Total Abortion Bans are a Nightmare and We Need to Wake Up

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With the recent passage of Alabama’s total abortion ban – a new law that from the moment of fertilization relegates a pregnant person into a secondary concern behind that of a developing zygote – many people across the United States feel like they have woken up to a fantasy world. It’s not hard to understand, why, either. For decades now abortion opponents have subtly, restriction by restriction, stripped away at a person’s right to decide when they want to give birth, often claiming they are doing it as a “favor” to the person who doesn’t want to be pregnant, protecting them from fictitious medical or emotional damage that they insist could result from abortion.

But sadly this isn’t a fantasy – it’s a reality. Given unlimited power in dozens of  states and in the White House, anti-abortion activists have stopped playing pretend when it comes to ending reproductive rights. They want it to happen immediately and totally, and they don’t care who knows it, or how contemptuous their actions are to those who are able to get pregnant.

The truth is that when it comes to healthcare issues in general and pregnancy, fetal development and childbirth, it is the anti-abortion movement that is living in a fantasy world.  They are proposing medical procedures – like “re-implanting an ectopic pregnancy” – that have never, ever existed. They claim abortion is never medically necessary despite the fact that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG] the leading healthcare organization for those who care for pregnant people, states clearly that, “Abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Sadly, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event.” They are anti science, anti advancement and anti research and despite these facts are being allowed to create legislation that undermines a patient’s care.

And unfortunately, it is the mainstream medical profession that is allowing this movement to promote this pretend world where every fertilized egg is a tiny but perfectly formed replication of a glowing, chubby newborn, and that pregnancy is just a short, minor inconvenience that has no lasting physical effects, much less threatens a person’s life. So-called “pro-life” doctors willfully spread misinformation to confuse patients and undermine our work. Ambivalent medical professionals in my state of Arizona including maternal fetal medicine physicians ostracize those of us who openly perform elective abortions, abandoning us until they have their own patients who need care, then quietly refer them over because they aren’t trained to do the procedures themselves. Doctors in  my community continue to abandon abortion providers, allowing us to be vilified and demonized, then are shocked to see the passage of full abortion bans with no exceptions – even for looming health issues – bans that mean they, too, could be criminally penalized if they put their pregnant patients’ health needs ahead of the developing life of an embryo.

Pregnant people are more than wombs and incubators, yet these new bans showcase the right’s endgame of dehumanizing those who can give birth in favor of the possible birth of any implanted blastocyst. Physicians themselves who proclaim to be maternal fetal medicine advocates and specialists are actually only fetal doctors. Women with extremely abnormal pregnancies, fetuses with poor prognosis or their own health issues, are left own their own to get the medical care they need. The future is clearly about forced birth regardless of the health or mental well-being of the person who serves as the true patient – and not just abortion providers but all medical professionals will be expected to fall in line.

That future is a true nightmare, and if we don’t wake up and stop it now, we may never get a chance to again.

No, We Aren’t ‘Murderers’ – We Are Your Doctors

The far right is now on its second month of claiming that unless new laws are put into place, abortion providers will willfully and eagerly murder newborn infants while the patient silently and complicitly watches. The utter mistrust and suspicion that anti-choice politicians have towards medical professionals who offer legal abortion care (and, frankly, to the people who seek it out) is no longer shocking. What is surprising, however, is how much the public is falling for this mistaken concept that the doctor providing abortions is somehow a completely different entity from the doctor checking your paps, inserting your IUDs and yes, even delivering your baby into the world.

One of the hardest parts of being an abortion provider is the isolation in our medical profession that is  thrust upon us by anti-choice factions. They’ve forced medical schools to outsource full-scale Ob/Gyn care that includes learning miscarriage management and abortions at all levels of gestation. They’ve made medical students opt in, rather than opt out, of learning these completely legal and necessary medical procedures, and travel off campus and further if they want to get enough training to be proficient. And they’ve removed elective abortions from hospitals and private family medical clinics and corralled them into abortion clinics and reproductive health clinics alone, as if they were an infectious disease that must be contained.

