Why abortion care is women’s health care

On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade established a woman’s fundamental right to abortion nationwide. Roe v. Wade should not be overruled because women having universal access to abortion services means women have the right to choose what is best for their health care. This is how health care should be in that if there is a viable medical option for the patient to pursue, the patient should have the right to say “yes” or “no” to this option. No medical option should ever be criminalized. Abortion, perhaps the most controversial topic in today’s political climate, is not an exception to this sentiment. Regardless of whether any person you talk to believes abortion is a good or bad thing, there are hundreds of thousands of women every year who exercise their right to have an abortion. As a future internist, I deeply care about this issue because my patients, whether in the hospital or an outpatient setting, need to have an abortion as a preference because abortion is reproductive health care, and reproductive health care is health care.

To begin with, there are numerous reasons for women to choose to have abortions. When I was on my obstetrics and gynecology clinical rotation, I remember seeing over thirty patients who each either had an abortion or were considering it. For every patient, medical students were trained to ask women who had abortions done previously the reasons for choosing so (only if they were open to sharing). At first, I was extremely uncomfortable with broaching the subject because I felt it was an invasion of privacy. However, I quickly understood that the purpose of students inquiring about abortion was to understand the underlying motivations. Here, I will share (all PHI removed) some of the experiences I had with my patients.

Karla, a 22-year-old Hispanic woman, told me that she had an abortion done because she didn’t want to be a single parent. When her parents were not in the room, she told my attending physician and me that she wouldn’t have her family’s support in caring for the child if she was to go through with her pregnancy. She told me, “Even now, I feel that I can support my baby as any parent would. I’m strong-willed, and to even think of getting an abortion was like me calling it quits. It took me a long time to come to terms that having an abortion was the best option for myself.”

Jesse, a 33-year-old Caucasian woman, cited juggling school and working two jobs as to why she had an abortion a year ago. At the time, she had two kids of her own and told me that it was already a struggle for her physically and mentally to provide for her sons. I still remember the words that she told me, “I want to focus on the two kids that I have right now. This pregnancy neither my husband nor I had planned for, and if I went through with it, I wouldn’t be the best mom I can be to John and Adam. It would be a disservice to them both.”

When I was in the ER, I saw a young woman who came in for intense abdominal pain. When I saw her in the hospital bed, I noticed bruising of her arms, and her eyes were sunken. With the curtains drawn around us for privacy, I asked her if she was here alone. She told me that she was and that she may be pregnant because of the stomach pain, morning sickness, and headaches. I will never forget what she told me, “I was raped two months ago when I came home to my apartment from the club. I never told anyone, not even the police, because I thought that he would come after me if he found out. It was an abusive relationship, and it wasn’t the first time he sexually assaulted me. I came here because I need help, or I may commit suicide and die.”

On the last day of my rotation, an 18-year-old woman confided in me that she had an abortion recently done at the encouragement of her parents. I found this hard to believe, but when we talked, she told me that she was not mature enough to take on the responsibility for caring for a child. It was an unplanned pregnancy, and she wanted to gain more life experiences before taking the step of becoming a parent. She told me, “I once thought about putting my child up for adoption if I went through with the pregnancy, but then I remembered the stories my best friend would tell me of her time as a foster kid. She was depressed for years and suffered from anxiety. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that a child that was once my own could suffer that faith.”

For all the patients I mentioned above, what if Roe v. Wade was not a 7-2 decision? What if abortion is illegal today? Would women’s health be affected? In my honest opinion, it would absolutely be affected. The decision to have an abortion stems from family circumstances, personal beliefs, education, and career goals, or at worse dire health implications, domestic abuse, or rape. To not have an abortion as a medical option endangers women’s health.

Within a year since Brett Kavanaugh was sworn into the Supreme Court, nine states have passed laws that would severely restrict access to abortion services: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Utah, Missouri, and Ohio. Alabama by far champions the worst law of them all: abortions are illegal upon conception with no exceptions for rape or incest. In response, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a federal lawsuit in Alabama to combat this law.

Overall, all women should have the right to legal, safe, and voluntary abortions. It is furthermore the responsibility of state-level policymakers to shine a light on abortion access as a critical component of women’s health care services, as well as the dangers and hardships a lack of abortion services imposes on women, their families, and communities. I do not believe the Supreme Court will take a close look at Roe v. Wade until the 2020 presidential election is settled because to make any decision on this historic case before the election will throw the nation into chaos.

Ton La, Jr. is a medical student and can be reached on LinkedIn

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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