shifting tones in the abortion debate

shifting tones in the abortion debate

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than the person to be loved.”

-Barbara Johnson

Few topics stoke passion from either end of the ideological spectrum as quickly and reliably as that of abortion.  This comes as no surprise; when the debate ranges over life and death, autonomy and individual freedoms, strong emotions are bound to emerge.  This post, however, is not about abortion.  It is not about the ethics of the procedure, societal attitudes towards it, or my opinion thereof.  It is instead a brief commentary on an alarming trend in the national dialogue on abortion, one in which women’s health care as a whole is being increasingly targeted as a proxy for abortion.

Last month, the Obama administration repealed protections put in place at the end of Bush’s second term, rules which shielded health care providers who refused any type of care on moral grounds [1].  While regulations already existed (and still do) exempting providers from participating in an abortion procedure, this second set of rules took things much further, making any access to or provision of care subject to the provider’s whim.  This allowed pharmacies to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraception, fertility doctors to refuse care for single women, physicians to withhold information regarding abortions from their patients [1], and even ambulance drivers to refuse transportation to a woman in need of a medically-indicated abortion [2].  Though these rules were strongly opposed by the American Medical Association [3], the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [4], and dozens of other medical organizations due to their wide-reaching implications for patient care, their repeal has sparked outrage amongst prominent members of the pro-life movement such as the Family Research Council [5].

Or consider a provision now being debated in the Arizona state legislature, HB2384, where legislators are considering closing down their entire state’s OB/GYN residency program because accreditation for these physicians would require training in abortion [6].  This move would send more than 200 current residents out of state and prevent any further specialists in women’s health from being trained.  It has already passed in the House and been sent on to the Senate.

This new approach is perhaps best exemplified on a national level by the efforts currently underway to end funding for Planned Parenthood [7].  The organization receives around $350 million annually from the federal government which it uses to provide services such as contraceptives, STD testing, cancer screening, and education.  All told, more than 90% of the services provided are preventive, primary care; fully 1 in 5 women in America today has utilized Planned Parenthood as a provider [8].  Only 3% of their annual budget actually goes to abortion services [9], and federal funds are already prohibited from being used for those [10].  Still, that 3% has been enough to draw the ire of conservatives, and the provision to defund the entire organization has already passed the House of Representatives [7].

It is the goal of the pro-life movement to reduce or eliminate the number of abortions performed in this country.  Whether or not you agree with that end ultimately depends on your own system of values and beliefs, but it is certainly a conversation worth having.  Regardless of your stance on this, though, the access of women to basic health services, such as seeing an OB/GYN or being screened for cervical cancer, absolutely cannot and should not be a partisan issue.  It is not the place of the physician to determine what information a patient should have access to, nor is it the right of the state to decide that the access of women to medical care is too high a price to pay.  Opposition to abortion is hardly a morally repugnant act; opposition to women’s health care indisputably is.  For years the left has decried the pro-life campaign as misogynistic, and individuals within this movement need to strongly reconsider these recent advances lest they prove these accusations to be true.

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