House Bill 481 has a dangerous, unintended consequence for the thousands of Georgia women who undergo fertility treatment including in vitro fertilization (IVF). In some cases, it is necessary to replace more than one embryo into the patient’s uterus with the hopes that she will become pregnant when one embryo attaches. IVF increases the chance of multiple pregnancy in most cases with rates are much higher than in natural pregnancy.

A procedure known as fetal reduction of pregnancy is recommended at 13 to 16 weeks gestation for some women whose pregnancies involve three or more fetuses. Many IVF patients are already deemed high-risk for pregnancy and the presence of three or more fetuses in the womb is dangerous to her health. HB 481 would render this live-saving procedure as an illegal abortion and the physician who performs this widely-accepted surgery would be charged with a felony, sentenced to prison, pay thousands of dollars in fines, be subject to civil lawsuits and lose their medical license.

Multiple pregnancy has an increased risk for premature birth, birth defects, maternal hypertension, low birth weight and many other complications. Pregnancies with triplets or more fetuses always deliver prematurely — about four to six weeks early for triplets and a dangerous six to eight weeks early for quadruplets. These extremely premature infants are at risk for many complications including long term neurological problems, handicaps and death. The increased illnesses and deaths occur due primarily to premature delivery, unequal blood flow to the developing fetuses, loss of fetal blood supply, premature separation of the placenta and compression of the umbilical cord.

Multiple pregnancies can lead to emotional and financial strain for families and a very expensive, prolonged hospitalization for the mother before birth and for both the mother and the infants upon delivery. In a state that already claims the worst maternal mortality rates in the United States, this bill both increases the likelihood of death and long-term handicaps for newborn babies and their mothers.

HB 481 has unintended consequences that will leave pregnant women who find themselves in this situation left with two choices. First, they will be presented with an expensive option of finding another state where they can get the care they need. They would be required to find a new doctor, a new hospital (which likely will be out-of-network and more expensive), pay for travel costs and recover in a strange environment away from their family members who cannot make the trip. Or second, Georgia women can wait until they are sick enough and their life and the lives of their unborn children are in danger, when this bill would allow them to get the care they need. But their doctor will still be exposed to a prison sentence, huge fines, lawsuits and career-ending sanctions.

The law of unintended consequences will not be repealed with the passage of House Bill 481. The General Assembly should slow down, listen to patients and their doctors and allow those undergoing fertility treatment to continue to receive the best care available. This bill ties the hands of pregnant women who have been trying desperately to have a child of their own while endangering their lives and pregnancies. We can and should do better.

Andrew A. Toledo, M.D. is CEO of Reproductive Biology Associates, where he has treated infertile couples in the Atlanta area for over thirty years.

Note: This column is authored by Andrew A. Toledo, a Georgia OB/GYN with 30 years of experience in Fertility Treatment.