Providing an abortion is just one part of what an Ob/Gyn, or even many family doctors can and should be able to do, and an important part of the medical services spectrum that allows one doctor to see a patient through every level of that person’s medical needs at any given point in their life. Yet the right has siloed abortion into one “shameful” medical concept and annexed it from the full continuum of care, as if there are “abortion doctors” and “real doctors” rather than them being one and the same.

That same doctor that gives one pregnant person an ultrasound to see if she is early enough to use medication abortion for a termination is likely to be found a day later with another patient checking her dilation to see if she’s  in labor. Yet the right is adamant that the first one is a monster, and the second a trusted part of the medical team, despite the fact that each is the same person in a different setting.

No, we aren’t committing infanticide, or murder, or doing harm. We took oaths to protect our patients, and there are already laws to be certain that we uphold them. We are all  physicians and we are all governed by the same boards and bodies,  yet anti-choice activists have convinced you that we are different simply because of the clinic in which we provide our care.

Of course there are bad abortion providers out there, that is inescapable. There are also bad cardiologists, bad oncologists, bad surgeons and more. Yet in those specialties a rogue doctor is treated as an anomaly, and isn’t seen as tarnishing an entire profession. Yet because an abortion doctor’s specialty is relieving a patient of a pregnancy they do not want to continue, every rare instance of poor care or doctor violation is seen as the rule, not the exception.

Abortion providers, like all doctors, do what they need to do to best meet the needs of their patients. Just as you would trust a doctor to provide the best end of life care that a patient and their family requests, you can trust us as well to put the needs of the pregnant patient first and do what they want and is necessary as they deal with an unwanted pregnancy, or a pregnancy that is medically compromised.

As a doctor, I am no more likely to harm or dispose of a viable, full term fetus than any other doctor would be to murder an elderly patient simply because they are bedridden or too frail to walk. But just as most doctors will honor end of life decisions and work with a family to offer hospice when there is no hope for recovery, I too work with my own patients to make the best medical decisions for themselves and their families, too.

No one is murdering Grandma, and no one is committing infanticide, despite what anti-choice activists say. But those same activists who want to end abortion – not just later abortion, but all abortion at any point and for any reason – want to also take away your right to make end of life decisions, too. Today they are arguing to force resuscitation on fetuses on the very edge of viability against the wishes of a parent. Tomorrow, they will be focused on keeping bodies with no brain activity on life support against the wishes of the family, too. We already saw this in Texas when the state kept a brain-dead pregnant woman on life support to try to get her fetus to viability, despite her family asking them to stop. When you are legislating “life” as “conception to natural death” a family’s wishes could easily be against the law.

I am not a murder, or a monster. I am a doctor. I once delivered your babies and still do your paps, IUD’s, physical exams and STI checks, and yes, I terminate pregnancies, too. Trust me to do my  job and look out for your medical best interests at every point in your life.

After all, I trust you to make the best decisions for yourself, too.

A Week in Review: SOTU, Stacey Abrams and Reproductive Justice

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A guest post by Dr. Savita Ginde

We are in an era where stories, both fake and true, are coming out every day and presented with such confidence that it is difficult to separate truth from fact. Even when it feels as if reproductive health is under attack from every direction, we continue to witness some shining moments, like Stacey Abrams’ State of the Union rebuttal and the stay granted by the U.S. Supreme Court. But before we can celebrate these feats, it is necessary to understand why they were needed in the first place.

Last week, on Tuesday night, President Trump spoke to the country during his State of the Union. Most of his talking points were benign, even heartening at times, as he addressed our need for unity and a plan to rid the U.S. of HIV. However, during his speech, right after proposing a much-needed national paid family leave plan, he transitioned into an attack on a recently passed New York law and a similar Virginia bill that would remove some restrictions on second and third-term abortions, claiming that these pieces of legislation would “allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” Misstatements made by Virginia delegate Tran and Virginia’s Governor fueled this rhetoric even further, and facts have now been misconstrued rather than corrected. True Supporters of reproductive rights and justice do not promote or support infanticide. Period. 

