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If Wyoming bans abortion, hospitals may have an even harder time recruiting doctors

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the states that has the hardest time recruiting doctors is Wyoming because it's so remote and sparsely populated. Now, hospitals there worry recruiting will get even harder if new laws that criminalize abortion providers pass this year. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska reports.

KAMILA KUDELSKA, BYLINE: Natalie Meadows Eggleton grew up in Wyoming, went to medical school out of state and is now finishing her obstetrics residency in California. She's always wanted to practice in her home state.

NATALIE MEADOWS EGGLETON: Wyoming had been the golden star, you know, that I always had in the future. Like, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to come back to Wyoming.

KUDELSKA: And Wyoming will pay her tuition back, up to about $300,000, if she comes home and practices here for at least three years. But she says a couple of bills now before the state legislature that would criminalize abortion made her reject her home state and take a job in Montana.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SALAZAR: This is a bill that I bring forward because pro-life Wyoming wanted me to.

KUDELSKA: Republican Senator Tim Salazar is sponsoring one, which would ban using certain medications to cause an abortion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SALAZAR: These four drugs can be used any time except in the taking of a human life.

KUDELSKA: Another bill would ban abortion outright. Both would subject doctors who perform them or use drugs to cause them to criminal prosecution. Medical resident Eggleston (ph) says she can't practice in her home state if those bills become law.

MEADOWS EGGLETON: They create a wall where I have to make decisions for my own self-preservation as opposed to decisions that would help my patients with whatever it is that they're needing help with. And again, that presented an unacceptable level of risk and conflict.

KUDELSKA: Wyoming passed an abortion ban last year, but it hasn't gone into effect, pending a court challenge. These bills would introduce new bans.

RACHAEL PIVER: The state is really asking us, like, would you rather play with your license and go to jail, or would you rather, potentially, watch a woman die from this?

KUDELSKA: Rachael Piver is another OB-GYN resident who grew up in Wyoming and wants to return home to work. She's currently finishing her residency out of the state and has taken a job in Georgia because of the hostility to abortion in Wyoming.

PIVER: I have seen horrible things happen to women because of pregnancy, and we're being - effectively have our hands tied behind our back by this kind of legislation.

KUDELSKA: Decisions like Piver's and Eggleston's worry Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association.

ERIC BOLEY: We're going to be competing for a smaller pool of potential doctors to come into our state.

KUDELSKA: Boley says Wyoming already has a health care workforce shortage. There are only 11 OB-GYNs here per 100,000 residents, compared to 27 per 100,000 nationwide. Recruiting doctors is already hard enough, he says.

BOLEY: I think they are going to take a look at the political environment and what's going on within our state when they make the decision on where they want to set up practice.

KUDELSKA: The sponsors of the anti-abortion bills didn't reply to questions about whether their proposals would make recruiting doctors harder. One co-sponsor says she hopes medical students reconsider staying away and that Wyoming has always had a hard time recruiting physicians. Both bills are expected to pass. Republican Governor Mark Gordon opposes abortion, but hasn't said whether he'll sign them.

For NPR News, I'm Kamila Kudelska. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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