The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Exploiting women’s health for political gain in Virginia

This post has been updated.

The writers are Virginia-based physicians and members of Physicians for Reproductive Health.

Last month, first-term Virginia lawmaker Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) introduced a bill that would eliminate medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care. During a debate Monday, Tran faced a barrage of misleading, uninformed questions. The moment has been exploited by those more interested in controlling women’s bodies than taking time to understand medical care. Over the past few weeks, in our time not spent caring for our patients, we noticed similar misinformation being spread about the Reproductive Health Act recently passed in New York. Luckily, we’ve spent our whole professional lives in schools, hospitals, clinics and at the bedsides of patients listening to and gathering the evidence and facts around safe and necessary health care, including abortion.

We are speaking out on behalf of medical professionals across Virginia. As physicians for women and families across their entire life journey, as scientists and as compassionate clinicians who provide and care for patients who need abortions, we are here to correct the record.

One of our most cherished roles as partners to patients considering their health-care options is to help them understand all of their choices and the medical risks and benefits. Dispelling myths comes with that territory. The false narratives being spun by antiabortion politicians are gross, intentional mischaracterizations of our work and the real-life situations of patients and of what we know to be needed, safe and essential health care.

The bill in Virginia was about removing political interference between patients and their doctors. Had it passed, the bill would have repealed medically unnecessary restrictions for patients seeking access to abortion, including a 24-hour state-mandated delay and requiring women to go to a hospital, which is a costly obstacle that is completely medically unnecessary. When something goes gravely wrong in pregnancy and poses a serious threat to a woman’s health, decisions need to be made quickly, before a condition worsens or becomes more complicated. This bill would have changed the number of physicians needed to certify the decision by eliminating the requirement for a second and third opinion. Overall, this bill trusted women and their doctors to make the right decision for their health in a timely manner. We need more bills like this.

The combination of scientific research and the complex, individual, stories of the patients we serve all lead to the same logical conclusion: the bills in New York and Virginia are good for women, good for families and good for protecting our ability to decide what is right and what is wrong for our health and well-being, even in the most trying of circumstances. We are tired of having to reiterate what we know to be the facts: When abortion is made more difficult to access, we endanger those who already face the most barriers to accessing health care.

We know the reality of abortion care because we see it each and every day. We know when abortion happens in the United States, where it happens, the varying (and all valid) reasons it happens and the even more diverse range of women who present for this care representing every race, religion, political party, region of the country, sexual identity, gender identity, income, educational status and marital status. We also know that laws such as the ones introduced in New York and Virginia apply to about 1 percent of our patients who need abortion care. But those women who represent the 1 percent need protections, too.

Fortunately, most people have never been in a situation with a complicated pregnancy or been faced with a critical illness while pregnant, such as the patients we’ve seen whose lives are being misrepresented by these reckless politicians. Their stories are not easy to hear, nor are they supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean these women are unworthy of their autonomy, their health or their futures. What every patient who has had to consider accessing abortion care later in pregnancy would tell you is that it was never what she wanted, nor what she intended, but instead what she truly needed for her own health and the health of her family. Under these complex circumstances, doctors need the full range of treatment options to provide the best care, including abortion.

But instead of making the compassionate decision to ensure these small number of patients can make timely decisions and access professional care, too many politicians are falling privy to propaganda and are turning their backs on families in often heartbreaking realities.