To say that “a baby [is] ripped from the mother’s womb” is an utter misrepresentation that evokes negative emotions and shuts down true dialogue. This statement was quite frankly a disservice to the American people. After providing his statements and opinion about these laws, President Trump turned and made a very deliberate nod to VP Mike Pence. I interpreted this nod as President Trump showing his support of the deep religious convictions of Mr. Pence. I respect Mr. Pence’s belief; but not everyone has the same beliefs. I don’t want his religious beliefs placed on me, nor are his beliefs reflective of what population health data shows. We have bypassed our common ground of compassion and respect for each other and have devolved into using dehumanizing rhetoric.

In reality, the laws that Trump was referring to intend to protect patients’ health and remove the unnecessary barriers surrounding abortion care. Second and third-term abortions, such as the ones in question, rarely happen. Pregnancies terminated after 24 weeks are few and far between and occur when a mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is not viable. 

After the SOTU, Georgia’s Stacey Abrams gave a response centered around reproductive justice.  

Far too often, people are led to believe that “reproductive rights” are synonymous with “reproductive justice.” This is not the case. Whereas reproductive rights are centered around advocating on behalf of abortion rights, the reproductive justice framework uses an intersectional lens to dive much deeper into the topic, and includes access to both safe abortion, accurate sexual education, and reliable contraception as some of its foundational components. 

When Stacey Abrams mentioned reproductive justice, it became a reminder that we need to approach the quest for bodily autonomy by looking at the social, political, and economic inequalities that create barriers to accessing safe abortion, sexual education, and reliable contraception. It was also a call to action to support the individuals and groups that are already doing this work. If the highs and lows of last week indicate anything, it is how much we need to better understand, engage in and support the reproductive justice movement. 

The Real “Monsters” in the Debate Over Third Trimester Abortions are Those Opposing Them

Torres profile picA Guest Post by Dr. Leah Torres

It is every pregnant person’s nightmare: months into a very wanted pregnancy, a doctor comes in and says, “There is something we need to discuss.”

“Is there something wrong?” they think. “Is my baby ok? What is it?! For the love of all that is holy tell me!”

And the news comes: the baby will not survive after being born.

Not one person shouting about how vile and evil the new proposed third trimester abortion laws are has clearly ever taken care of a patient in need of that procedure. These patients are faced with one of the most tragic and heart-wrenching decisions of their lives, one where their entire future has changed in a moment’s notice. No matter what these “experts” say – and remember these are mostly anti-choice activists who have never in their lives attended medical school – the patients needing them are not monsters. No, the monsters are those who are opposed to pregnant people doing what is best for themselves and for their families.

Of course, this is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. What those of us who provide present-day, evidence-based abortion care can tell you is that the patient who comes in perfectly healthy and with a healthy fetus doesn’t ask for an abortion after viability. If they do, it is because they did not know how far along they were. When that does happen, and a patient learns they are too late to obtain a legal abortion, the doctor tells the patient an abortion cannot be done and discusses prenatal care and after-delivery plan. They do not whimsically approve the termination anyway, regardless of what the “pro-life” talking heads argue, both because they know the law and because their medical ethics are at stake.

I have had patients like this. It’s a hard reality to tell them that they cannot have an abortion because they are too far along, even though they believed they were earlier in their pregnancy and that termination was still an option. I cared for just such a patient after doing her ultrasound for her termination appointment, informing my shocked patient that she was actually 30 weeks pregnant and could not have an abortion. And once she learned that abortion wasn’t an option anymore, she kept seeing me for prenatal care, and I delivered her healthy baby. She and her partner were so grateful that they came to me again for prenatal care during her next pregnancy, even though I was a two-hour drive away. I delivered that second child, too.

