It’s a clean sweep — three
ballot initiatives on abortion, three victories for women’s health.
Despite the anti-abortion movement’s best efforts, Americans in three
states voted to protect pregnant women and their physicians from interference
by the government. Weeks — no, months — of stress and worry melted away
as the votes came in Tuesday night. I am so relieved that voters chose
privacy and empathy, science and medicine, over anti-choice scare tactics
and misplaced ideology.
Together with Barack Obama’s
decisive win, the outcomes of the ballot initiatives give us hope for
the future of Americans’ reproductive health. We can use our momentum
to work with our pro-choice president-elect on repairing the damage
done to reproductive rights over the past eight years. Imagine a country
where we don’t have to constantly defend the existence of abortion
and contraception, where we can dedicate our energy instead to guaranteeing
comprehensive reproductive healthcare for all!
I practice in California, where
Proposition 4 would have required notification of a minor’s parents
if she needed an abortion. This was the third time in four years that
we’ve battled similar initiatives. While most teens do involve their
parents when faced with a pregnancy, we have fought to protect the health
of those who can’t or won’t.
I volunteer at clinics where
I see pregnant teens. Some have abusive parents, are estranged from
their families, or have other good reasons why parental notification
could be risky for them. To make Proposition 4 more palatable to voters
than its predecessors, its authors included exceptions for girls like
my patients. But teens could not take advantage of these exceptions
unless they either stated in writing that their parents abused them
or took themselves to court. With my fellow members of Physicians for
Reproductive Choice and Health, I explained to voters that the exceptions
would hurt the very minors they were designed to protect. They listened.
As we had in the campaigns
against the previous initiatives, we also told Californians that many
teens, regardless of their family situations, depend on confidential
reproductive healthcare and would not see a doctor without it.
The voters said no to parental
notification for the third time, 52% against to 48% in favor. Unfortunately,
California is not the only state to consider a mandate of parental involvement
for abortion. Thirty-four states already require either parental notification
or parental consent. We must continue to teach the public and our legislators
about the importance of providing adolescents both medically accurate
sex education and access to confidential reproductive healthcare.
The people behind Amendment
48 in Colorado wanted to place the government inside every pregnant
woman’s body, treating zygotes as people with rights. This absurd
initiative would have jeopardized abortion, contraception, fertility
treatments, in vitro fertilization, and the rights of pregnant women.
The voters responded by thrashing this measure, 73% against to 27% in
favor. Without a doubt, a woman has the right to determine the status
of a blastocyst inside her own uterus. Here, too, Americans picked science
and medicine over government intrusion into women’s health.
In South Dakota, the danger
to women’s health was even more concrete. Initiated Measure 11 would
have prohibited all abortions in the state with exceptions only for
rape, incest, and a serious threat to the woman’s health. Even women
who qualified for exceptions, however, would have had a difficult time
getting an abortion under this law. As the South Dakota section of the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted, the health
exceptions under Measure 11 were "ambiguous and unworkable"
for physicians and the women they care for. ACOG stated, "This ban
puts the physician in the unthinkable position of either treating her
in a medically appropriate fashion and being prosecuted as a criminal,
or not treating appropriately and not only facing claims of negligence
but, worse, seeing her suffer."
Like Proposition 4 in California,
the proponents of Measure 11 created these so-called exceptions to mollify
voters, who rejected a total ban on abortion in 2006. If they won, Measure
11’s masterminds hoped to provoke a lawsuit that they could use to
challenge Roe. But they lost — the voters of South Dakota came
through for us all. I am delighted that they’ve protected not only
their own mothers, daughters, and sisters, but all women in the U.S.
In October, I spent four days
in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and a blizzardy South Dakota plain in between.
I volunteered with doctors, medical students, and other dedicated advocates
as they tirelessly campaigned against this awful initiative. We educated
South Dakotans with medical facts about abortion and shared the stories
of women who needed the procedure. Our voices managed to overcome the
ugly words of a vocal anti-choice opposition-like the parade of doctors
in a disturbing TV ad, who implored people to vote yes on Measure 11
in order to "stop the use of abortion as birth control."
The Campaign for Healthy Families
succeeded — South Dakota soundly rejected the measure and its virtual
ban on abortion by a ten-point margin: 55% against and 45% in favor.
Still, abortions in South Dakota
are hard to come by, with just one clinic in the state and a 24-hour
mandatory delay — as if women hadn’t thought about their decision
before they drove five hours to the clinic. This reality of scarce,
restricted abortion care in South Dakota reflects the situation in many
parts of the U.S. Over the next four years, we must try to build equity
in reproductive healthcare access, so that women everywhere can obtain
the services they need.
As a physician, an activist,
and a citizen, yesterday’s election has brought me joy. I am deeply
grateful to every person who fought against the anti-choice ballot initiatives,
giving voters medical, scientific, and humane reasons for preserving
women’s right to abortion. Americans in three very different states
all agree that the government has no place in the consultation between
a pregnant woman and her doctor.
As members of the growing pro-choice
majority, we can feel proud of ourselves and our fellow voters, and
use our newfound strength to rebuild reproductive rights, and make reproductive
healthcare a reality for all.