I have been an obstetrician-gynecologist for over 20 years. I have sat through the night with people giving birth. I have helped people with painful periods. I have treated people experiencing miscarriage, and — I am proud to provide people with abortion care.
Sitting with patients as they make decisions about their lives and futures has taught me a fundamental medical truth: we can and must trust our patients because they are the experts of their own lives. Few other medical specialties have this understanding gained from being with patients who are deciding if abortion is what is best for them.
Now more than ever, we must examine who are the credible experts on abortion care when reading news stories and sharing information. An expert, by definition, has first-hand experience. So people who have had abortions are the experts, and clinicians and doctors who provide abortion care are the experts. Other people who are part of the conversation about abortion care need to listen to these experts.
By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has for the first time taken away a fundamental right from Americans. What is the root of stripping an individual of the right to make decisions about their own body? Power. Like all human rights, the right to bodily autonomy through access to abortion will always rest with the people, but power can violate that human right. As a doctor I know that everyone deserves to have the care they need to live their lives as they see fit – to be able to thrive and live with dignity. The right to decide about a person’s body and their medical care resides with them – and them alone.
Abortion opponents often ignore the clear medical evidence of the health benefits of accessible abortion care. Instead, they intentionally use emotionally charged rhetoric riddled with medical inaccuracies. Inflammatory phrases and mischaracterization of safe second trimester abortion are all strategically used to evoke fear and create disinformation. Further, reducing abortion care providers – highly trained, board-certified, and licensed advanced practice clinicians or physicians – to the non-medical term “abortionist” is done intentionally to undermine the credibility of trained medical providers such as myself and my esteemed colleagues. These inflammatory strategies are attempts to stigmatize abortion and make people who seek this health care feel shame and fear.
Despite what non-experts may say, abortion care is common, safe, and a core part of sexual and reproductive health. Connecticut recognized this in 1990 when it became the first state in the nation to codify abortion rights in state law. And this year, Connecticut has strengthened its commitment to abortion rights by passing the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, which expands access to abortion by expanding the abortion provider pool and protecting patients and providers from Texas copycat “bounty” laws.
After over 20 years as an OBGYN, I know that people without wealth or privilege are the ones most brutalized by this power grab. Black, Latinx, indigenous, LGBT, and rural communities are hit first and worst by abortion bans.
Restricting and banning abortion is bad medicine which has significant negative outcomes for pregnant people and their families. According to the Turnaway Study, a groundbreaking longitudinal study that focused on the effects of forced pregnancy and birth, people denied an abortion had almost four times greater odds of a household income below the federal poverty level and three times greater odds of being unemployed.
Further, abortion bans resulting in forced birth are expected to increase the risk of death for Black people giving birth by 33%. Decades of medical and public health research tell us that banning abortion care is a prescription for suffering and death.
The repeal of Roe v. Wade has dramatically changed the abortion access landscape across the United States. I have colleagues in other states who now must turn away their patients – and I ache for them as they are forced not to provide critical care. Connecticut must continue to defend and expand the right to abortion for patients here and those forced to travel here. This includes action by the federal government to expand access by law and for readers, journalists, and experts to call out the harmful medical disinformation and stigma about abortion care that continues to come from unqualified, non-experts.
As a doctor, I took an oath to first do no harm and to advocate for the well-being of my patients. When speaking out about the egregious harms of not only overturning Roe v. Wade, but the harm and disinformation being shared about abortion care, I am fulfilling my oath. Perhaps other medical professionals should reflect on their own oath.
Nancy L Stanwood MD, MPH is Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England,