(VIDEO) Punishing Women By Withholding Life-Saving Care

The excuse behind laws that restrict access to reproductive health services is always “life” and “morality”.  The reality of actual restrictions on reproductive health services is punishment and misogyny.  Pro-choicers often feel like we’re blue in the face repeating this, but sadly, it’s what we must do until people get it. 

The latest incident that proves the maxim, “By ‘life’ they mean ‘punishing women’” happened in Idaho. Citing the anti-choice craze of pharmacist right of refusal, a Walgreens pharmacist refused to fill a prescription for a drug to stop uterine bleeding, demanding that the nurse practitioner tell her if this was post-abortion care or not.  The nurse refused to answer, but the implication was clear—the “pro-life” pharmacist was going to refuse potentially life-saving care to a woman she deemed an unchaste abortion having bad girl.

This is the only rational explanation, of course.  Even if you justify your anti-choice views by claiming deep love for fetal life, in this particular case, there is no fetal life to save.  There is only a woman who needs this drug.  As Robin Marty notes:

But refusing a drug that stops bleeding?  The abortion has already happened.  The “murder” has already taken place.  And by not allowing the patient to have medicine to control her bleeding afterward, and refusing to transfer the prescription so it could be filled in a timely manner, that pharmacist was not only not “saving a life” but could have caused the death of a woman in the process.

Of course, pharmacy refusals have never been about “life” and have always been about sex and punishing women who the pharmacist suspects of not fulfilling some chastity requirement.   Pharmacists can’t prescribe abortion drugs. Those have to be dispense in a doctor’s office.  Pharmacists basically don’t sell anything that is used to end fetal life.  Pharmacy refusals have always been about trying to force women to get pregnant in the first place, by trying to interrupt their access to birth control, especially in emergency birth control situations, where timing is most important.

The excuse for this attempt at forced pregnancy is that the pharmacist believes birth control pills kill fertilized eggs.  But that should be recognized as the weak rationalization it is.  Both birth control pills and emergency contraception work by suppressing ovulation.   As biologist PZ Myers explained, these pills work on the same principle as condoms, except they use hormones instead of latex.  Pharmacists who refuse to understand even the most basic explanations of how the drugs they dispense work have more going on in terms of unprofessional behavior than just their loathing of sexually active women. 

And, as this example shows, this is about control and punishment, and has nothing to do with “life”.  If anything, it’s an attempt to use women’s lives as leverage in the war to deprive women of their freedoms.  But then again, that’s always what the anti-choice stance has been about.  After all, outright bans on abortion predictably have the result of women seeking unsafe, illegal abortions that often result in injury or death. 

If you want an idea of what it looks like when it becomes acceptable to withhold life-saving medical care from women to punish them for having sex, there are plenty of examples around the world.  As the Center for Reproductive Rights reports, in the Phillippines, abortion is so illegal and so stigmatized that women often cannot get decent, life-saving care after the illegal abortion has already happened. Treating women who are suffering complications from illegal abortion is legal itself, and yet women face an uphill climb not to die at the hands of a medical community where hatefulness towards women who have abortions has taken root.

Many women interviewed for this report described being initially denied post-abortion medical care or threatened with the denial of care because they were suspected of having an abortion. Several women described how providers deliberately delayed care in their cases in order to “teach them a lesson”.

The report also describes doctors threatening to turn women into the police, even though there is no legal obligation for doctors to report illegal abortions. For a taste of some of the personal testimonials that went into this report, check out this 5 minute documentary video

Even if abortion was criminal—and there is no moral or logical reason it should be—that doesn’t give medical workers the right to play judge, jury, and executioner in the lives of women who may have had abortions and need medical care. There’s exactly no way that leaving someone to suffer or die in order to punish them for crossing your religious dogma about female sexuality is “pro-life”.  I’d call it a medieval sense of justice, except that even medieval people had some idea that people had a right to face their accusers and have actual evidence and a verdict before the sentencing.  

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  • vix

    Are you all aware that outside the US we all say “only in America” to express how we feel about such actions (and we use it often!)

  • arekushieru

    Well, everyone from North, Central and South America are Americans.  But, as has been demonstrated, here, it doesn’t *just* happen in America.  And, it happens in other parts of North America, too.  It happens in Mexico and Canada.

  • nycprochoicemd

    Conscience clauses “protect” health practitioners who want to punish sexually active women by allowing them to withold and in some cases lie about treatments.  Those of us who participate in contraception and abortion care have no similar protections.  Hospitals and academic departments are free to discriminate against us by refusing to allow us to practice contraception and abortion care within their facilities and by refusing to grant us access to full faculty positions.  Read the “Abortion Provider’s Bill of Rights” here.

  • crowepps

    Hospitals and academic departments are free to discriminate against us by refusing to allow us to practice contraception and abortion care within their facilities and by refusing to grant us access to full faculty positions.

    Sounds to me like a failure to recognize  “freedom of speech” to me.  An ER physician should be able to prescribe Plan B to a rape victim if his conscience compels him to and punishing him for doing so should be unconstitutional under the law.  The laws should not be set up to favor those who censor/refuse without an equal remedy for those who inform/agree.

  • ostrich9

    It’s time for women to TAKE back their rights in private.

    Menstrual extraction (ME) is a process which menstrual blood is removed from the uterus using an airtight, hand-operated suction device to eliminate inconveniently-timed periods.

     It can also be used for low-risk early abortions (up to 7 weeks) without anesthetics and a greatly decreased risk of infection.

    The procedure should be performed by a trained medical professional.However, with proper training, women who aren’t medical professionals can also be taught to safely perform ME in self-help groups.

     The device used is a Del-Em which can be made at home. Materials are easily obtainable through a laboratory or chemistry scientific catalogue.


    The cannula is inserted into the uterus through the undilated cervix. A syringe, with a *one-way* bypass valve prevents air from entering the uterus, which can be fatal. It creates the suction necessary to evacuate the interior of the uterus.


    Google “menstrual extraction”




     A woman’s Book of Choices, Abortion, Menstrual Extraction RU-486

    by Rebecca Chalker and Carol Downer. “There is power in these pages, more power than any law can give us,” said Barbara Ehrenreich. 

     A New View of a Woman’s Body  by the Federation of Feminist Women’s health Centers.