to rescind that Obama-era executive order, and work with the “Group of Six” (six other major medical societies) to express opposition to the Hyde Amendment.
The goal of the resolution is to demand equity around abortion services, Grasso explained, noting that “since the majority of the people who receive Medicaid are poor … the Hyde Amendment, in effect, is discriminatory, with respect to equal access to abortion services by poor people,” Grasso noted. Low-income women and women of color are more likely to access their healthcare through federal or state-sponsored health insurance programs.
Grasso again acknowledged that similar resolutions have been brought to the AAFP congress before, and have been rejected so “this particular [NYSAFP] version” is also unlikely to pass.
The AAFP held a special virtual session in late September to conduct elections, while the business portion of the meeting was postponed over pandemic-related concerns. The February meeting will be held in-person in Kansas City, Missouri.