But a patient with a non-viable pregnancy is an entirely different situation. Imagine if instead her ultrasound at 30 weeks showed a fetus with a condition called “anencephaly.” This condition means the fetus has an underdeveloped brain and an incomplete skull, and is not compatible with life. The fetus can continue to grow in utero, but once born, the neonate will survive only hours, perhaps a day or two. There is no brain to regulate breathing or other physiologic functions like heart rate, electrolyte metabolism, vital functions that are crucial when transitioning from uterine life to extra-uterine life.

Now that same patient is faced with a choice: continue to feel her baby move and grow inside her, knowing there will never be a first day of school, a moving-to-college day, a walking-down-the-aisle day, and give birth knowing she and her partner will watch it gasp and have tubes inserted in all sorts of places as it slowly loses its life, or have an abortion that would require stopping the fetus’ heart and delivering a still born baby. Does that sound like something anyone wants to face? Does that sound like a decision that the government should interfere with and make cookie cutter laws to apply to?

This scenario doesn’t even take into account how sick the pregnant person can get, and how termination may be needed to save their life, but that happens, too. There are so many ways that pregnancy can cause harm – even permanent, life threatening harm – to the person carrying to term. How can I as a medical professional justify putting a pregnant person’s life at risk for a fetus that will never be able to live?

So, no, the monsters are not the physicians who provide multi-disciplinary expert care in these rare cases, nor are they the patients who are faced with this decision and choose what they feel is the most humane and appropriate option for themselves and their families. The monsters are those who would interfere with this decision-making process, shaming them for not doing what a talking head who wants to earn votes from the masses would do. The monsters are those who make mothers feel bad for doing what’s best for their children. The monsters need to step down and allow health care providers to do what they do best: provide evidence-based, compassionate health care.

First – New York, Next – Every State

img_7576Just last week the Governor of New York signed the Reproductive Health Act into law. That bill modernized the state’s archaic abortion laws, bringing them into sync with what most Americans believe – that abortion is a private medical decision involving complex personal, economic and health factors. Ultimately, it is a choice that should be left solely up to the person who is pregnant.

Like all medical procedures, abortion should not be subject to criminal penalties and no person should ever find herself worried about the legality of caring for their health. No woman should end up behind bars for making a decision that saves her life.

Of course, abortion opponents instantly began wringing their hands over the idea of ‘abortion until the moment of birth’. This is simply ignorance, for the law does no more than codify the legal guidelines of Roe v. Wade – that abortion is legal until the point in which a fetus reaches viability, and legal afterward only in cases where the physical or mental health of the mother is put in jeopardy. These conservatives bemoan the fact that abortion has been removed from the state’s criminal code, undermining one of their favorite talking points that they don’t believe any woman should be punished or jailed for seeking an abortion.

It’s not surprising that the right is misleading their followers on how these laws protect a woman’s choice. Think about that! They will do anything to win – and they stand unabashed in light of such manipulation of the masses. And it doesn’t stop there. They’ve attacked state politicians and the governor of New York himself for supporting this effort to keep women free to have a personal choice even if Roe is overturned.

As an abortion provider for more than 24 years, I can tell you that there are no patients seeking abortions at 37 weeks in order to fit into a prom dress, as they so gleefully insist is true. Late-term abortions are not performed because a patient suddenly decided a month or two from birth that they have changed their minds and suddenly want the baby to disappear. These are patients who have learned far too late that they are carrying children with terminal complications. They are about to make the hardest decision EVER, to have the grace and privilege of reducing their baby’s suffering. They are the patients whose own physical health is in jeopardy and for whom a conventional delivery or c-section could potentially kill them.

