January 22, 2013

Forty Years and Carrying On

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, granting women across the United States the right to make decisions about their body and the right to keep those decisions private between themselves and their doctors.  This decision has had and enormous impact on women's lives ever since, permitting them the freedom to choose their own destiny and control their fertility.  As part of NARAL's Blog for Choice event, I want to share my reasons for being pro-choice.  Like any woman choosing abortion, every person's reason for being pro-choice is unique; we all travel many roads to get here, but we arrive here all the same.


Medical ethics has four principal tenets: autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice.  All of these are fulfilled by abortion.  By respecting a woman’s autonomy, you allow her to maintain bodily integrity.  In allowing her to determine when is best for her to have a child, you the physician are both doing no harm to her and are doing good by restoring her body to its previous state.  Finally, the more accessible abortion and birth control are, the more you are serving the cause of justice; self-determination should not be for the rich and the privileged, but for all.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that abortion is a medically ethical practice.  However, it tells you next to nothing about why I personally am pro-choice.

I want to be an obstetrician-gynecologist. Even as a young girl, when I decided I wanted to be a doctor, I was drawn to women’s health.  To me, it was and is the quintessential medical field: more ancient than Hipprocrates, full of the mystery of life, always in constant demand, one of the few joyful reasons to see a doctor—I could imagine no greater calling.  Whether it was hearing the story of my own birth in a hospital on a snowy December night, or vague memories of my brother being born at home with a midwife—I was intrigued and wanted to know more.

I remember being young, maybe in middle school, and asking my mother if she was pro-choice or pro-life.  Abortion must have figured strongly in the novel I was reading at the time (perhaps Case of Need by Michael Crichton or Midwives by Chris Bohjalian).  Regardless, I distinctly remember her reply.  “Why should some old man sitting in the Capitol building, who will never carry a child or be in my shoes, get to decide what I do with my body?”  From the beginning, abortion to me was defined as an issue of autonomy and control over one’s body.

The issue is, of course, more complex than that.  Growing up in Missouri, I was exposed to plenty of rhetoric in public discourse about 24-hour waiting periods, pharmacists’ rights to conscientiously object to providing birth control or emergency contraception, and of course, abstinence-only education.  Gradually, it became clear to me that other people did not seem to think that a woman should have control over her body.  I also became more conscious of state-level restrictions imposed to specifically insert the government between a physician and her patient.  As someone who’s never taken well to egregious authoritarianism (just ask my mother), this rankled.  My hackles were raised by this intrusion.

 My years at university served me well: the liberal arts exposed me to diversity, women's studies classes, anthropology, and public health.  That, coupled with an avid appetite for political news, had me following the rising tide of anti-abortion legislation closely.  I was horrified and appalled, but as of yet unmoved to much action.

Fast forward to medical school.  Here, I realized I could take a bigger role in lots of service and activism; during one of the first AMA meetings, the speaker exhorted us to champion those medical causes which would best serve our patients.  Not only did we have the opportunity to add our voice--coupled, when necessary, to our impending social rank as future physicians--we also had a duty to speak up when the government was making health policy decisions.I took this to heart, and became very active in our Medical Students for Choice chapter.  It wasn't until I attended the national conference for MSFC that year that I knew how strongly I felt and what my role would be.  Listening to the keynote speaker describing barriers to abortion and the vast impact they had on our patients, I was called to pick up this mantle.  I knew that weekend that I would one day become a provider, come hell, high water, or Republicans.

Since then, I've found myself reading more and more about the struggles in all its forms for access to comprehensive reproductive health care.  The more I've read, the more I've realized that abortion is now a matter not just of autonomy, but of critical women's rights.  Abortion rights and the fight for access is now part of a huge cultural shift that I have watched happen, and suddenly I find myself unwilling to lie down and take this silently.

I was pro-choice from the first time I learned about abortion because no one gets to tell me what to do with my body.  But now, I am pro-choice for all women, because we are still fighting for equal pay, equal health care coverage, equal treatment, and the benefit of basic dignity.  The rise of waiting-periods, ultrasounds, and mandatory counseling scripts speaks volumes: legislators still think of women as children, incapable of making such difficult decisions rationally, and who must thus be protected from their own poor judgment.  Well, excuse my language, but I think that is horseshit of the highest order.

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I am resolved: I will not budge, I will not be deterred.  These attacks by the far right will not stand.  I refuse to be told as a woman that I must be an incubator, and I refuse to be told as a physician that I cannot perform a medical procedure that is safer than childbirth for my patients that need it.  I refuse to believe that women are less important than the fetus they are carting around, and I refuse to be quiet.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."


Robin said...

outstanding post!!! I am so proud you are availing yourself to your highest calling!!! All women should be as passion ant!! thank you so much!!

Al said...

Non-maleficence means that you don't intentionally do harm. Since abortion intentionally kills an unborn person, it violates this tenet. There is no beneficence to the unborn child who has had his/her life taken away unwillingly. & there is clearly no justice for that murdered baby.
Also, if it is so medically ethical, how come, until it was recently rewritten, the Hypocratic oath specificly mention abortion as wrong? The oath goes back to the 5th Century BC.

IlyssaS said...

