Last week, NBC4 talked with Dr. Jason Sayat and this week, we are bringing you another perspective from Dr. Alicia Thompson, both board-certified OB-GYNs with different stances on reproductive rights, the topic of Issue 1 in Tuesday’s election.
Dr. Jason Sayat
Dr. Alicia Thompson
If Issue 1 passes, it would put the right to contraceptive services, infertility management, miscarriage management, and the right to an abortion, to the point of fetal viability, in the state’s constitution.
Currently, Ohio has the Heartbeat Law on the books, which bans abortion at six weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. That law went into effect for less than 80 days when Roe v. Wade was overturned but has since been put on pause by a county judge. Currently, Ohio’s laws are the same as they were under Roe v. Wade, allowing abortion up to 22 weeks.
If Issue 1 does pass, it will likely supersede all abortion laws on the books in Ohio. Both Sayat and Thompson said the stakes are high but for different reasons. Below is a comparison of how they answered the same or similar questions. You can see both full interviews in the video players above.
QUESTION: Broadly talk about the amendment and what it would do.
Dr. Thompson: “The amendment, as it’s written, would expand abortion access from what it was under the Roe status…it’ll do that in a multitude of ways. The first thing that it would do is it would broaden the language using this standard called burden. So, anything that burdens a woman’s access to abortion could then be struck down under this constitutional amendment.”
Dr. Sayat: “The amendment is meant to enshrine reproductive freedom for all Ohioans and that encompasses the whole spectrum of reproductive healthcare. In addition to abortion, that includes contraceptive services, infertile management, miscarriage management, as well as the decision to continue a pregnancy.”
QUESTION: When is fetal viability?
Dr. Thompson: “Around 22 to 23 weeks. When I came to Ohio it was around 24. But as medical developments occur, that’s gotten earlier and earlier. So right now, the earliest is around 22 weeks.”
Dr. Sayat: “Fetal viability is oftentimes a gray area. Typically, in Ohio, it’s been looked at as the 22-to-24-week mark, although that’s never been medically defined. Less than or about 1% of abortions occur after 21 weeks.”
QUESTION: Why is fetal viability a gray area?
Dr. Sayat: “It’s a complex decision-making process that’s multidisciplinary when it comes to physicians involved, services involved, considering not just gestational age of the pregnancy, but the chances that a fetus can survive outside the womb without medical intervention. And that’s a multidisciplinary approach that’s taken not just with the patients and their physicians but the whole host of neonatal services care that is offered in the medical setting.”
QUESTION: What is medically understood as fetal viability has changed; will the way the amendment is interpreted, if it is passed, continue to change based on the way medicine is changing?
Dr. Thompson: “I would love to imagine and live in the world where they are going to use robust medical standards and robust medical language to determine the viability, but quite frankly, that doesn’t happen.”
QUESTION: Should Ohioans worry about the term “fetal viability?”
Dr. Thompson: “Yes, because the exception in the amendment says that it can occur after the point of fetal viability, if it is in the judgment of the woman’s physician to say that the viability isn’t there. So, the viability isn’t a gestational age standard. It is a standard being employed by the physician. And then secondarily, they also say for the ‘health exception of the mother,’ when the average American I think uses the word ‘health,’ we think of embodied health, physical health. Typically, we’re adding on adjectives like social health, emotional health, financial, health, relational health, as a way of modifying that noun, but instead, this term uses the word health in general.”
Dr. Sayat: “Not from our standpoint, this is enshrining what has already been in place in the state of Ohio for the last 50 years. Term abortions are something that never happens, they will never be legal and no provider in Ohio would ever pursue that upon request, given those stances.”
QUESTION: How often do abortions past the point of fetal viability occur?
Dr. Thompson: “The other side likes to say that they’re rare, but it depends on what you would like to consider rare. So, when you look at it nationally, the most recent data is from Guttmacher https://www.guttmacher.org/ and that was in the year 2020. So nationally, there were 930,000 abortions performed in the United States, and about 1.1% of them were after that point. That was lower than typical years; usually, it’s around 1.4% to 1.5% of them are occurring after 20 weeks.”
Dr. Sayat: “Less than or about 1% of abortions occur after 21 weeks. ‘Late-term abortions’ is misconstrued because term abortions, meaning 37 to 40 weeks or above never actually happen medically; it’s delivery of a viable fetus. So, the terminology is oftentimes labeled incorrectly, we use the term ‘later in pregnancy’ versus ‘late-term abortion’ and typically, like we said, less than or 1% of abortions happen after 21 weeks, and it’s usually due to newly found or unforeseen information that carries complications to the mother and/or fetus.”
QUESTION: Talk about the phrase ‘late-term abortion,’ and whether it is used in the medical community.
Dr. Thompson: “I would say the medical community, what our terminology is, versus what we use with our patients can vary…when I’m speaking to patients, I use the general words that are in common vernacular. So, a ‘late-term abortion,’ I think when a person is using this terminology, means something beyond around 12 to 14 weeks, second or third trimester. It doesn’t mean late term as we would use the phrase in medicine, like a ‘term pregnancy’ means in a medical world that any pregnancy that’s beyond 37 weeks of gestational age. That’s not what we’re talking about here; we’re talking about when we use the phrase ‘late-term abortion’ meaning the trimester framework of pregnancy, generally speaking, when we’re talking about second and third-trimester abortions.’
Dr. Sayat: “‘Late-term abortion’ is not a valid term that is used medically, it is misinformation. Late-term abortion is verbiage that’s been used to misconstrue the reality of what we do on a day-to-day basis that’s clinically based. And it uses scare tactics or fearmongering to misinform voters on the actuality of what we do from a patient care standpoint.”