Women’s Health and Safety in Court’s Hands

Editor’s Note, July 8th, 2008: In response to the recent flurry of news coverage concerning Barack Obama’s statements on late term abortion, the federal abortion ban, and health exceptions for pregnant women, RH Reality Check is republishing relevant articles that we hope will focus the debate and add the crucial voices of those who are directly affected by these laws – women and physicians. 


A couple of months into my first pregnancy, I feared that something may be wrong. I started bleeding. While some days the bleeding was lighter than other days, I bled every day. We kept hoping that I would stop and my pregnancy would continue normally. Since we did not know the cause of my bleeding, my doctors did not know how to stop it. My health was at risk.

[img_assist|nid=1353|title=Special Series|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=89|height=100]I was very concerned about being able to continue the pregnancy and the possibility of giving birth to a baby that would die. My family and loved ones were also concerned about my health. The hardest part was not knowing what to do. There was not a right or wrong answer.

My husband and I, after consulting with my family, my doctor and my loved ones, decided to end the pregnancy in order to protect my health. I was only halfway into my pregnancy, approximately 20 weeks. I never once considered asking my elected officials what I should do. It was so very personal.

It turned out that it was only then that my doctor suspected I was suffering from a medical condition called placental abruption – the placenta peels away from the uterine wall, can deprive the fetus of oxygen and cause bleeding that endangers both the woman and the fetus.

In 2003, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the deceptively named "Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act" – our nation’s first federal ban on abortion. If the law had been in place when I was pregnant, my doctor would have been prohibited from providing me with the best and safest care, until my condition deteriorated to the point where the pregnancy imperiled my life.

The federal abortion ban has been tied up in the courts since its passage. If in place, the law would criminalize pre-viability abortions in the early second trimester – as early as 12-15 weeks in pregnancy – that doctors believe are safer for their patients. That’s why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Women’s Association – major medical groups of trained professionals who are dedicated to providing the best care to their patients – oppose this ban and support overturning it.

The ban’s deceptive and politically charged name was created for its shock value. There is no such medical term. Anti-choice politicians wanted the public to think that this law is about banning later abortions. But that’s simply not the case. The ban’s true aim is to undermine or overturn a core holding of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide: the requirement that women’s health must be the paramount concern in laws that restrict abortion. If enacted, politicians could overrule the personal, moral, medical decisions made by women and their doctors.

On November 8, 2006 – the day after the mid-term elections – Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights will be at the U.S. Supreme Court to stop this dangerous law. The stakes are high. The government is arguing that politicians, not doctors and their patients, should have the final say in private medical decisions. Women’s health care providers, including Planned Parenthood, argue that laws that regulate abortion must never place women’s health at risk, and that lawmakers should stop playing politics with women’s health and lives.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that any abortion ban that does not protect women’s health is unconstitutional, recognizing that doctors should be able to put their patients’ health and safety first. The federal abortion ban is more than unconstitutional – it’s dangerous. It not only threatens women’s health, it also takes aim at some of the rights we hold most dear – privacy and self-determination.

Thankfully, when my health was in jeopardy, my doctors were able to give me the care I needed. Since then I have had two healthy pregnancies and now have two wonderful daughters. I am grateful that my doctor’s hands were not tied by an unconstitutional law. To think this choice might not be available to my daughters, if they became pregnant and faced the same situation, is horrifying.

Women like me, along with health care health advocates and providers, are counting on the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm its previous rulings and strike down the federal abortion ban. The health and safety of American women depend on it. The health and safety of our loved ones depend on it.


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