My Turn: Stakes higher than ever for reproductive rights

For the Monitor
Published: 10/17/2020 8:00:26 PM

When President Trump was elected, I was a resident at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and almost immediately the number of patients requesting long-acting reversible contraception, like intrauterine devices and implants, increased. Women were clearly worried that they would soon lose access to reproductive health care services under this administration. Today, their worries are incredibly close to becoming a reality.

I became an OB/GYN to help my patients during some of the most joyous moments of their lives, and to advocate for and support them during their most difficult moments as well. Comprehensive reproductive health care is critical because it gives women and trans men control over their own bodies and the agency to decide when and how many children they have.

With the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a likely 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, women’s reproductive rights are in jeopardy. State legislatures have already passed anti-abortion laws designed to shut down providers by imposing medically unnecessary, burdensome requirements. A Supreme Court decision from July allows private employers to deny their employees coverage for birth control. Republican leadership has made it clear that they will not stop until they overturn Roe v. Wade.

We’ve lived in a world without Roe, and we can’t go back. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that in the 1950s and 1960s, as many as 1.2 million illegal abortions took place annually. As a physician in the field, I know that attempts to ban abortions don’t stop abortions from happening; they force women to seek dangerous options that can be fatal. Without Roe, many women will either seek unsafe, unregulated termination options, or have to travel far distances to another state where it is legal. These limitations will disproportionately affect women of color and low-income women. In a country with a maternal mortality crisis, we cannot afford to risk more women’s lives.

It’s not just Roe that’s at risk; Republicans are hoping to use the Supreme Court to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurance companies to cover all forms of contraception. Without the ACA, insurers would be able to deny coverage for the more expensive (but significantly more effective) forms of contraception, like IUDs and implants, or even deny coverage for all contraception. Essentially, insurers would dictate which forms of contraception are available to women, rather than the patient and her doctor choosing the best option for that individual. Without effective contraception available, the unintended pregnancy rate will go up. And without the ACA or Roe in place, women could lose access to ALL forms of family planning, setting us back 60 years.

At a time like this, we need a fighter like Senator Jeanne Shaheen representing us in Washington.

Throughout her career, Senator Shaheen has been a champion of reproductive rights and women’s health care. As the first woman elected governor of New Hampshire, she repealed a law that made abortion a felony and signed legislation that required insurance companies to cover birth control. In the Senate, she wrote and passed the “Shaheen Amendment,” ensuring that women in the military who are victims of rape or incest have health insurance coverage for abortion, giving them the same coverage as non-military federal employees.

Thousands of women across New Hampshire depend on Planned Parenthood to access medical care, including cancer screenings, contraception, testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections, and safe abortions. Senator Shaheen has consistently worked to block funding cuts that target their life-saving services. I know that we can count on her to vote for Supreme Court justices that will respect the precedent of Roe v. Wade and work to protect a woman’s right to choose.

The same cannot be said for her Republican opponent, Corky Messner, who opposes abortion “at any time,” believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and has campaigned on his support for anti-choice Supreme Court justices, including Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Make no mistake, reproductive health care is on the ballot this fall. It’s clear that Republicans will stop at nothing to overturn Roe v. Wade, make abortion illegal, and destroy access to contraception. It is time for us to fight back. We must re-elect Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and vote for Democrats up and down the ballot who will stand up and protect women in New Hampshire.

(Jessica Weyer, MD, lives in Bow.)

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