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Category: Politics, Health, Reproductive Rights

Standing with Abortion Providers

| July 16, 2010

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Jeanne Tiller, whose husband Dr. George Tiller was murdered last year, is the first to sign the PRCH Abortion Provider’s Declaration of Rights.

Doctors who provide women with abortion services often don't have the luxury of privacy and security. Here, the leader of a group organized to represent those front-line physicians tells how each of us who believe in a woman's right to safe reproductive health care can support their work.

Every day this week, abortion providers have figured in the news. Each article reminds me how necessary these brave doctors are to protect and preserve women’s health, and how sad it is that they have to be brave at all. Unfortunately, the articles also remind me of the risks and obstacles they face every day.

As an organization representing prochoice physicians and their supporters, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health is well aware of the unique challenges abortion providers face. This spring, we created an Abortion Provider’s Declaration of Rights. The rights our declaration spells out are ones that doctors in any other field take for granted.

First, we believe abortion providers, their families, and their co-workers have the right to exist free of violence, harassment, and discrimination. Last Friday brought news that an Indiana abortion provider received death threats—on his unlisted home phone number, no less—after he challenged a county ordinance that would require doctors to publish their personal contact information if they offer abortion services.

The murder of George Tiller, MD, last year was a heartbreaking reminder that providers must take such threats seriously. Before he was killed, George was shot in both arms, his clinic was bombed, and he endured constant harassment from protestors. Now that George is gone, anti-abortion groups have moved on to their next target. No doctor should have to risk death because of his or her chosen specialty, much less those who have dedicated their lives to serving women.

We also believe that abortion providers have the right to give patients complete, medically accurate information about the abortion procedure. Sadly, some state legislatures disagree. Many so-called “informed consent” bills require doctors to give a woman erroneous information about breast cancer and mental health before she can have an abortion. On Wednesday, a federal judge in Nebraska blocked one such law from taking effect. In her ruling, Judge Laurie Smith Camp underlined this point when she said that the law would “require medical providers to give untruthful, misleading and irrelevant information to patients.” The majority of Americans agree that politicians should not try to practice medicine. Yet, time after time, anti-choice legislators do just that.

We further believe that abortion providers have the right to continue their training and conduct important research on abortion, and that medical students and residents in relevant specialties have the right to learn about abortion. This weekend the New York Times Magazine will publish a cover story about new educational opportunities that have emerged in the last decade, giving many more doctors and medical students rigorous training in abortion. This new generation of providers is poised to offer women a full range of reproductive services, including contraception, prenatal care, childbirth, and abortion.

While the increase in training opportunities is encouraging, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. The same New York Times article mentions a recent study of physicians who received abortion training during medical school or residency. Though many doctors want to incorporate pregnancy termination into their medical practice, they often struggle to find jobs that will allow them to do so. In some cases, doctors are even barred from moonlighting at an abortion clinic. Training is a critical component for making abortion available to women, but it is meaningless if doctors cannot put those skills to work.

While the news about abortion can be discouraging, I have been heartened by the outpouring of support for our declaration. As I write this, nearly 1,500 people from 49 states have shown their support for abortion providers. They include Dr. Tiller’s family,   physicians from a variety of disciplines, health care providers, lawyers, professors, journalists, and others. If you believe that abortion providers deserve the same respect and freedoms as other medical professionals, please add your name to the many others already standing with abortion providers. In the coming months, we will take your show of support to statehouses, the halls of Congress, and anywhere reproductive health care is under attack.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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