This morning I had a migraine. I should have known it was coming. I now have complex migraines and was having word-finding difficulty yesterday, which is a harbinger for me. How could I have known that my soul had known before my mind had, that it had known we were about to rip away a standing protection for half of the U.S. population and dress it up as a state’s right 24 hours after taking the right of states to control concealed weapons away because it violated federal law. The circular argument was enough to explain my migraine and my suffocating sense of doom.
As I moved through the wave of emotions that so many of us have today, I kept landing on one unrelenting concept: control. Knowing that this was in no way about life. It was about a fundamental right being pulled away so that other rights allowing anyone other than cis heterosexual white men to succeed could be dismantled. Control. Power. Privilege.
This brought me to the recognition that those of us in medicine have willingly complied with much of this destruction. Giving money and support to organizations that have been silent in the face of ongoing attempts to take our rights away as sovereign individuals. Knowing that to do our job and maintain our credentials, we all but had to “support” or “give” a fee to these organizations despite not agreeing with their politics or their positions as it related to socioeconomic concerns.
Though I am just as guilty as the next person, my thoughts wandered to those who felt medicine was their calling despite their staunch pro-life opinions and morals. I wondered how many of them understood what happens to a woman’s body while pregnant if she has known peripartum cardiomyopathy or unknown severe pulmonary hypertension. Do they know how to take care of that patient? Do they understand how to prevent killing her and her fetus if she was to be in distress? Would they be willing to induce labor to save the mother’s life even if the fetus was not viable? Would they risk that decision now that it is potentially illegal? Or would they willingly sacrifice likely the mother and the child for their self-righteous and now legally binding commitment to being “pro-life?”
I’ve always recoiled and almost smirked when physicians deny the need to be “political” in our job. Nothing about our job is free of legal jargon and legal ramifications. Everything we do is political. We are constrained within our occupation by our license, credentials, and the state in which we live. If there is a law regarding our job, then it, by virtue of touching the judicial system, is political. Politics dictate our civic duty as physicians. These are facts. This means if you are a “pro-life” physician in a red state, you now have the right to figure out how to save a woman’s life when she needs to be rescued from the state you allowed her to be forced into through your pious privileged position.
Never mind how this slope slips ever closer to full control of a person’s body while pregnant. What happens if you “work too much” and go into premature labor? What if you drink too much caffeine or something that is “bad” during pregnancy and you have a miscarriage? Will there be an investigation? Will we be relegated back to a time when being pregnant meant we could no longer hold jobs or work out or do what we wanted as human beings who are the ones growing the fetus inside our bodies? Who gets to decide that? What about all the physicians who are women of childbearing age? Will they be prosecuted for pregnancy complications because they “choose” to have a demanding career?
What we have left at the end of all of these questions is the one glaring concept, control. If a woman cannot procreate on her terms and is potentially questioned or maligned for things that may happen while pregnant, then women have to consider more closely if and when they get pregnant. This means they are forced to choose between work and potential pregnancy. This means we have forfeited control of our lives over to those who are not capable of becoming pregnant. And are dependent on our employer or partner’s permission on how and when we procreate. As if we are owned. As if we are property. As if the uterus we contain is both an assault on our freedom and a ticket to control us by those already in power. Physicians and patients are now pawns in a game so many were willing to play.
Those physicians, specifically women physicians, who thought this was only about a choice were dead wrong. They, too, are now controlled just as much as the next person with a uterus. And their education and privilege will not protect them from the demise of their career or their lives.
Nicole M. King is an anesthesiologist and intensivist.
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