It’s Time To Treat Abortion Like Medically Comparable Procedures

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Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act. Introduced in large part in response to the increased assault on reproductive rights that has occurred since 2010, it it’s hard not to feel a special kind of urgency right now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Hat Trick of Dangerous Rulings: Massachusetts buffer zones, Hobby Lobby, and Wheaton College. While the Act does not address health insurance or clinic access, it does take on TRAP laws, unnecessary clinic structural modifications, politically motivated physician scripts, and intrusive and unwarranted procedures (transvaginal ultrasound, I’m looking at you).

The Senate bill is full of remarkably straightforward, pro-health, pro-reproductive justice, and pro-reproductive rights language. For example:

“Access to safe, legal abortion services is essential to women’s health and central to women’s ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the United States.”

“[Restrictions on abortion services] harm women’s health by reducing access not only to abortion services but also to the other essential health care services offered by the providers targeted by the restrictions, including contraceptive services, which reduce unintended pregnancies and thus abortions, and screenings for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections. These harms fall especially heavily on low-income women, women of color, and women living in rural and other medically underserved areas.”

The Act also addresses telemedicine; medication abortion; medical education and training; and the fact that patients are often required to make medically unnecessary visits to an abortion clinic before they can have the procedure. And at virtually every turn, there is this refrain: that no laws or restrictions should be placed on abortion provision, clinics, or providers that would not be placed on “medically comparable procedures.”

It’s those last three words that have the most personal resonance for me. I’ve never had an abortion (although certain Supreme Court justices would probably think that my IUD means I’m aborting all over the place). But thanks to a lifetime of health problems, I have had six operations. Each surgery required general anesthesia and time in a hospital, compromised my ability to work, and otherwise greatly impacted my and my family’s quality of life. I’m currently in the early rounds of yet more surgical consults to determine if a seventh, equally invasive operation is necessary. And that will mean spending a lot of time in waiting rooms; undergoing X-rays and possibly other tests; and maybe—if I’m lucky—a whole fifteen minutes of face time with each surgeon to discuss the specifics of the operation and recovery.

But what it won’t mean is going to the hospital beforehand for a medically unnecessary visit, or that my physician is mandated by law to read a politically biased script about my procedure. It won’t mean running a gauntlet of protestors yelling outside the hospital’s doors or that my insurance company will deny coverage.

When the Women’s Protection Act talks about how no restriction should be passed on abortion care that wouldn’t also be passed on a medically equivalent procedure, I know it doesn’t mean the kind of surgeries that I’ve had. After all, all of my surgeries have been riskier and more dangerous than terminating a pregnancy. So if anything, my surgeons should have been held to a higher standard of care and oversight than abortion providers are, and state health agencies and politicians should have had much graver doubts about my ability to understand and consent to those legal medical procedures.

But they didn’t, because those procedures concerned my wrist, head, and face—not my uterus. Because of the body parts involved, I was trusted to know what was best for my own body.

The Women’s Health Protection Act won’t undo the damage wrought by the Supreme Court, or by anti-choice zealots that don’t believe women should be allowed to make their own reproductive health decisions. But it will help prevent future damage, and it will send a simple and powerful message: to trust women.

Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. She lives with her family in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Shutterstock/ptnphoto

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