When it comes to healthcare, decisions should be left to women and their doctors — not legislators.
Every story has at least two sides, but in the case of the October 13 meeting of the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee, one side stuck to facts while the other focused on ideology. And when the topic is the health and safety of pregnant women, nothing but the facts should matter.
The committee heard testimony on House Bills 4833 and 4834, which would criminalize the safest abortion procedure for women after 14 weeks of pregnancy. Considering that abortion is a legal procedure in the United States, legislation to take away the right of doctors and their patients to choose the safest, most appropriate procedure is a reckless crusade rooted in anti-choice convictions — and one that puts women’s health and lives at risk.
Pro-choice supporters packed the committee room and provided an abundance of testimony, which you can read for yourself HERE. Most of the bills’ anti-choice supporters chose not to submit their testimony in writing, other than one doctor whose testimony focused largely on his anti-choice stance — not medical facts. (You can watch the proceedings, including oral testimony, HERE.)
But opponents of HB 4833 and HB 4834 stuck to the facts, making a compelling argument against eliminating the safest abortion method for women facing a difficult decision at this point in their pregnancy.
I spoke with Matthew Allswede, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN and vice-chair of the Michigan Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), who testified in opposition to the bills, to get the medical facts on this abortion method, a surgical procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E).
“An abortion at this stage is often done because there are fetal or genetic anomalies that raise a quality of life issue,” he said. “It can also be because women are made ignorant or prevented from seeking appropriate care at an earlier stage.”
According to Dr. Allswede, the fewer providers there are to offer abortion care, the more likely women are to have to delay an abortion until after 14 weeks. Of course, limiting access to care is part of the strategy to systematically dismantle abortion rights in America. But as ACLU of Michigan Legislative Director Shelli Weisberg stated at the committee hearing, that’s not going to stop women from having an abortion.
Since the dawn of time, since women figured out how we become pregnant, we have learned to control our pregnancies. Still today, fifty percent of all pregnancies are unintended or unexpected and one in three women — our sisters and wives and mothers and daughters and granddaughters — will seek an abortion. We may not agree on abortion, but it is not going away — legal or not. We would prefer to work on policies that actually help women avoid unintended pregnancies, like access to birth control and realistic sex education information for our youth.
But instead, anti-choice advocates like the supporters of HB 4833 and HB 4834 are going after an abortion method that is safest for women at a certain stage in their pregnancy, simply because they have an ideological objection to what they think happens during the procedure.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Laura Cox, has repeatedly referred to this abortion method as a “dismemberment abortion.” But that language is highly misleading.
“‘Dismemberment abortion’ is a non-medical term that’s been coined to try to make it more gruesome and inflammatory,” Dr. Allswede says. “Most doctors don’t perform many of these kind of abortions, and I won’t pretend it’s an easy procedure to perform. But it is easier for the patient in some cases.”
Opponents of this abortion method question why OB/GYNs can’t just perform a medical abortion, which uses drugs to cause the uterus to contract and push out the fetus, like giving birth. But a medical abortion can lead to heavy bleeding and the risk of uterine infection and other complications that can be minimized by the kind of surgical abortion legislators are trying to ban.
During his testimony, Dr. Allswede underscored the very real risk of pregnancy complications — the sixth leading cause of death in 2013 for women between the ages of 20 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He later told me that having an abortion during the first or second trimester is less risky than carrying a pregnancy to term.
“For people who think the risks of continuing a pregnancy are unjustified — for social, medical, economic or whatever reason — we want to be able to ensure they receive that care in a safe, appropriate fashion,” Dr. Allswede says.
What’s more, he believes the decision about what type of procedure to perform should be strictly between a woman and her doctor.
Some women choose a medical abortion because they want the experience of going through labor. Other women are emotionally unprepared for that and want to be knocked out with anesthesia until it’s over. Neither one is right or wrong.
Protecting the right of patients to work with their doctor to make the right decision for themselves is why Dr. Allswede testified in opposition to HB 4833 and HB 4834. From his testimony:
The rhetoric surrounding these bills is inflammatory and non-medical, as reflected by the choice to review these bills in the Criminal Justice Committee, instead of the more germane Health Policy Committee. The practice of medicine is based upon research and carefully developed standards of care. Science, not political beliefs, should be the foundation of medical decision-making. If this Legislature proscribes certain treatments and procedures for non-medical reasons, the doctor-patient relationship will have been irreparably compromised.
Dr. Allswede’s testimony is supported by a statement issued by ACOG earlier this month, reiterating in no uncertain terms its position that “abortion is an essential component of women’s health care.”
As Dr. Allswede stated in his testimony, HB 4833 and HB 4834 are “unwise and unsafe political intrusions into the practice of medicine in Michigan.” When we spoke, he emphasized that point.
It puts doctors in an ethical conflict when we know that there’s a treatment option for a patient that’s simply not available. Many people, for many years, went outside the law to provide abortion services knowing they risked their licenses and security. We’re out of that time era regarding abortion, but slowly being pushed back toward it.
The House Criminal Justice Committee has made no statement about whether or not these bills will come to a vote. We’ll keep you posted on any updates here at Eclectablog.
[Image credit: audio-luci-store.it via Flickr.]