Depersonalizing Women’s Health

“Her body! Her choice!” chanted New York Governor Cuomo’s angry voice in this year’s state of the State. Cuomo has aspirations for the 2016 Presidential race and hopes to set precedent for the rest of the country. His chant refers to his abortion expansion bill, the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which would make abortion a fundamental human right.

Additionally, this bill would allow for abortion through all nine months, deregulate abortion procedures altogether, decriminalize botched abortions, negate parental rights, jeopardize the religious liberty of medical providers, totally dehumanize the pre-born boy or girl, increase tax-payer funding of abortion, and reduce penalties for violent crimes against pregnant women.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Aside from all the heinous implications of the stipulations just mentioned, the idea of artificially decreeing abortion as a human right will have two very nasty side-effects: 1) It threatens the existence of medical providers who refuse to refer for abortion which in turn will 2) ravage the quality of medical care for women facing unplanned pregnancy.

If abortion becomes a fundamental right, then refusing to refer would constitute an act of discrimination. This threatens the closure of State certified institutions that refuse to refer such as Catholic hospitals, and clinics. Additionally, this could pave the way for costly discrimination lawsuits against Good Samaritan providers like independent physicians and pro-life medical pregnancy centers.

If all this weren’t bad enough, while claiming to increase a woman’s access to medical care, creating an artificial right out of abortion only restricts medicine’s ability to respect each woman’s unique circumstances. When a woman faces unplanned pregnancy, she is vulnerable and often feels so overwhelmed that she does not even know what questions to ask. All she knows is that her life has been involuntarily arrested, and she believes the doctor can help her. So she says to the doctor, “Give me my freedom back. Give me an abortion.”

The sentimental politician or judge who knows very little about the practice of medicine is tempted to think that it is the doctor’s compassionate job to give her the abortion in order to restore her autonomy; that abortion is in fact her ‘right.’ But a good doctor knows that every unplanned pregnancy is unique and represents an ethical dilemma. Making abortion a fundamental human right does not solve her problem. It keeps the doctor from respecting her and her unique circumstances, which is one of the hallmarks of quality medical care.

Cuomo’s abortion expansion act assumes that abortion is the primary medical solution to unplanned pregnancy making it the doctor’s job to ensure every woman’s access to it. But how does this support her true autonomy? How does forcing a medical provider to refer her for an abortion empower her to freely choose?

The Commission for Reproductive Health Service Standards (CRHSS) states: “Autonomy (freedom to choose) is the physician’s ethical obligation to facilitate the patient’s right to un-coerced choice or refusal of treatment.” Let’s examine the phrase “un-coerced choice.”

Even pro-abortion activists agree that in the context of unplanned pregnancy, a woman often experiences socio-economic pressures to have an abortion from her parents, her boyfriend, her peers, her finances, etc. She feels trapped like she has NO CHOICE at all – unable to refuse abortion. In fact, circumstances of most unplanned pregnancies represent the very definition of coercion itself—the opposite of true ‘choice. Making abortion a right serves only to further undermine her true choice.

The violence done to medicine and women by legislation that artificially makes abortion a human right should have a bone chilling effect on us all. This legislation would force medical professionals to treat women coldly as a population block rather than compassionately insulating them from the coercive pressures driving them to get an abortion. Under the guise of human rights, the ability of a physician to help a woman exercise true self-determination is gutted.

It is the medical provider’s job to ensure that every woman’s decision is not undermined by coercive pressure. An ethical medical clinician understands that only when she is able to refuse an abortion, only when she is empowered to make that most difficult of all choices to have the baby, is her decision truly free. Far from empowering and protecting women, Cuomo’s abortion expansion act serves to further harm the public’s trust in the medical profession, the conscience of the medical provider, and the dignity of women.

We cannot let Cuomo set this kind of precedent for America. Medical providers must not permit a Governor to co-opt the medical profession to promote a political platform that threatens to undermine true healthcare. In an effort to consolidate the voice of the medical community on this critical issue, consider asking your doctor to sign the Clinical Medicine’s Statement of Ethics Protesting the RHA.

James R. Harden, M.Div is the Chief Operations Officer and founder of the Commission for Reproductive Health Service Standards. Jim is an expert in optimizing OB/GYN services via pro-life pregnancy centers across the U.S. He led the team that pioneered the first repeatable linear service model for unplanned pregnancy care at CompassCare Pregnancy Services. He lives in Rochester, NY with his wife Linda and their 9 children.
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