Risk thresholds to offer “life-saving” abortion care: A cross sectional survey of maternal-fetal medicine trainees
Awarded 2023
Emerging Scholars in Family Planning
Alexandra Phelps, MD
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

A native Wisconsinite, Alexandra Phelps attended college and medical school at the University of Wisconsin. In between, she volunteered with Americorps at a community health center in Boston, where her experiences motivated her application to the “Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health” program in medical school. There, she practiced advocacy, building community partnerships, and using her profession to promote health justice. Reproductive health provides exceptional opportunities to use those skills, so she pursued residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Lutheran General Hospital in the Chicago area. During this training, she identified a passion for high-risk pregnancy and chose to subspecialize in maternal-fetal medicine. Days after the fall of Roe, fellowship training brought me to Nashville, Tennessee where she witnessed the profound impact of limited abortion access. Her project seeks to understand how a burgeoning trend in justifying abortion bans by including provisions for “life endangerment” may influence medical practice. We will create hypothetical scenarios corresponding to varying degrees of risk based on a clinically validated instrument, and ask high-risk obstetricians to determine if “life-saving” abortion care would be permissible in each case. We hypothesize that there will be inconsistency, as well as differences by state, in the risk threshold at which abortion would be considered permissible. We hope that this work will illustrate, more objectively, that implementation of these exceptions may lead to delays in care and put physicians in legal jeopardy due to lack of a clearly defined framework for making determinations about what qualifies as “life endangerment.”