Rheumatology Network interviewed Bonnie L Bermas, MD, to discuss the ways in which the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, a ruling that had guaranteed the right to abortion in the United States since 1973, will change the way rheumatologists are able to care for their patients. She emphasizes the negative effects this legislation will have on marginalized populations, explains how the ruling will impact pregnancy in patients with rheumatic disease, and what rheumatologists need to know moving forward. Bermas, Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at UTSouthwestern Medical Center, co-authored the article “Overturning Roe v. Wade: Toppling the Practice of Rheumatology,” published in Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Rheumatology Network: What was the motivation for you and your team to want to address the recent decision to overturn Roe v Wade?
Bonnie L Bermas, MD: We as rheumatologists, and in particular this collection of rheumatologists, amongst many other rheumatologists, have an interest in reproductive issues in our rheumatic disease patients. We think about this a lot because we care for a lot of patients who are in their reproductive health years. This ruling has tremendous impact on our patients. Our motivation was the impact it has in our patients.
RN: Overturning Roe v Wade will obviously affect patients with a constellation of rheumatic diseases. However, it might disproportionately affect women with lupus, who are often diagnosed in their reproductive years. What are your thoughts on how this decision might impact this particular patient population and pregnancy in general?
BB: We know that lupus pregnancies are high risk pregnancies, and they have a higher incidence of adverse pregnancy outcomes both amongst the mothers and the developing fetus and infant. One of the crucial things in controlling those or preventing adverse pregnancy outcomes, which can be progression of disease or an adverse pregnancy outcome in the fetus, is that the disease really needs to be under good control. And, as you know, no contraception is perfect. Inadvertent pregnancies do occur, or people will get pregnant when their disease is active. And that can be really detrimental and dangerous. The maternal mortality rate for lupus patients is during pregnancy is significantly higher than in general population.
Our patients are frequently treated with medications that can cause birth defects. And so that is another issue in terms of this rule. Also, lupus disproportionately impacts minoritized patient populations. Those patient populations, unfortunately, often live in the states that have the most restrictive abortion laws, and some of these patients may not have the resources to travel out of state if they need to have a pregnancy termination.
RN: What are some of the potential outcomes of this legislation on the practice of rheumatology in terms of prescribing medications and treating patients?
BB: That's a really important point. The first thing is that we try to encourage rheumatologists to tell their patients up front about the risks of unplanned pregnancies and emphasize the importance of contraception in women who are sexually active. We need to make sure that we're discussing this a lot with our patients.
The second thing is there are going to be providers who are possibly reticent to prescribe teratogenic medications to their patients. The 2 most common medicines that would fall under that category would be methotrexate and Mycophenolate Mofetil. Methotrexate is the first drug of choice for the treatment of inflammatory arthritis issues such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Mycophenolate Mofetil is one of our key medications in treating lupus and lupus kidney disease. You can imagine that there will be some hesitancy in prescribing these medications. Potentially, we're talking about rheumatologists not prescribing the best medication for their patients.
RN: What do rheumatologists need to know moving forward?
BB: They need to know that pregnancy across all rheumatic diseases does best when pregnancies are planned. So that means really ramping up our understanding of what the most effective contraceptive methods are. And it is also about asking if patients are sexually active, if they're planning to get pregnant, and referring them appropriately for contraception if they're not already on contraception. Providers also need to understand which medications are teratogenic.
RN: Is there anything else that you would like to add before we wrap up?
BB: What really motivated us to write this is that this ruling is not good for patient care and it's not good for our patients. Like the vast majority of providers, we care about our patients and their wellbeing. So, it's pretty devastating to feel that there's been a politicized ruling that is going to negatively impact our ability to provide our patients with the best care.