My Turn: Allow women to have control over their own bodies

For the Monitor
Published: 2/3/2020 6:00:22 AM

A woman should be free to choose when she would like to have her family. Everything we can do to give women control over their bodies and their fertility enhances their health and changes the world for the better.

The U.S. abortion rate continues to drop (another 20% in the last six years). Fortunately, according to the Guttmacher Institute, this has not been because of new restrictions. Lower pregnancy rates contributed significantly, as women’s access to health care and, in particular, contraception markedly improved.

Unplanned, unintended pregnancies still occur. These pregnancies should never be an invitation for others to decide what is best for a woman. Lawmakers who know nothing of a woman’s life circumstances should ever have a voice in her decision making, especially when it comes to pregnancy.

Last month the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on four abortion bills. The barrage of legislation attempting to regulate abortion represents a distrust of women and their care providers. These bills are not about what is best for a woman. Instead, they are about creating obstacles based on ideological differences.

As an example, House Bill 1475 would prohibit a termination of pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Detection of a fetal heartbeat by ultrasound occurs 5 to 6 weeks following the first day of a woman’s menstrual period. That is 4 weeks after ovulation and barely 3 weeks following conception and implantation. Most women do not even know they are pregnant, especially if they have long or irregular cycles. The earliest symptoms of pregnancy start at 6 weeks.

Unaware of their pregnancy, most women would not have a chance to make a choice.

So let’s be honest, HB 1475 would make almost all abortions in New Hampshire unlawful. None of us want to return to a time when desperate women sought unsafe pregnancy terminations, often suffering irreversible harm and sometimes death.

The World Health Organization estimates that 22 million unsafe abortions are still performed annually in countries with limited access to safe abortion, resulting in tens of thousands deaths and millions of permanent disabilities. Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality in developing nations. The WHO’s assessment is that nearly every one of these deaths and disabilities could be prevented by legal abortion.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is deeply personal and a difficult one that deserves to remain with each woman and her care provider. Medicine is about caring for human beings, not about politics and ideology. Women and their care providers should be making deeply personal medical decisions, not lawmakers.

(Dr. Oge Young, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, is past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society. He lives in Concord.)

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