And yes, it is also those patients who struggle for months and months so traumatized by the pregnancy that they ignored the symptoms in the hopes that it would simply go away. Those who may have been abused – physically, sexually or emotionally – and never had the ability to end their pregnancy earlier. Or those who innately grasp their inability to remain pregnant; addicts who are incapable of the enormity of proper parenting.

While a vast number of later abortions are of wanted pregnancies, or involve medical complications of some sort, we cannot ignore those forced to wait far too long because of an abusive partners or a medical system that fails to meet the needs of the most marginalized. Lastly, we must understand the unjustness of poverty and an unsupportive conservative public agenda which forces abortion out of their hands.

I care for women every week who are late in their second trimester and facing this difficult decision. They travel from restrictive states to see me, and should they decide that they do in fact need a late abortion they are forced to travel on to yet another state because I can’t offer them the very care that New York can now provide. It is care that in reality every state should allow and every physician should support. It is comfort that I myself wish I would be allowed to provide in my conservative state.

Removing abortion care from the criminal code is what’s needed nationally in every state. No other medical procedure is criminalized. Abortion is healthcare at every stage in a pregnancy. Let that sink in. It is essential that we always put the medical and emotional needs of the pregnant patient first. Who are WE to judge the struggles of these patients? These women NEED our voice!

It’s doctors – not the FDA – standing between miscarrying mothers and medical best practices

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Like so many people who encountered the recent NPR piece on mothers suffering through miscarriage, my heart broke for the patients forced through the agony of waiting after using a less effective drug to end the pregnancy when there was a far quicker and more successful option available. However, that sorrow was overshadowed by the furious anger I felt for the doctors managing their care – because it is them, not the FDA – who are standing in the way of patients getting the mifepristone that would end their suffering faster.

As NPR reported, mifepristone is highly regulated, meaning a doctor does need to go through additional protocols in order to have it stocked in their office. But the actual requirements aren’t onerous at all, especially not for an OB-Gyn or other doctor doing pregnancy related or reproductive healthcare. All that is needed is for the provider to have a medical license, as well as the medical knowledge and ability to refer a miscarrying patient for a D&C should the medication fail.

Not even perform a D&C. Just refer.

Just like having Rhogam shots in the office to provide for a patient who is RH negative, or methotrexate if a patient has an ectopic pregnancy, mifepristone could easily be stocked in offices to have a supply on hand. The cost of mifepristone is the same as a Rhogam shot- nothing exorbitant! Unlike these other medications, though, mifepristone carries the stigma of being thought of as an “abortion drug,” and the added issue of drawing the attention of rabid anti-abortion activists who would rather watch women suffer and put their health in jeopardy through a drawn out miscarriage than risk the possibility that even one unwanted pregnancy might be ended with secretly in the process.

There is absolutely no reason for a hospital or doctor not to be stocking mifepristone other than complacency and cowardice in our profession. Mifepristone has been used to accelerate the process of pregnancy loss in non-viable pregnancies for two decades, with repeated studies showing that the process is both safer and more efficient. Yet every month I see patients coming in to have D&Cs after weeks of undergoing multiple rounds of misoprostol-only miscarriage management from doctors who simply don’t understand how the process works, or care enough about the physical and emotional well being of a patient who is suffering a drawn out loss of a wanted pregnancy. Patients who after waiting for a failing pregnancy to end eventually end up in a hospital surgical center with huge deductibles due for a D&C when she could have already been done and potentially trying once more to get pregnant again.

Make no mistake about it – doctors, led by abortion opponents, are letting miscarrying mothers suffer in order to punish abortion patients.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Doctors, whose first responsibility is to help their patients and provide the best care possible, could easily stock mifepristone and help any current and future mother undergoing a miscarriage – but only if they are brave enough to break the stigma around this safe, legal, efficient medication regime and stock it in their practices all across the nation. Instead, they’ve refused and tried to pin the blame on the FDA and NPR let them pass the buck.

The question is, are you going to let them pass the buck, too?

