Court's chance to uphold Roe

abortion_protest1
Supporters of abortion rights hold a "die-in" outside the Supreme Court during the March for Life.

By Denelle Weller

I come from a family of health-care providers and was raised to do what I can to take care of the people around me.

My grandmother was a nurse in Pennsylvania for more than 30 years, and now I have been a nurse in the same state for over a decade. As a nurse, I see individuals from all walks of life, which has shown me there is no one-size-fits-all solution to people's health-care needs.

I've worked in several departments within my hospital, but no matter the setting, I've come to appreciate that people need the ability to make the choice that is right for them and their families. My responsibility as a medical professional is to give them the best information and care possible.

That's why I am so appalled by the disingenuous law that has shut down abortion clinics across Texas under the guise of protecting women's health. With abortion, as much as with any other health-care decision, patients need the ability to make the choice that is best for their personal situation. Yet, despite the overwhelming objections of medical experts, politicians in Texas have declared they know what's best for women and their families.

This Texas law, which is now before the Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for today, does nothing to improve women's health and, in fact, does the exact opposite.

While the patients I see are empowered to make thoughtful decisions about their medical care, the same is not true for the 5.4 million women of reproductive age in the country's second-largest state. For Texas women, the law has created sharp disparities and they are now significantly limited in their ability to safely access the care they want and need.

Women in Texas must now contend with increased costs, delays, travel times, and a host of other logistical challenges to obtain safe and legal abortion. What's more, as a nurse in a rural state, I know how important it is that these clinics provide essential health services to their communities, including family-planning services to avoid unintended pregnancies in the first place.

As Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country, many women and men in underserved communities depend on local clinics for basic care. When these clinics close, people have nowhere to turn.

This is what leading medical experts - including the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Nursing, and American Nurses Association - told the U.S. Supreme Court in a brief filed in the case challenging Texas' law, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

While politicians argue that turning clinics into "mini hospitals" and requiring providers to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital protect women's health, there is no scientific evidence this is the case. Abortion is an extremely safe procedure, with less than one percent of cases requiring emergency care.

As experts have pointed out, because many physicians travel to provide abortion care and women can live hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic, requiring admitting privileges within 30 miles of a clinic can be both impossible and nonsensical. Having worked in a hospital for many years, I know that no one will be turned away in an emergency, regardless of whether their physician has privileges at that hospital. The law has effectively created a problem where none existed.

Instead, what this law achieves - and, of course, its true intention - is furthering an extreme agenda to end abortion and limit a woman's ability to make decisions about her body and her future. The outcome is not safer health care, but rather, more working women spending money they don't have to travel hundreds of miles to a clinic that is nowhere near their own doctor, their family, or their workplace. And it adds a maze of extra requirements for providers. What's more, there is evidence that when women cannot access comprehensive reproductive care in the first place, they are more likely to take matters into their own hands to end a pregnancy.

When the justices hear this case, I hope they keep in mind the very real public and personal health risks to women when safe, legal abortion is not available. I fear that this law - and the ones like it that have sprung up across the country - could take us back to a time before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal and when women died of unsafe and unsanctioned abortions.

We cannot let the extreme agenda of the few trump sound medical knowledge, high-quality care, and the ability of women to control their bodies and their futures. I know from my decade in the exam room that there are a lot of factors that come into play when making an important health-care decision. A politician's ideological agenda should not be one of them.

Denelle Weller is a registered nurse from State College and a member of in Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania. media@seiu.org