Updated: Sep 24, 2022
The Supreme Court of the United States struck down Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. This 1973 landmark ruling was the only federal guarantee for women’s right to abortion and contraception or, in general terms, reproductive rights in the United States. Without this federal protection, women’s reproductive freedom falls back to laws of individual states, which can be extremely varied among the 50 states.
In the Supreme Court majority opinion, Judge Alito claimed that the ruling should be overturned because the right to abortion and medical privacy was never written in the constitution. I find it interesting that no one in the mainstream media has brought up the fact that the entire forced pregnancy movement has been orchestrated by the evangelical Christians for decades, supported by the Catholic Church. In a land of religious freedom, where separation of church and state is enshrined in the First amendment, the idea of religious-based laws governing the secular field of medicine is very anti-American, most certainly unconstitutional, and smacks of Sharia law.
While only some of the states aim to criminalize the patients for seeking to obtain an abortion, most of the current state laws aim to penalize the doctors for providing these medications or procedures under charges of murder. It’s a little bit like how marijuana or cannabis users are rarely jailed in most states but cannabis provider can be jailed as drug dealers. (Believe it or not, there are a few dry states in the union where the same goes for alcohol.) The main difference is that because abortion has always been a medical treatment exclusively for the female gender, those affected are mainly medical personnel who provides services to the girls and women patients who need those services. Thus the overthrow of Roe v. Wade now allows the most misogynistic of the religions and state laws to hold sway over women living in those states.
I genuinely hope that those doctors, practitioners and midwives who are no longer allowed to work in the multiple states where their work has suddenly become illegal will be able to move to a neighboring state that is less repressive. That way, the rest of the providers on the bordering states don’t get overwhelmed as they are starting to be.
Of course, besides being medical providers, doctors can receive medical treatments too. A recent survey published inObstetrics & Gynecology on April 7, 2022 showed that up to 23.7% of women in the United States have had an abortion in their lifetime. Even among the highly educated and medically-savvy population of physicians, about 10% of doctors or their spouses and partners have had to access abortion services, medication or surgical, in their life. That option is now not available to those who live, work, go to school, or undergo training in certain states in America.
In my practice as a primary care provider in the past 30 years, I refer patients to the Ob/gyn doctors for pregnancy care about once or twice a month. The request for abortion referrals comes less than once a year or every 2 years. I know the reason for this is that most women automatically head for Planned Parenthood clinics without ever notifying me. There is a huge stigma against abortion in our society, especially within the Christian community, such that patients usually don’t feel comfortable asking for help from their normal doctors.
Even when a patient does contact me, I would advise them to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood anyway because I’m not familiar with the use of the abortion pills, not many Ob/gyn choose to perform the procedure, and not many hospitals in the area support it either. Although abortion is still partially legal in California where I practice, the ability of physicians to provide these services have always been limited by the resources and prevailing attitudes of the society we work in.
A few years ago, a gynecologist friend of mine complained that all the major hospitals in the valley were Christian owned (we have Holy Cross in the north, St. Joseph to east, Providence Tarzana to the South, Catholic Healthcare of
Northridge to the west and Presbyterian in the center) and would not permit abortion or even contraception. He had to apply for medical privileges at Cedars Sinai or UCLA to perform a simple tubal ligation for permanent birth control. When I trained for Ob/gyn at the county hospital, most women request a tubal ligation to be done immediately after a cesarean section to deliver a baby. But this discrimination of procedures means that even when a gynecologist already made an incision for a C-section at a local hospital to deliver a baby, he would have to close up the wound and scheduled to go in again in the same incision at another hospital for the tubal ligation, even if the patient requested the ligation procedure at the time of C-section. Although he was not Christian himself, that was the rules my friend followed because he needed to respect those hospitals’s religious beliefs.
An example of this interaction between religion and medicine for me was when a young woman came in asking for a referral to an abortion provider. She has a congenital disorder that renders her physically deformed, hearing impaired, with mild speech and learning disabilities. We communicated via a dictation device that translates my speech into texts that she could read. Patient was not aware that she was pregnant until the third month. She was pretty certain that she could not raise a child on her own and I absolutely agreed with her.
For some reason, perhaps due to the advance stage of the pregnancy, she was not willing or able to go the Planned Parenthood clinic and wanted treatment at a hospital. While I was calling around to my local Ob referrals to see if any of them can assist in the urgent treatment of this 16 weeks pregnant patient, my medical assistant / office nurse walked into my office begging me to “save the baby”. The nurse is a staunch Catholic who was horrified to hear the reason for the visit when she brought the patient in the exam room.
Since I didn’t have any luck finding a local Ob doctor who would or could perform an abortion, I asked the patient to consider having the baby and putting it up for adoption. She nodded and left the office.
A few months later, the same patient came back in for her scoliosis back pain and I asked her about her pregnancy. She said that she had gone to UCLA and they were able to terminate the pregnancy for her safely. She said “ I really didn’t want to go through all that physical and emotional pain for a baby that may have my disability and whom I could not raise”.
I felt ashamed not just because I could not and did not help her in her hour of need, but also for presuming that I know what’s best for her, how she should lead her life. I certainly wasn’t going to be there when the pregnancy twist her back even more, nor when she has to go through Csection for an unopened pelvis, nor for the multiple of issues that may arise during a pregnancy, not to mention the complications around raising a baby while ill and deaf or around giving a disabled baby up for adoption.
Furthermore, I was angry at myself for allowing someone else’s religious beliefs to affect my medical treatment of a patient. Neither I nor my patient was Catholic, why did I regard my nurse’s religious opinion as important in the patient‘s decision?
And lastly, I was disappointed that it took a quiet explanation from this patient for me to realize my mistake. She did not owe me nor the world any explanation for her decision of what to do with her body and her life. Every woman has a different reason for choosing to get an abortion and they should be allowed that choice. Neither my nurse nor I was doing the world any favor in our idealistic fervor of “saving babies’ lives” and would have, in fact, ruined a few lives. And that would have definitely violated my Hippocratic oath, the creed that I live by.
For those who wondered, there was never a second when I consider the fetus as an independent living entity. It was completely dependent on its host, the living, breathing, thinking human being who is my patient.
The current conversation in my waiting room and around the water cooler, so to speak, centers around how insecure are women’s rights in the most democratic nation on earth, even in the most progressive and liberal states in the union.
Roe v. Wade ruling was as relevant to women’s rights as Brown v. Board of Education is in protecting “colored” people against the segregated schooling laws of many southern states. If certain women’s rights can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen, how many other rights are on the chopping blocks under the very religious-minded congress and Supreme Court ?
How can the voices of individual girls and women be heard above powerful edicts of the patriarchy?
How can we protect the rights of these gentle souls to control their own body and life courses ?
How do we change people’s minds against the harmful thoughts and traditions that have abided for thousands of years?
How can we protect our private religious or non-religious beliefs against the very dominant religion of the ruling governments?
I see many ways for the girls and women in America to fight back against this latest victory of the misogyny, or those who don’t respect women. One of the most rational options is that of challenging state laws that are religious based on the grounds of the First Amendment, and voting out of office those who are disrespectful of a women’s humanity and treats her as a simple baby incubator.
Not everyone in the United States is Catholic, Christian or Muslim, the religions most commonly associated with anti-abortion beliefs. Even many of those who are do not believe in forcing women to have a baby against her will.
Perhaps some of the women groups and medical institutions in the affected states would take up that challenge to restore the freedom of religion to those of us who don’t believe that the Bible or the Koran should be the law of the land.