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At the Forefront of Maternal Health Advocacy

December 12, 2022

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion in the United States — through its decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The decision brought abortion bans into effect in nearly half of the country’s 50 states, limiting maternal health options for women across the nation.

In the past year, ASH has been engaging with federal partners and policymakers about maternal health, but recently the Society accelerated its advocacy on the federal and state level in response to the Supreme Court decision. ASH News Daily was fortunate to take part in an in-depth discussion with Dr. Jennifer Holter-Chakrabarty, professor of medicine in the Section of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Oklahoma and chair of the Committee on Government Affairs, on leading ASH’s maternal health advocacy efforts.

Please share an overview of ongoing ASH initiatives in relation to women’s/maternal health?

Dr. Holter-Chakrabarty: Foremost, in late June, ASH issued a press statement in response to the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, in addition to a more extensive ASH policy statement on The Right to Maternal Health Care, which outlines the many blood disorders that put pregnant women at risk of severe, even fatal, health complications.

ASH also signed on to a letter initiated by the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and another developed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).

In response to significant member concerns about hosting the 2022 ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, ASH leaders met with key elected officials in Louisiana to discuss the Society’s concerns regarding Louisiana’s restrictive law and explore ways ASH could most effectively educate officials on the clinical cases in hematology when women may need to access medical information and lifesaving options, including medical abortion.

An important part of our strategy is working with other groups that are also impacted by this decision. ASH staff has met with the AMA, ACOG, Society for Women’s Health Research, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and American Society of Clinical Oncology to discuss opportunities for joint action and ASH member involvement.

How can ASH members get involved with maternal health advocacy efforts?

Dr. Holter-Chakrabarty: The easiest way for ASH members to get involved is to join us in advocacy! To prepare hematologists for advocacy, the Society developed the Advocacy Toolkit, which members can use to tell their local officials to protect access to maternal health care and the physician/patient relationship, along with an advocacy campaign geared toward both federal and state elected officials.

As of August 9, 2022, more than 100 ASH members have taken action by participating in the Society’s advocacy campaign; a total of 673 letters and 71 tweets have been sent to both federal and state legislators.

In addition, two sessions at this year’s annual meeting specifically feature advocacy to address concerns about maternal and reproductive health restrictions, including the ASH Working Group on Maternal Health in Hematology’s Special-Interest Session Maternal Health in Hematology – Current Resources and Future Advocacy (Monday, December 12, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon Central time in Hall E at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center).

What is the strategic plan for 2023?

Dr. Holter-Chakrabarty: Over the next few months, ASH and the Committee on Government Affairs will continue to build a strategy to prepare for the 2023 legislative sessions. This will include engaging with organizations and coalitions working on state-level advocacy, using disease-specific examples to educate policymakers on issues related to maternal and reproductive health restrictions, and supporting efforts at the federal and state levels to preserve and protect the physician-patient relationship, including opposing any legislation that seeks to interfere in this relationship.

We consider the physician-patient relationship to be sacrosanct. It is necessary for a woman to be able to make these decisions without fear of criminal risk. These decisions are hard enough. Furthermore, delays in care that can occur as physicians have to worry about their own criminal risk can make patients even more vulnerable. We must protect these private discussions for women and their physicians.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak regarding these heady issues. Our Government Affairs Committee will continue to actively advocate for our patients and members. Patients come first, always.

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