Meet Jennifer Rubin, a columnist who seems to believe that being anti-choice has granted her both a medical degree and a seat in the legislature. She took advantage of her large platform in the Washington Post on May 1 to argue for intense restrictions on abortion access, using the horrors of Kermit Gosnell’s “clinic” as justification for claiming that abortion is inherently dangerous and needs to be tightly regulated.
She’s not the only one. Many anti-choice commentators like her seem to believe that their position as “advocates for the unborn” grants them a unique perspective from which to speak, allowing them to bounce through medical school, boards and residency to become fully practicing physicians with extensive experience in patient care. Those who become legislators are even worse, wielding not only the power of rhetoric but also the strength of the law.
As long as anti-choice advocates think they can dictate the practice of medicine in the United States, women’s lives are at risk. And the rate at which this trend is occurring is in a rapid state of acceleration, with more and more states passing legislation specifically aimed at limiting abortion access. Their argument is that abortion is dangerous and patients need more protection, despite the fact that this flies in the face of scientific research on the subject. 0.3% of abortion patients experience complications significant enough that they need to go to the hospital, making it an extremely safe procedure, especially when performed early.
Did I mention that abortion, like other medical procedures, is already regulated? An extensive network of laws, agencies, and policies set forth by professional organizations dictates the practice of medicine, including abortion and related services, in the United States. Clinics offering medical services must undergo inspections, adhere to the rule of the law, and submit to additional scrutiny if they want to belong to groups like the National Abortion Federation.
Such legislation, known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP), can take aim at a number of things to make it more difficult for people to provide abortions, and for patients to access them. Common tactics involve stricter regulation of abortion clinics, such as reclassifying them to outpatient surgical centers, mandated ultrasounds and other procedures, and requirements for waiting periods, as well as hospitalization requirements. These may require fundamental structural changes to clinics that are too expensive to implement, effectively shutting them down. Legislators, meanwhile, can claim innocence when people complain; after all, they were just protecting patients!
One such example can be seen in Virginia, which recently tightened building codes on abortion clinics and abortion clinics only. Almost immediately, clinics were forced to close because they couldn’t meet the building standards, ostensibly put in place to help in an emergency, but really designed to make it too expensive for clinics to remain operational.
Gosnell’s “clinic” has been used as an example of how dangerous abortion can be, but it’s really an illustration of what happens when TRAP laws, poverty and social pressures combine to drive women underground for abortion. As anti-choice advocates use the dire conditions at his clinic as an illustration for the need for tighter regulation, they ignore the fact that existing regulations already mandate inspections and other safety measures, and that care providers are very committed to patient care and safety.
The distortion of the reality of abortion care is a huge issue with anti-choice advocates playing doctor; for example, they repeatedly insist that there should be bans on “late-term” abortion or “partial-birth” abortion, a term which is not medically recognized. This despite the fact that according to CDC statistics, less than 1.5% of abortions take place after 21 weeks, and almost 92% were performed at less than 13 weeks — numbers which could change if women can’t access timely abortion care.
As, for example, if a series of waiting periods and required counseling makes it difficult to get enough time off to get an early abortion.
The more the right plays doctor, the harder it is for actual doctors to provide medical care. With growing restrictions on the safe practice of medicine, doctors may find themselves in situations where they face conflicts between ethical patient care and the law, or situations where they don’t even know what’s legal because legislators have such a limited understanding of medicine that they’ve written laws too broadly to be interpreted. Doctors, as the deceased Dr. Tiller once said, should be able to “trust women” to make informed decisions about their health in consultation with an informed clinician, but anti-choice advocates are making that more and more difficult.
Regulation of medicine is absolutely critical, but it’s best left to people without political agendas.
Photo credit: Lauren Nelson