A clump of cells is not an unborn person, and unless you're willing to personally take financial, legal, emotional, etc. responsibility for all these ~*~babies who are being "murdered," you have no fucking say. Try again.

Al said...

WRONG!!!!, I do take responsibility. 1 example, I financially support groups like Birthright & other crisis pregnancy centers that give women alternatives.
The fact that you have to resort to obscenities shows that you know that an unborn person is not just a clump of cells & that your claim that they are is hollow. All you can do is resort to a personal attack in an attempt to denigrate me.
Besides, I do have a say. I take the call by God to be my brother's & sister's keeper, born or unborn, seriously.

DerpMachine said...

A fetus in utero MAY be a person under certain definitions of personhood.

I, a 20-something-year-old woman, AM fully a person under EVERY definition of personhood.

To me, the fact that you would risk MY health and that you would blatantly steamroll over MY rights as a full human being who is present in front of you AT THIS TIME for a POTENTIAL human being is just galling.

It's your prerogative to support "crisis pregnancy centers" which dispense harmful and sometimes inaccurate information to women at sometimes their most vulnerable point in life.

But you know what REALLY cuts down abortion rates? Easy and fair access to EFFECTIVE birth control, age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education, empowering teenagers with tools to talk about sex, consent, their bodies, and programs that help parents raise their kids. That's why I support Planned Parenthood and MSFC and other organizations that provide and promote comprehensive sexual health care.

I am not an incubator. I am not a child-birthing machine. I have my right to my own free agency and the right over my own body. Birth control can fail, my body cannot "shut down" a rapist's sperm, I can choose not to carry a pregnancy to term or raise a child for any number of reasons because IT'S MY BODY.

As for the "Hypocratic [sic] oath" - it also says physicians should only share their art with the sons and brothers of other physicians (Women physicians? HOW ABSURD), that you should teach them for free. It also mentions nothing of patient autonomy or justice.

OB/Gyn isn't my calling but thank GOD for future doctors like Lindsey. Thank god that so many OB/GYN residencies in the country are pro-choice. If we could just translate that into legislative action, US might even be able to catch up to the rest of the developed world.

Al said...

DerpMachine, you said "I, a 20-something-year-old woman, AM fully a person under EVERY definition of personhood." You might want to rethink that. According to Peter Singer, 1 of the leading ethicists promoting abortion, euthanasia & the like, you have to constantly keep earning the right to be considered a person. & it is dependant on the value others put on you, & if they don't then killing you is OK. Just like you think it is OK to murder what you call a potential person.

Lindsey said...

You are quite correct: personhood is related to the value others place on the life in question. Where we differ, and where we will always differ, is that by forbidding abortion you inherently value the potentiality of the fetus as superseding the very present value of the mother's life. Maybe you can convince yourself that a lump of dividing cells--three-quarters of which spontaneously miscarry without knowledge of the mother, by the way--this lump of cells is worth more to society than the woman who has been a member of society and whose worth is not in doubt. I, however, refuse to accept that premise as moral. If anything, your stance is immoral for valuing an unknown future over certain obligations to the present.

As a final note: abortion is not murder, and doctors who perform abortions are not murderers

Lindsey said...

Also, while I'm happy for you that you see fit to support causes to your palate, don't pretend like contributing to CPCs has an actual impact the life of those children when they're two, or eight, or fifteen. That is sheer nonsense and you know it. If you took this call to be your brother's keeper seriously, you would adopt children and sponsor their schooling and support public-assistance programs that are the price to be paid when women of limited means are forced by circumstance to bear their unwanted children.

Al said...

Lindsey, puling out the old canards I see. You know full well 1 person can't do everything. But as a whole we do everything you claim we don't. I could go on about the friends I have who have adopted. You also ignored, intentionally no doubt to make me look bad, that I said this was only 1 example. There is the support I give to groups like the Salesians, Cross Catholic Outreach, etc, that help these children you claim I don't care about. Even though I am unemployed, I still try to do what I can to defend life, including financially, as well as with my time & talents. In short, I AM making sacrifices, because these children are important, at all ages.
Finally, abortion is murder since it takes a defenseless human being's life. & the doctor does commit murder by doing the abortion. However, I pray for them to repent of the evil they do & come to know God's forgiveness & mercy instead.
BTW, I don't I don't see it as an either or, I see it as an end both, the mother & the child have equal worth as individual human beings.

Lindsey said...

How much prison time should a doctor get for providing an abortion? The woman is paying the doctor to commit the crime, how long should she go to prison for?

Al said...

IMHO, with few exceptions, the woman is just as much of a victim as the unborn child. She has been sold the lie there is no other choice than to kill the baby. As for the doctor, well, it is 1st degree murder. But he or she is not beyond redemption.
See you also ignored how I proved your attack on me was unfounded.

Tameka said...

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Kaitlyn Weisensel said...

Great post!

Roe v. Wade IS NOT something we should forget about, or even consider a closed case.

Read the Wisconsin Gazette's recent article about the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

link to that article here:

Lindsey said...

Thanks for the article! It definitely is heartening to see polls where the majority of Americans actually believe in a woman's right to choose, even when a slender sampling of extreme Republicans are trying to wrest that right away from us. If I or my peers have anything to say about it, though, it will REMAIN safe and legal!