Idaho’s OB-GYN Exodus Throws Women in Rural Towns Into a Care Void

The ultrasound in February that found a mass growing in her uterus and abnormally thick uterine lining brought Jonell Anderson more than anxiety over diagnosis and treatment.

For Anderson and other patients in the rural community of Sandpoint, Idaho who need gynecological care, stress over discovering an illness is compounded by the challenges they face getting to a doctor.

After that initial ultrasound, Anderson’s primary care provider referred her to an OB-GYN nearly an hour’s drive away in Coeur d’Alene for more testing.

Getting care for more serious gynecological issues, like a hysteroscopy, endometriosis, or polycystic ovary syndrome, has become much more difficult in Sandpoint, a town of about 10,000 people in Idaho’s panhandle region. A state law criminalizing abortions drove multiple OB-GYNs to leave town about a year ago.

The effects have been far-reaching. The OB-GYNs who left Sandpoint were also providing care to patients in nearby outlying areas, like Bonners Ferry, a roughly 40-minute drive into Idaho’s northernmost county. Doctors have spoken out about not feeling safe practicing medicine where they could face criminal charges for providing care to their patients. Republican lawmakers in Idaho contend doctors are being used in an effort to roll back the ban, and they declined to amend the law this year.

According to the Idaho Coalition for Safe Healthcare, a group advocating for a rollback of the state’s strict abortion ban, at least two hospitals, including Bonner General Health in Sandpoint, ended labor and delivery services in the 15 months after the state criminalized abortion in 2022. During that same time period, the number of OB-GYNs practicing in Idaho dropped by 22%. The report’s authors noted that many rural residents rely on consultations from medical specialists in urban parts of the state that are already struggling to provide care.

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