Arizona Reporting Rules: Ending Abortion Through a Thousand Paper Cuts

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For the last decade the right has chipped away at abortion access by making it more expensive, closing clinics, increasing waiting periods and decreasing gestational limits. But for 2019 Arizona abortion opponents are literally enacting a “death by a thousand paper cuts” agenda against legal abortion through their new paperwork and reporting requirements for doctors performing abortions. None of them are medically necessary, not a single question will provide any benefit to public health, and each one will dramatically raise the amount of resources a clinic uses per patient.

What these rules will do, on the other hand, is systematically aid anti-abortion activists in their quest to harass their way to the end of accessible legal abortion.

The Arizona legislature has instituted a full range of new reporting requirements that are only applicable to those who perform abortions, all of which just went into effect.. The state wants to see any complication from an abortion no matter how insignificant that issue may be, even including each instance where a medication abortion does not completely terminate the pregnancy (ironic, since under other circumstances they consider this not only not an abortion complication, but a potential “reversed abortion” and a win for their side). Since abortion – early abortion in particular – has so few medical incidents, their goal is to try to amplify any small complication to booster their vendetta of proving abortion is actually “dangerous” despite its longstanding history of safety, especially compared to all other medical procedures. Could you imagine if the state required reporting on each incidence of induced labor or every time an episiotomy is used during a vaginal delivery? Live births are frequently one medical intervention after another, and OB/Gyns would protest en mass if similar reporting requirements were demanded, knowing they had no bearing on public safety and would cripple them with extra burden.

These reports will slow us down, hurting providers financially as we are forced to hire people to deal with the onslaught of new forms and questions. But they will hurt other medical professionals just as much. The requirement that we list those doctors who refer patients to us has no sound medical reasoning behind it. Instead, it is obviously meant to create a catalog of those who are open to the idea of helping their patients access care when they choose to end their pregnancies, a listing of doctors and other caregivers who could be harassed if their names every were accidentally or intentionally made public. The new rule that we must cite the specialty of each medical provider on staff is clearly meant to offer ammunition for future TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws, like ridiculous demands that only board certified OBs be allowed to dispense abortion pills.

And of course these rules will also hurt patients. While we can all cheer for the small victory that abortion providers will no longer be mandated to report a crime to the police anytime a patient asks for an abortion and says she was impregnated due to sexual assault, that does little to address the root issue of asking any pregnant person why they want to end the pregnancy. There is no more or less valid reason for seeking an abortion – the only answer that matters is that the patient, for whatever reason, does not wish to remain pregnant or give birth. To force that person to explain their reasoning is an attempt to undermine the professional relationship between doctor and patient, and adds no value to the medical process or to public health.

The new law reporting requirements – which were crafted in part by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, not even the Health Department – have clearly been created simply to harass patients and clinics. Do men get questioned by the state about why they want ANY medical care? Or women for any procedures other than an abortion?

If Obstetricians had to ask every pregnant patient why they wanted to have a baby, or every patient seeking contraception why they wanted birth control, and had to figure out a way to gather this information, record it, then enter the mass of data on the health dept website, or even hire staff to do this – heads would roll. Imagine any doctor or office tolerating this invasion into personal decision making? It would never stand.

Despite reports that show the number of abortions is decreasing across the country, in clinics like my own we are seeing an opposite trend. Regardless of continuing abortion restrictions across the state the number of people seeking out our services continues to grow, with as many as 20 percent more people coming to us in 2018 than in the year before. It is not unheard of to have as many as 25 unscheduled walk-ins arrive on a given day, wanting to complete the first day of their 24 hour mandatory wait prior to a termination. We are already overextended as we try to meet this growing need for our services. And now the state wants to double our paperwork over each and every patient, overburdening our resources not out of medical necessity but for political gains.

The Arizona legislature is quite literally trying to end abortion access though one thousand paper cuts, and while it may not have the media glamor of a full abortion ban or mass clinic closures, it very well may be the one attack that succeeds.