The doctor named in the abortion case has nothing to do with the lawsuit

JACKSON, miss. – dr Thomas Dobbs has never engaged in political battles over reproductive health, but his name has become shorthand for a legal case that could end abortion rights in the United States. If he has feelings about the situation, he keeps them pretty much to himself.

Mississippi’s chief health officer is killed in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a dispute over a state law that would prohibit most abortions after the 15th week, but which could be used to perpetuate Roe v. to fall Wade.

A Leaked draft US Supreme Court ruling shows that a conservative majority of judges are poised to use the case to overturn the court’s landmark 1973 ruling that established abortion rights nationwide.

Dobbs, 52, is a physician in charge for the state health department, which regulates Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. As the state’s chief health officer, he is the person to be named in any legal proceeding involving abortion or any other health issue, he explained in a recent Twitter post.


So while the name at the center of the abortion debate could change from “Roe” to “Dobbs,” it’s not the health official, but the attorney general’s office handling the state’s case.

“I was not directly involved in any component of this legal action,” he wrote in the post.

Liz Sharlot, communications director for the state Department of Health, confirmed Dobbs’ strictly nominal role and declined a request from The Associated Press to interview him because, as she said, he “did not personally initiate this case.”

“The only role of the Mississippi Department of Health and Human Services in relation to abortion facilities is to regulate in support of the law, inspecting and approving that facility,” Sharlot wrote in an email.

Dobbs is a former state epidemiologist who became chief of the Department of Health and Human Services in 2018, months after the Republican-controlled Mississippi Legislature passed the Abortion Restriction Act, which is now the focus of the court case.


He has spent his public health career not focusing on abortion but on achieving better outcomes in a state plagued by high infant mortality and other poor health statistics.

The abortion litigation began when Mississippi’s only abortion clinic sued over the 15-week ban. The lawsuit was originally called Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Currier et al. The main defendant was the health officer at the time, Dr. Mary Currier. After she left, a judge removed Currier’s name from the case and replaced it with Dobbs.

A federal district judge blocked the enactment of the law. When the state appealed to the Supreme Court, the case’s name was reversed, Dobbs v. the clinic.

during one Online briefing hosted by the Mississippi State Medical Association In June 2021, Dobbs was asked if his name was included in the abortion case. He quickly noticed that Dr. Kenneth Cleveland was also named in the lawsuit in his capacity as head of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.


“He didn’t make the headlines,” said then-President of the Medical Association, Dr. Mark Horne, good-naturedly approaching Dobbs.

“I’m trying to get him to trade places with me,” Dobbs quipped.

Until now, the name most associated with the abortion debate has been Jane Roe, a pseudonym for a Dallas woman named Norma McCorvey, who was the plaintiff in the famous Roe v. Wade was. Wade was Henry Wade, then Dallas County District Attorney.

In 1969, 22-year-old McCorvey became pregnant for the third time and wanted an abortion. McCorvey and her attorneys eventually won the lawsuit, but not until she gave birth and put the girl up for adoption. She later became an anti-abortion activist. McCorvey was 69 when she died in 2017.

Another name that often comes up in the debate is Robert P. Casey, a former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania who was an anti-abortion advocate. In 1989, he worked with the state legislature to enact legislation that imposed several restrictions on abortion. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania challenged the law. In 1992, the Supreme Court upheld most of the restrictions, but also reaffirmed women’s right to abortion. Casey died in 2000. The case’s name was Planned Parenthood v. Casey.


While Dobbs hasn’t been involved in the abortion debates, he has addressed another contentious public health issue for the past two years: the COVID-19 pandemic. At dozens of press conferences and other public appearances, he has implored people to get vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distancing. He insisted, although many people, including some officials, resisted.

In August, Dobbs said he received threats from people who believed false conspiracy theories about him and his family for promoting the COVID-19 vaccine. Dobbs said one lie is that if Dobbs urges people to get vaccinated, his son, who is also a doctor, will receive a World Bank-funded bribe.

“I get zero dollars promoting vaccines,” Dobbs wrote on Twitter.

Before COVID-19 shots were available, the normally even-tempered Dobbs expressed frustration at people’s insistence on attending social events and after-school activities, including athletic competitions.


“Our prioritization hierarchy is extremely stupid,” Dobbs said in November 2020. “‘We prioritize youth sports, not just over academics. To be honest, we actually prioritize it over community health.”

While in the midst of a stressful battle with the pandemic, Dobbs said he turned to exercise and listening to music — jazz and The Rolling Stones — to take a break from work. He announced in March that he will retire at the end of July.

dr Georges Benjamin is executive director of the American Public Health Association, one of several public health and research groups that have filed a legal brief criticizing Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.

Benjamin said he was unaware of Dobbs’ personal views on abortion and the legal issues surrounding the case, and expressed doubts that Dobbs would voice them publicly.


“Your name may be associated with a legal case if you’re in these jobs,” Benjamin said. “But your name being associated may not align with your own views. You are the civil servant and unfortunately that is what happens when you take these jobs.”

Benjamin said Dobbs did an “incredible” job as Mississippi health officer during the pandemic, including remarkable work addressing issues of injustice. He called him a “trustworthy person who follows scientific principles”.

Benjamin’s hope, he said, is that Dobbs’ reputation “will not be tarnished” by having his name mentioned in the abortion case.


AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe reported from New York.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The doctor named in the abortion case has nothing to do with the lawsuit

Sarah Y. Kim

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