Women’s Health Exception in South Dakota Ban Not Enough to Protect Women


Ever since Wednesday night’s
presidential debate, many Americans have been talking about what "women’s
health" really means. Nowhere is this issue more relevant than in South
Dakota, where voters are poised to decide on a comprehensive ban on abortion.
Initiated Measure 11 would ban most abortions, with narrow exceptions
for rape, incest, and "serious risk of a substantial and irreversible
impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system of the
pregnant woman." That’s how South Dakota would define "women’s
health" if the initiative passes. 

In August, I spoke out on behalf of the many doctors in South
Dakota who, like myself, have devoted their lives to protecting women’s
health. They are concerned that the language used in this initiative
would put women at risk. Doctors in South Dakota–and around this country–have
all seen patients whose health was affected by pregnancy. As a family
physician who ran an abortion clinic for many years, I’ve often seen
women whose diabetes and heart disease were worsened by pregnancy. Many
of them were mothers who chose to end their pregnancies so they could
care for the families they already had. Every woman I treated made the
decision to have an abortion thoughtfully and carefully, and thanked
me for being there in a time of great need.   

Proponents of Initiated Measure
11 argue that the health exception protects women’s well-being. However,
"substantial and irreversible harm" is hardly a black-and-white
issue. Imagine a woman, recently diagnosed with cancer, who cannot begin
chemotherapy while she is pregnant. Would she be forced to continue
her pregnancy to term regardless of the risks? Who decides? If medical
experts cannot agree on the precise risk to a woman’s health, they
may opt not to act at all rather than risk criminal penalties. As Dr.
Marvin Beuhner, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Rapid City, told me:
"We physicians [would be] left in the untenable position of trying
to make a medical decision with our attorneys rather than our patients.
The threat of a felony is truly frightening." 

Just how murky the language
in Initiated Measure 11 is became clear earlier this week, when a memo from Sanford
Health
(a hospital
in South Dakota) was leaked to the media. In the memo, the hospital’s
lawyers state that the law is unclear, and could have "substantial
legal implications." The end result is that, if passed, this law would
tie doctors’ hands and force them to watch as their patients’ conditions
worsen. As a physician, I can only imagine the needless suffering women
in South Dakota would be forced to endure. 

Beyond the risks to individual
women, eliminating "women’s health" in abortion regulations would
undermine the doctor-patient relationship. Women rely on their physicians
to give them complete and accurate information about their health, and
to help them decide on the right medical treatment. Imagine your doctor
saying, "Your heart disease is getting worse. I know a treatment that
will cure you, but I can’t provide it because our state believes you
don’t really need it." Women and men would be up in arms! 

This isn’t just an issue
in South Dakota. We all need to be concerned about how women’s health
is defined in–or left out of–regulations that govern healthcare.
Once a cornerstone of Roe v. Wade, protections for women’s
health were deliberately left out of the federal abortion ban-legislation
upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007. We can no longer count on the courts
to protect women’s health. 

When Roe was decided,
women across America were dying from unsafe, illegal abortions. Women’s
health was essential to the ruling precisely because the risks of illegal
abortion were so apparent. Thirty-five years later, we are fighting
to protect the right of women to receive the medical care they need,
and the right of doctors to provide it. I only hope we never go back
to the days when the risk to women’s health is visible in hospital
wards everywhere.

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  • paul-bradford

    What has come of this measure?  So far it has had the effect of moving the question away from the issue of whether a mother is justified in having an abortion and toward the issue of whether the state can be trusted to protect a woman’s health.  When we discuss the former issue the possibility exists that people will decide that it’s important to protect the children who are still living in their mothers’ wombs; when we discuss the latter issue we focus on all the ways that government has done a poor job of safeguarding a woman’s health, and the plight of the unborn is forgotten.

     

    The attempt to reduce abortions by restricting access to the procedure is not only ineffectual, it’s counterproductive.  The only real way to bring down abortion rates is to foster a society where women make responsible decisions.  If we try the shortcut of an abortion ‘ban’, we’ll find ourselves in the same position that the Temperance Movement found itself during the days of Prohibition.  It wasn’t until after Prohibition was repealed that we made any real progress in combatting alcoholism, and we’re not going to get a handle on the abortion issue while the people most likely to persuade mothers to take better care of their children are busy protecting those women from the harm that the state can cause.

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • jeffreyfrog

    My husband tells me that I should join a women’s health club because
    the exercise equipment there is more suited for women’s bodies. I don’t
    believe him. I think the only difference is that men are not allowed to
    join at the women’s club (like Curve’s) while you’ll find both women
    and men at the regular health clubs like Gold’s gym, Bally’s, Fitness
    Connection. Please someone confirm for me if there is any other
    difference. I also feel that if I join a women’s only club, there will
    be less variety of equipment and less classes for me to participate in
    than if I join a regular health club/gym.

    Tucson Doctors

  • ceejay2005

    It’s important to understand that abortions go on whether legal or not. Before Roe v. Wade, authorities never pulled dead rich women from back alleys. Sadly, it was always the poor that suffered. The affluent had their doctors perform the procedure in the comfort and safety of their medical office.

    I remember before Roe v. Wade when my mother, grandmother, and another woman were at our kitchen table. They had just come back from a funeral of a friend who was a victim of a botched abortion. With tears streaming down my grandmothers face she chokingly said, "It’s a damn shame that we live in a country where dogs receive better treatment than a woman."

    My father drove an ambulance in Washington D.C. He and my mother cried when Roe v. Wade passed as it meant my father and his colleagues wouldn’t have to look at those horrid scenes from botched abortions anymore.

    Back then, the pillars of the community knew who the abortion doctors were. They made sure they were around. Not just to take care of slip ups at home but more importantly, to take care of their little secrets. The local Sheriff was well aware of what was going on. But if he wanted to keep his job and win his next election, he knew he’d better watch his P’s and Q’s. Get it? Meanwhile, the sheriff helped pull injured and dead poor women out from back alleys. It wasn’t right that the poor suffered while the affluent didn’t. That scenario is one of many reasons R v. W passed.

    The problem with contemporary views on abortion is the element of time. People have forgotten or are too young to know what went on before Roe v. Wade. And the GOP isn’t going to remind us either. Against our best interest, they use the issue to stir our emotions to sucker us for our votes.

    Pro-Choice is Pro-Life

    ________

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