As of 2020, 82 of Georgia’s 159 counties have no OB/GYNs, while another 15 only had one
Georgia faces one of the highest maternal mortality rates — with Black women even more at risk
Washington, D.C. — Georgia’s 6-week abortion ban risks worsening the state’s OB/GYN shortage and making it harder for women to access health care, according to expert Senate testimony today.
In a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff spoke with Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB/GYN in Atlanta, about the maternal health care workforce shortage Georgia faces and how Georgia’s 6-week abortion ban risks making this crisis worse.
Recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows that states like Georgia that have severely limited abortion access have seen a 6.4% drop in OB/GYN residency applications this year.
“I have talked to multiple medical students and residents who say they aren’t going to stay in Georgia because they don’t want to be in an environment where they can’t practice evidence-based medicine and have to worry about whether they are going to be criminally prosecuted, have their license removed and have their livelihood threatened,” Dr. Verma said in her testimony.
As of 2020, 82 of Georgia’s 159 counties have no OB/GYNs, while another 15 only have one. Georgia also faces among the worst maternal mortality rates in the country, with Black women especially at risk — being three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the CDC.
“More than half of Georgia counties have no OB/GYN at all. No OB/GYN in more than half the counties in our state,” Sen. Ossoff said. “This risks worsening our shortage of qualified physicians. A six-week abortion ban in Georgia backed by threats of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for physicians, and we see in the data that these laws are deterring OB/GYNs from pursuing residencies in states with laws like this.”
Please find a transcript of Sen. Ossoff’s line of questioning below.
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all of the witnesses for joining us and sharing your experiences and perspective. It’s been tremendously impactful to hear from you. Mr. Chairman, I do want to note and acknowledge that we have a Georgia physician with us and, Dr. Verma, thank you for your work providing health care for Georgia women at a time when the provision of health care for Georgia women is under attack by elected officials in Georgia.
“As you noted in your opening remarks, where one of the most extreme laws in the country has been enacted, a six-week ban on abortion, which takes effect before many women even know that they are pregnant in the midst of a maternal health crisis in our state. Mr. Chairman, I don’t know if you’ve heard these statistics, but more than half of Georgia counties have no OB/GYN at all. No OB/GYN in more than half of the counties in our state.
“We have one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the United States. Even worse, much worse, for Black women in Georgia and a shortage of qualified providers of OB/GYN care, and so Dr. Verma, what I want to discuss with you as we consider the impact on human health of Georgia’s extreme six-week abortion ban, is how this risks worsening our shortage of qualified physicians.
“I’m looking at data here from the Association of American Medical Colleges that new OB/GYNs are much less likely to apply into residency programs with extreme abortion bans like the six-week ban in Georgia. And I think we all recognize this but, Dr. Verma, these physicians provide the full spectrum of perinatal care. So, what does the state’s OB/GYN shortage mean for Georgia women, please Dr. Verma, based upon your professional experience?”
DR. NISHA VERMA: “Thank you, Senator Ossoff. And thank you for everything that you do for health care providers and patients in Georgia. So, I am very concerned that the law in Georgia, our six-week ban is going to make the health care shortage worse and affect providers wanting to go into OB/GYN and provide in Georgia.
“I have talked to multiple medical students and residents who say they aren’t going to stay in Georgia because they don’t want to be in an environment where they can’t practice evidence-based medicine and have to worry about whether they are going to be criminally prosecuted, have their license removed, have their livelihood threatened.
“The same procedures that we use for abortion care are also used for miscarriage management. The same medications, the same procedures. And so, I’ve talked to trainees who worry that if they stay in Georgia, they won’t get the training that they need to take care of someone who comes in at 14 weeks bleeding heavily, that they won’t be able to provide them with the emergency care that they need.
“We know based on survey data that 90% of OB/GYNs have said that they’ve had a patient in the last year that needed abortion care, and the vast majority have gotten that patient connected with the care that they need, even if they personally feel conflicted with abortion, even if they don’t provide the care themselves. So, this is something that OB/GYNs support. They want patients to get the care that they need and they’re worried that they won’t be able to practice evidence-based medicine in Georgia and are leaving.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “So, just to be clear because I think it’s vitally important that Georgians understand this, and that the Senate understand this: A six-week abortion ban in Georgia backed by threats of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for physicians, and we see in the data that these laws are deterring OB/GYNs from pursuing residencies in states with laws like this.”
DR. NISHA VERMA: “Absolutely. And you’re absolutely right that that then affects, not just again, like I’m an OB/GYN that does abortion care, but I also deliver babies. I do GYN surgery, I do cancer screenings, I do full spectrum OB/GYN as many OB/GYNs do. So, this is not just going to affect access to abortion care, it’s going to affect access to all care, all reproductive health care in our state.
“I practice in Atlanta, where we’ve already experienced the closure of a major medical system that’s having devastating effects on access to care in our city. You’re absolutely right that half of counties in Georgia have no OB/GYN. I expect this is just going to get worse.”
SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Dr Verma. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”