An Idaho hospital will halt labor and delivery services, citing a physician shortage and the “political climate,” the hospital announced Friday.
“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving. It will be extremely difficult to recruit replacements,” Bonner General Health, based in the city of Sandpoint, said in a press release.
Pregnant women who used Bonner General, a 25-bed hospital, now have to drive to hospitals or birth centers in Coeur d’Alene or Spokane to give birth.
By 2022, doctors will have delivered 265 babies to Bonner General and admitted fewer than 10 pediatric patients, the hospital said.
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, abortion bans have added another challenge to rural hospitals that have struggled to keep their doors open and their facilities fully staffed and running.
Nationally, hospitals are sounding the alarm that states with strict abortion laws risk losing staff or doctors to other regions. According to the Indiana Associated Press, one of the first states to restrict abortion Following the Supreme Court decision, the Indiana Hospital Association said the state is creating “an atmosphere that will be perceived as hostile to physicians.”
Idaho has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. According to the Associated Press, in a summary judgment filed in August 2022 in support of a Justice Department lawsuit against Idaho’s abortion ban, medical groups argued that doctors in Idaho are being forced to choose whether to violate state or federal law .
In a report last September, Pew found that Idaho is one of six states where authorities can prosecute healthcare providers for performing abortions.
“The Idaho legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that would criminalize physicians for medical care that is nationally recognized as the standard of care. Consequences for Idaho physicians who provide the standard of care could include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, which could lead to jail time or fines,” Bonner General said in his news statement.
Requests for further comment from CBS News to the hospital were not answered Saturday.
In addition to the legal and political climate in Idaho, Bonner General also cited “the emotional and difficult decision” to discontinue labor and delivery services due to staff shortages and changing demographics.
Since 2005, at least 190 hospitals nationwide have closed or converted operations, according to figures compiled by the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina.
“We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services,” Ford Elsaesser, chairman of the board of directors of Bonner General Health, said in a statement. “We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are now impossible to overcome.”
Residents of rural areas often have to drive hundreds of miles to access health care. In 2019, Pew Research published a study showing that rural Americans live an average of 10 miles from the nearest hospital, compared to 5 miles for people in suburban areas and 4 miles for people in urban areas.