May 17, 2019 03:00 pm News Staff – Aggressive political intrusion into the physician-patient relationship endangers health by criminalizing physicians who perform necessary medical care and jeopardizing patient access to lawful care, the Academy and five fellow physician groups said this week.
"Our organizations are firmly opposed to efforts in state legislatures across the United States that inappropriately interfere with the patient-physician relationship, unnecessarily regulate the evidence-based practice of medicine and, in some cases, even criminalize physicians who deliver safe, legal and necessary medical care," the groups said a May 15 statement.
It was signed by the Group of Six coalition -- the AAFP, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association.
The organizations were responding to legislation signed into law this week in Alabama that would allow abortion only to save the mother's life -- without exceptions for victims of rape or incest -- and imprison physicians who perform an unsanctioned abortion. A similar bill that would ban abortion after eight weeks other than to save the mother's life passed Friday in Missouri, and restrictive laws also were signed this year in Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio.
Alabama's law would also would allow the prosecution of physicians who perform the procedure in unsanctioned circumstances, with prison sentences of up to 99 years.
"Physicians should never face imprisonment or other penalties for providing necessary care," the organizations said. "These laws force physicians to decide between their patients and facing criminal proceedings. Physicians must be able to practice medicine that is informed by their years of medical education, training, experience and the available evidence, freely and without threat of criminal punishment."
Patients, the statement said, rely on their physicians to help them make critical decisions about their futures and families. "The insertion of politics between patients and their physicians undermines the foundation of trust this relationship is built on and inhibits the delivery of safe, timely and comprehensive care," the organizations said. "Outside interference endangers our patients' health by limiting, and sometimes altogether eliminating, access to medically accurate information and to the full range of health care."
In a May 15 tweet, Academy President John Cullen, M.D., of Valdez, Alaska, pledged that the AAFP will defend members against governmental overreach.
"The AAFP, based on policy, stands opposed to legislation that criminalizes the work and efforts of physicians who provide safe, legal and appropriate medical care," he wrote. "As legislation works its way through the courts, we will continue to promote and protect the patient-physician relationship from interfering laws such as the one recently passed in Alabama."
Cullen's stance aligns with recent work by AAFP constituency leaders.
In April, the Academy's 2019 National Conference of Constituency Leaders voted to ask the AAFP to affirm the safety and legality of abortion, support the right of family physicians to provide medication abortions in general family practices and oppose legislation that restricts access to or criminalizes abortion care -- stances that are consistent with the AAFP's policy on reproductive decisions, and reproductive and maternity health services.
The new state laws are expected to draw lawsuits that will eventually put at least one of them before the U.S. Supreme Court. Alabama's governor has said her state's law might be unenforceable prior to its likely years-long journey through legal channels.
The Group of Six statement expressed the broader medical community's eagerness to turn legislators' attention to work that will improve the nation's health.
"We call on policymakers to partner with us to advance policies that protect the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship, expand access to timely, evidence-based health care and eliminate health disparities in our nation," it said.
Related AAFP News Coverage
Proposed Insurance Billing Change 'Dangerous,' Say Groups
New Federal Rule Would Especially Hurt Women, Medical Organizations Warn