Sara Imershein is an obstetrician and gynecologist in the District and Northern Virginia.
Self-determination is the freedom to control our own destiny and be the authors of our individual and personal stories.
The Supreme Court made it clear that personal freedom includes the ability to control our bodies and determine our lives and our futures, as Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote in the majority opinion in Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972: “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."
When it comes to reproductive health care, including abortion care, we must let each woman, with the help of her medical professional and her family, make these decisions. And the medical experts are best equipped to determine the best medical practices, not politicians.
As someone who has spent nearly 40 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist practicing the full range of women’s health-care services, I know patient access to care is paramount. For too long, antiabortion politicians have created barriers rooted in political ideology, not medicine or patient safety, that confound medical professionals and ultimately hurt my patients.
As members of the Virginia General Assembly gather Wednesday for the veto session, the conversation around abortion must be grounded in facts. The false, inflammatory rhetoric that has dominated Virginia and the nation (accompanied by death threats and hatred) negatively affects the medical community and our patients who need care.
Over the past decade, Virginia has passed medically unnecessary laws making abortion harder to access and more expensive. Burdensome laws include biased counseling and Trap laws (the targeted regulation of abortion providers), such as the mandatory ultrasound requirement and the 24-hour waiting period. Trap laws are exclusive to women’s health and designed to shut down reproductive health-care clinics and reduce access to abortion care services.
I provide abortion care in Falls Church. The overwhelming majority of my patients live in or near poverty. Abortion restrictions fall hardest on my patients, the most vulnerable members of our community.
I’m deeply concerned that Virginia politicians are deliberately spreading misinformation about a common-sense bill that would remove medically unnecessary barriers and give patients the ability to make decisions without political interference.
That’s why members of the medical community, patients and those who share the values of most Virginians are uniting now to support access to abortion care. The voices of those who have made the personal medical decision to seek abortion services and the providers who are vilified for providing this safe and legal procedure have been excluded from this debate. We won’t allow politicians to deny women access to care nor criminalize the women who seek abortions.
It’s time to set the record straight. The recent report from the independent, nonpartisan National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine makes clear that abortion is overwhelmingly safe. Efforts to limit access, including Virginia’s Trap laws, hurt women. The medical community agrees: Abortion in Virginia should be accessible and regulated no differently than other safe medical procedures. The discussion and decision to continue or to terminate a pregnancy belongs in the exam room with a patient and her medical provider, not debated in the General Assembly.
Virginia voters agree. An overwhelming majority believe abortion should be accessible, safe and legal (72 percent. And 75 percent believe that women who face geographical or financial barriers should be able to access needed care during her pregnancy.
We need to support and protect access to medical services for Virginians. The stakes for women’s health are especially high given the current makeup of the Supreme Court. Over the years, the nation’s highest court has reaffirmed and clearly stated that abortion is a right. Undue burdens and efforts to deny women access without health benefit are unconstitutional and ultimately hurt women. At risk is each woman’s self-determination. That’s why it’s imperative the General Assembly stand with the majority of Virginians, the medical community, my patients and our many supportive advocates to protect and expand access to abortion care across the commonwealth.