Have You Thanked an Abortion Provider Today?

Robin Marty

March 10th was "National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers," a day to remember the people who make the right to choose "real." But we need to be mindful every day of what providers do and what they sacrifice.

March 10th was “National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers,” a day to remember the people without which the right to choose would mean nothing. 

As Cara at Feministe noted:

In a different world, doctors who provide abortions would just be regular doctors. In this one, they — along with the nurses, administrative staff, and volunteers who work along side them — are uniquely courageous. For providing routine medical care, abortion providers face harassment, ostracization, protesters, threats, violence, and as with Dr. George Tiller, even murder. Giving up their jobs would be far, far easier than doing them.

But legalization of abortion is absolutely nothing without access. Just like those who try to frighten them out of their work, abortion providers know this. And so they continue, even in the face of danger. They do the best they can, in spite of the restrictions they must adhere to and the roadblocks thrown in their patients’ way, to ensure that everyone has a right to their own body, and that no one is forced to carry a pregnancy to term when they cannot or do not want to. Abortion providers are, quite frankly, heroes.

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Even with Roe v. Wade still the law of the land, access to abortion care becomes harder and harder to find, as states pass a proliferation of laws meant to restrict access to abortion care, and more providers retire without new colleagues to replace them.

Obama’s victory may protect Roe v Wade in the Supreme Court, but state legislatures are doing their best to pile on the obstacles and restrictions: mandatory ultrasounds are the latest fad, with bills being considered in eleven states ( because apparently women are so stupid they might not realize they’re having an abortion because they’re pregnant). And then, as Michael Winerip reported in an unusually thorough piece in Sunday’s New York Times (in the Style section, sigh, along with the rest of the girlynews), the women’s health activists who form the backbone of many clinic staffs are retiring and proving hard to replace in the more conservative and rural regions, like upstate New York, the South and Midwest. Doctors, nurses and technicians are reluctant to work in clinics in anti-choice places where they will be picketed, socially ostracized and forced to protect themselves daily against possible violence.

Why are there so many less providers than before?  This article from the MNDaily shows many of the struggles interning physicans go through to try and get abortion training, leaving some students to chose not to learn the procedures at all. 

Ani Kolasa-Lenarz often faced protestors when entering her summer internship. One of five students from the University of Minnesota who participated in Reproductive Health Externships,” Kolasa-Lenarz, a second-year medical student and president of Medical Students for Choice, knew the challenges involved in working at an abortion clinic.

Students are told not to wear their white coat until after they are inside the clinic, said Stacey Burns, who helped Medical Students for Choice arrange the internships through her former job at the Abortion Provider Expansion Project. Protestors target physicians entering the clinic, calling them “baby killers … evil, the devil, they yell at physicians,” Kolasa-Lenarz said. But she said the internship was worth it, providing an experience commonly missed at many medical schools.

Considering that much of the techniques used to perform abortions are used to manage miscarriages as well, that can be a frightening gap in knowledge down the road.

There are just too many reasons to say thank you–not just on the one day that honors the anniversary of the death of Dr. David Gunn and now also acts as a day of remembrancefor the work of Dr. George Tiller–but every day. 

On March 10, 1993, an anti-choice extremist murdered Dr. David Gunn outside of his workplace. In honor of him, Dr. George Tiller, and the others who lost their lives because they performed abortions, we pay tribute to abortion providers today, on the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. The National Abortion Federation is collecting names and messages in support for those who dedicate their lives to providing women with safe abortion care. You can leave a message at the NAF website.

87% of counties in the U.S. lack an abortion provider. Legal abortion means nothing without access. Thank you to the health professionals who go out of their way to bring safe abortion care to areas without providers. Thank you for risking harassment–and worse–every day in order to give women access to their right to choose.

But recognition isn’t just about mourning those that have been murdered trying to provide women safe access to legal healthcare.  It’s a chance to reflect on all of the issues that face these providers daily as they attempt to care for women, as Dr. Linda Prine of Physicians for Choice reminds us.

As we do every year, we will reflect on the obstacles we face in caring for the women who need us. For some, it is the health insurance plans and the federal government that fail to cover the cost of this legal medical procedure, making it nearly impossible for some women to obtain care. For others, it is colleagues or administrators who create obstacles—for instance, prohibiting a health center from purchasing and prescribing the abortion pill for women. And for some, it is the endless harassment that stops them from providing abortions, despite the training they sought during residency and their commitment to this care. But for most of us who think about the Day of Appreciation, we will focus on the dedicated clinicians who continue to beat the odds.

Looking for a way to show your appreciation?  One simple way to provide your support for these brave health care providers who offer legal and safe abortions in the face of criticism, harassment, and even physical harm and death is to sign the National Abortion Federation’s petition of appreciation for providers here.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

News Law and Policy

Wisconsin GOP’s Voter Restriction Law Suffers Another Legal Blow

Imani Gandy

In blocking many of Wisconsin's elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote.

A federal appeals court yesterday refused to stay a lower court order blocking several Wisconsin voting restrictions, allowing election officials to move forward with early voting in the state next month.

Attorneys on behalf of the state of Wisconsin filed the request for a stay with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court judge last month issued an injunction that blocked parts of Wisconsin’s sweepings elections laws.

The lower court ruled that the justification for the laws did not justify the burden on voting rights that they impose. And this week a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit declined to stay that ruling, without explaining.

The ruling comes days after elections officials in Madison and Milwaukee announced their intention to kick off early voting in late September, a month earlier than would have been allowed had the lower court not struck down the restrictions on early voting, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

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The Republican-backed elections law created state-imposed limitations on the time and location for in-person absentee voting, a provision requiring absentee ballots be sent by mail instead of fax or email, the requirement that dorm lists—a certified list provided by the university of the students living in college housing, which student voters may use as proof of residence—must include citizenship information, a ban on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to establish proof of residency, and a 28-day durational residency requirement.

In blocking many of Wisconsin’s elections restrictions, the lower court ruled that the state must reform how it deals with voters who have difficulty obtaining the required photo ID to vote. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP-controlled Wisconsin legislature had implemented a system under which people who don’t have birth certificates or who have problems with gathering documentation needed to obtain the proper identification would still be able to vote.

The lower court noted that the Walker administration’s system did not provide a viable long-term solution for those voters who could not obtain their birth certificates because they were destroyed in fires or misplaced by bureaucrats.

The court later stayed that portion of the ruling, stating that the system created by Walker’s administration—which provides people with temporary voting credentials while they await a decision about whether they qualify for an ID—was sufficient to allow people to vote during the upcoming November election and therefore does not need to be immediately reformed.

The ruling comes on the heels of a ruling in another voting rights case in Wisconsin, Frank v. Walker, about the state’s voter ID law. In that case, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit stayed a ruling that would have permitted anyone eligible to vote in Wisconsin to an accommodation that would permit that voter to cast a ballot after signing an affidavit stating that they could not easily obtain an ID.

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