The Real Victims of Stupak-Pitts

Dr. Suzanne Poppema

In examining rooms, we see women in terrible pain, but their suffering doesn’t count in Stupak/Pitts world. By banishing abortion from the reform bill, the amendment punishes women who need to end unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies.

When I
heard about the Stupak/Pitts amendment, I was in a room with 15 other doctors who
shared my anger and disappointment. We had gathered for a board meeting for Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health,
and we were horrified by the cruelty the amendment has in store for our
patients.

In
examining rooms, we see women in terrible pain, but their suffering doesn’t
count in Stupak/Pitts world. By banishing abortion from the reform bill, the
amendment punishes women who need to end unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies.

We share
the stories
below and on our website
to show what can happen to women physically, financially, and emotionally when
they don’t have insurance coverage for abortion. As physicians, we try our best
to help these women. As advocates, we will fight to protect their access to
abortion.

From Nancy Stanwood, MD, MPH:

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My patient Carol was excited to
give birth to her first child.
Her husband was a Marine serving in
Afghanistan. Sadly, in her second trimester, Carol learned that her baby had a
lethal anomaly. She and her husband made the difficult decision to have an
abortion.

That’s when they learned that the
military health insurance they relied on wouldn’t cover the abortion unless
Carol’s life was in danger.

Her husband was outraged. He had
just flown back from Afghanistan to be with her, and he angrily asked me, “I’m
over there defending my country, and they won’t even take care of my family?”

From Natalie Roche, MD:

Renee was 18 years old and in
prenatal care
for a pregnancy she wanted. Her physician found that she had
an elevated white blood count. Renee was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

Her oncologist could not begin
treatment. The chemotherapy Renee needed came with a risk of miscarriage that
could cause fatal hemorrhaging or infection. She decided to have an abortion to
save her life.

But Renee did not have insurance.
It took time for her to find a doctor who could perform her abortion. The time
she spent searching for a provider she could afford endangered her health. She
developed anemia and dangerously low white blood cell and platelet counts. She
also entered the second trimester of her pregnancy, making her abortion
riskier.

I performed her abortion
successfully, and Renee went on to have her treatment for leukemia. I do not
know if it was too late.

From Willie Parker, MD, MPH:

A woman who was 16 weeks
pregnant
and had an alcohol problem came to me for an abortion. She knew
that she was not ready to be a mother. But she had a condition with her
placenta that made abortion risky, and I had to tell her that the procedure
would require a hospital stay, making it much more expensive.

She didn’t have insurance or enough
money to cover the termination. She had no choice but to continue the
pregnancy. I got her into prenatal care. That was the best I could do.

From Pratima Gupta, MD, MPH:

I wasn’t able to help Anna.
She became pregnant unexpectedly and decided to have an abortion. But when I
started the paperwork for Anna’s procedure, her insurance coverage was denied.
Anna works for the postal service, and as a government employee, she is not
allowed to have health insurance coverage for abortion.

I had to tell Anna that I couldn’t
provide her abortion, and I gave her the phone numbers of some clinics that
could help. In the end, Anna had to borrow money from several friends to pay
for her abortion. I will never forget how frightened and frantic she was to
learn that her good government health insurance didn’t cover the care she
needed.

From Renee E. Mestad, MD:

My patient Sherry is 24,
pregnant, and the mother of a 7-month-old son.
Although her pregnancy was
not planned, Sherry and her husband were initially excited to have a little
brother or sister for their boy. Then Sherry’s early ultrasound showed she had
twins. She and her husband spent several weeks eagerly anticipating the growth
of their family.

But the next ultrasound showed that
the twins are conjoined, or Siamese. The babies are joined at the head, sharing
a brain, and chest, sharing a heart. They have two spines, four arms, and four
legs. It would be impossible to separate them. If they survive after birth, it
would only be for a few minutes. One heart can’t keep two bodies alive. The
risk of stillbirth is also very high.

Now 19 weeks into her pregnancy,
Sherry tells me she is depressed. She wakes up every morning wondering if today
will be the day her babies will die inside her. How would she deliver them? She
knows that she would probably need a cesarean section because their combined
size might make them too large for the birth canal. Sherry then imagines
carrying the twins for another four and a half months. She sees herself
delivering stillborns or watching her babies die minutes after their birth.

Sherry must decide whether to
continue her pregnancy. An abortion might give her and her husband some
emotional relief. And if the twins are small enough, she might not need surgery
to remove them.

But because Sherry’s insurance will
not pay for her abortion, she has to worry about money on top of her other
fears. She is on Medicaid, which will cover the twins’ delivery, alive or dead,
but not an abortion—fetal abnormality isn’t enough to get around the Hyde
amendment. Although the abortion would be less expensive in a clinic, Sherry
would have to go to a hospital since she could need surgery. She would be
responsible for the entire bill of at least $10,000 to cover the operating
room, anesthesia, medication, and other fees. This expense would destroy her
family’s financial well-being.

Sherry can carry her babies to term
who cannot and will not live, or she can have an abortion and
possibly bankrupt her family.

Sherry’s pregnancy is medically
rare, but her dilemma about money is all too familiar. When a woman doesn’t
have insurance coverage for abortion, she and her family suffer.

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