A Planned Parenthood rally in Stamford, which is part of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes' district. Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood

On March 10, 1993, Florida abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was murdered outside his clinic by a white supremacist and anti-abortion extremist. From this act of horrific violence came a powerful celebration — each year, we commemorate March 10 as National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day to honor and thank every health care professional who works tirelessly to ensure their patients can access abortion.

The relentless debate over the right to abortion has, for decades, spread misinformation and slander about what abortion providers do and who they are. Abortion providers are our doctors and clinicians, everyday health care providers who make it their life’s work to give nonjudgmental and compassionate care to all people. Unlike many other medical professionals, abortion providers are often attacked and vilified for their work; they are called appalling names, face harassment and discrimination, and are forced to listen as politicians disparage their service and extremists threaten their lives.

Abortion providers are courageous. They work on the frontlines in their communities in the face of all these challenges because they know the truth: abortion is health care, and health care is a human right.

Access to abortion is under siege in America. Lawmakers and judges across the country will stop at nothing to strip people of the fundamental right to control their body by eliminating access to abortion. Although these fights seem far away, here’s the reality: there are people right here, right now in Connecticut who can’t get an abortion. These residents are shut out of our health care system, or can’t afford the rising costs of care, or their immigration status makes visiting a clinic unaffordable or too risky.

Despite the incredible efforts of abortion providers in Connecticut, some patients still face insurmountable obstacles to get the care they want, need, and deserve.

We can change it. We can expand access to abortion for patients in our state and support those who might be forced to travel here for care by modernizing our law. Connecticut made a bold move in 1990 by codifying the right to abortion in state statute – now, with reproductive rights under tremendous assault, let’s find the courage to show up for providers and patients by allowing advanced practice clinicians to provide procedural abortion.

The current restriction is outdated and medically unnecessary. Advanced practice clinicians (nurse- midwives, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and others) can already prescribe medication abortion to their patients, but are prohibited from providing safe and routine aspiration abortion, the most common in-clinic abortion procedure. On this issue, Connecticut must catch up; already 14 other states have eliminated similar restrictions, and research studies consistently show that the type of provider has no significant difference on the outcome or quality of care.

The health care landscape has changed and evolved in the past 30 years. Today, many people receive direct care from advanced practice clinicians and often don’t regularly see a physician. Patients should be able to see the provider they know and trust, in their communities, when seeking abortion.

We call on the General Assembly to be courageous this session and repeal the physician-only requirement in Connecticut’s abortion law. But that’s not all: there’s more we can each do to show appreciation for our abortion providers. You can donate to abortion clinics in your community or support national abortion funds, volunteer your time as a clinic escort, or work to acknowledge and dismantle harmful abortion stigma. We must always listen to the experiences of abortion storytellers and remember the words of Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of We Testify, “everyone loves someone who has had an abortion.” Even saying the word “abortion” out loud has power – just try it.

Providing abortion is a normal part of health care. Abortion gives people power and control over their health, their lives, and their futures. On March 10, and every day, abortion providers are owed the same compassion, humility, and care they give to patients every day.

Liz Gustafson is the State Director of Pro-Choice Connecticut. Gretchen Raffa is Vice President of Public Policy, Advocacy, and Organizing at Planned Parenthood Votes! Connecticut.