Commentary Media

The Real Story of Abortion Providers Isn’t One You’ll See in ‘Gosnell’

Nikki Madsen

The abortion care providers we work with are ethical and compassionate, and they care deeply about their patients.

Most Americans want abortion to remain legal. Yet the anti-choice movement is once again attempting to turn public opinion by obsessing over Kermit Gosnell—a criminal who’s been widely condemned by the reproductive health community and represents the absolute antithesis of abortion care in this country. In showcasing the ”shock-you-dramaGosnell, anti-choice activists hope to smear all abortion care providers and misinform the public, scaring women away from care they may need.

Abortion Care Network is a national membership organization dedicated to supporting independent abortion care providers. These are community-based clinics founded on feminist values who have committed to patient-centered care, often where and when no one else will. Though they face threats, harassment, and relentless legislative attacks, these providers have dedicated their careers to providing compassionate abortion care. And though they provide the majority of abortion care in the United States, their actual stories are rarely told.

We know abortion care providers: They are our members, our colleagues, our friends, and our neighbors. We know that the people who keep these clinics running are capable, determined, and big-hearted. And everyone, from the clinic escorts to the reception staff, doctors, and nurses, are committed to caring for their patients.

They also know their patients: They see the legal, financial, and cultural barriers that limit access to abortion, and that these barriers disproportionately affect women struggling to make ends meet, women of color, immigrants, gender-nonconforming people, and young people.

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In truth, the same people who won’t stop talking about Gosnell are the ones whose anti-woman policy agenda created the environment that allowed Gosnell to perpetrate his crimes in the first place. As Rewire has noted before, Gosnell “made money exploiting desperate women, so the way to prevent future monsters like him is to make sure women aren’t desperate.”

A person who seeks abortion does so because they know it is the right decision for their life, their family, and their future. Putting an ever-increasing number of obstacles in their way doesn’t change the circumstances that led them to seek abortion. It is true that an increasing number of abortion restrictions will keep some from getting the care they need. It is also true that some who have been denied access to licensed providers by anti-choice blockades will continue to look for and find ways to end a pregnancy.

So what can we do to make sure we never see another Kermit Gosnell?

Keep abortion clinics open and accessible. The most effective way to ensure that people receive safe, ethical care from licensed abortion care providers is to keep these clinics open and accessible. Excessive, medically unnecessary clinic restrictions that have nothing to do with patient safety make it too expensive for clinics to stay open. In addition, laws that force patients to delay care and make multiple appointments, limit abortion access for young people, and ban safe and medically proven care make it logistically and financially difficult—if not impossible—for women to get abortion care when and where they need it.

When clinics are forced to shut down or abortion is pushed out of reach, the need for abortion care doesn’t disappear. Instead, women seeking an abortion will look for care elsewhere.

End bans on abortion coverage. For 40 years, the federal government has denied insurance coverage for abortion care—except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment—to Medicaid beneficiaries under the Hyde Amendment. While some states do provide coverage under state health programs, 32 states and the District of Columbia do not. In addition, 29 states restrict abortion coverage in private health insurance plans, state exchanges, and/or health plans for public employees. As a result, the majority of women who seek abortion care pay out-of-pocket for the medical service, and may be forced into impossible decisions between paying for the cost of care and other necessities like rent, child care, or groceries.

By taking away abortion coverage, politicians effectively take the decision away from many: Restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Bans on abortion coverage disproportionately harm people with low incomes, people of color, young people, immigrants, and rural communities.

Fund abortion. Ending bans on abortion coverage is crucial, as is expanding access to health-care coverage so that every person has the tools they need to prevent pregnancy, plan their families, experience healthy pregnancies, and seek abortion care. But until everyone in the United States has health coverage and every health insurance policy covers abortion, it will continue to be necessary to raise private funds to cover the cost of abortion for patients who can’t afford care.

Hold abortion providers to the same standard as their medical peers. Abortion clinics should be held to the same licensing rules, inspection schedules, and standard of care as similarly situated outpatient clinics. For most women, abortion care requires a short, in-office procedure or the administration of a pill at a clinic. The same standards should regulate abortion clinics and comparable facilities—no more and no less.

Provide training for providers and protect them from violence and harassment. There is an undeniable shortage of abortion care providers in the United States. Many states have only one abortion care provider; still other clinics spend precious funds to fly physicians to their state to provide services. Training in abortion care remains optional for medical and nursing students, and there are few physicians and clinic staff who do not endure anti-choice violence and harassment.

Meaningful access to abortion requires a robust network of patient-centered, medically trained, licensed physicians and clinic staff who have the courage and compassion to provide care in their communities. It also requires that providers and their families feel safe enough to provide this care without fear of anti-choice violence and harassment.

Talk about abortion openly and honestly. The anti-choice movement wants to exploit the silence and stigma around abortion: They know that deceptive anti-choice scams only work when the realities of abortion are hidden from the public. When we talk openly and share accurate information about abortion, the people who seek this care, and the dedicated professionals who provide it, we make it difficult for the anti-choice movement to capitalize on lack of public awareness about what abortion care really looks like.

As #ShoutYourAbortion director Amelia Bonow noted in the tweet that launched that organization, the anti-choice movement “relies on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about.” Though one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, those who haven’t rarely understand the procedure itself. Most people have never seen the inside of an abortion clinic or met a provider. That’s why we’re so committed to telling the stories of abortion care providers: We want anyone who might need this care or want to support a loved one to know that abortion is both safe and normal. Everyone knows, and probably loves, someone who has had an abortion. And providers are doing all they can to be there for every woman who may need them.

The abortion care providers we work with are ethical and compassionate, and they care deeply about their patients. They endure threats and harassment—and sometimes violence—in order to ensure that women are able to make decisions that are best for themselves, their families, and their futures.

That’s more than we can say for the anti-choice propagandists who would exploit tragedy for their extreme political agenda. We remain hopeful, because we trust women. And we believe that people seeking care will see through the anti-choice deception, as long as we keep telling the real story of abortion in the United States.

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