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Idaho has lost 22% of its practicing obstetricians in the last 15 months, report says

Angela Palermo, The Idaho Statesman

More than one in five Idaho obstetricians have stopped practicing in the state since Idaho’s near-total abortion ban took effect in August 2022, according to a new report.

Data compiled by the Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative shows that dozens of obstetricians stopping practicing in Idaho in the last 15 months. Over the same period, only two obstetricians moved to the state to practice.

The number of obstetricians in Idaho decreased from 227 in 2022 to about 176 in 2023, a decline of 51 doctors, the report said.

The Idaho Physician Well-Being Action Collaborative is a group created by local physicians in 2018 to address problems affecting physicians and patients in Idaho communities, its website says. The collaborative is a group within the Idaho Coalition for Safe Healthcare, which issued a news release Monday that said the numbers “should concern every person living in or considering a move to Idaho.”

The report also noted that two hospital obstetrics programs, at West Bonner General Health, a critical access hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, and at Valor Health, the only hospital in Emmett, have closed since Idaho’s trigger law banning abortion took effect. An additional hospital obstetrics program is in “serious jeopardy” of closing, it said.

Further, the vast majority, about 85%, of obstetricians and gynecologists in Idaho practice in the seven most populous counties. And only 22 of 44 counties have access to any practicing obstetricians, the report said.

Obstetrics is the branch of medicine concerned with the care of women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Idaho’s abortion ban was implemented after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the long-established constitutional right to abortion when it overturned Roe v. Wade, the Idaho Statesman reported. Now, doctors in Idaho who provide often necessary medical care for pregnant patients face being charged with a crime punishable by up to two to five years in prison.

The law also put maternal mortality at risk, the report said. Data shows Idaho is at the 10th percentile of maternal mortality outcomes, meaning 90% of the country has better maternal and pregnancy outcomes than Idaho.

“In a time when we should be building our physician workforce to meet the needs of a growing Idaho population and address increasing risks of pregnancy and childbirth, Idaho laws that criminalize the private decisions between doctor and patient have plunged our state into a care crisis that unchecked will affect generations of Idaho families to come,” Dr. Caitlin Gustafson, an OB-GYN and the board president of the Idaho Coalition for Safe Healthcare Foundation, said in the release.

The loss of obstetricians puts more strain on a health system already short of physicians, the release said. It said that the national average of live births a year per obstetrician is 94, the release said. In Idaho, that number is 107.

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