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Women's Health Education Program (WHEP) Blog Restriction on Abortion Care Amplifies Health Disparities and Suffering

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This article includes discussion of abortion that may be challenging for some readers.

January 30, 2023
By Sara Ali, Drexel University College of Medicine

Reproductive rights including abortion care have been protected for the last 50 years. However, in June of 2022 the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The implications of such policy signify that individual states have full authority to regulate abortion policy in any way they deem fit. According to the Guttmacher Institution, within the first 100 days of the landmark reversal, at least 66 clinics across 15 states have stopped offering abortion care. What exactly does this mean?

The first way I can answer this question is through my own personal experience as a medical student who has completed a Medical Student for Choice externship during my fourth year of medical school. I was placed with an incredibly selfless, considerate and empathetic physician who I will strive to emulate as a future provider. Without getting into specifics, our clinic was more than overbooked. We had patients flying in from places including Guam and Georgia to have procedures done. We were so overbooked, sometimes we worked on Sundays, which is almost unheard of in private practice. Once someone asked the staff when their clinic day usually ends. The staff member replied that the day ends once the last patient is seen, which can be as late as 7 p.m., since traffic, life and canceled rides are common in these circumstances. I’d like to believe the clinic was so popular because of how human the staff is. However, that simply isn’t true. The clinic was popular because it was one of the few clinics to provide abortion care. Staff, including the physician, no matter how selfless, were overworked and likely underpaid. Abortion care restrictions place a completely unnecessary burden on the U.S. health care system, physicians and women.

Women suffer, and will continue to suffer, with restrictive abortion policies. With a lack of access to trained abortion providers, safe equipment, timely follow-up, and more, individuals will resort to “back alley” or unsafe abortions. According to the World Health Organization, each year, 4.7-13.2% of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion. Restrictive abortion policy doesn’t only affect the immediate patient, it reaches beyond to generations of women. For example, if a woman is forced to take on more children, especially in developing countries, investment in that child’s schooling, particularly girls’ schooling, is diluted if not diminished.

In terms of health disparities, it is clear that people of lower socioeconomic status bear the burden of restrictive abortion policies. A study published in the widely respected journal The Lancet found an inverse relationship between unintended pregnancy and income, meaning the lower SES you are, the more likely you are to have an unintended pregnancy compared to someone with a higher SES. Findings also showed that individuals seek abortions regardless of if restrictive abortion policy exists (Bearak et al., 2020). In another study, it was estimated that banning abortion in the U.S. would lead to a 33% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths in Black women alone (Stevenson, 2021).

It is a common misconception that women who seek abortion are of one demographic. I can say firsthand that this is not true. The patients I worked with were fellow physicians, teenagers, mothers of four, etc. These women are your neighbors, your churchgoers, your teachers, your friends, your mothers, your sisters, and more. Access to abortion care is a fundamental right. I urge you to consider this the next time you are in a position to advocate for abortion care. This may be at a coffee table conversation with friends or at the ballot. You are free to choose to advocate wherever you are in the United States. Freedom to choose is fundamentally what we are fighting for.

Disclaimer: The opinions and perspective of this article are entirely my own, and not associated with any organization or institution.

Drexel's Employee Assistance Program is available to help employees in need of support through confidential, 24/7 counseling at 888.628.4824. This is offered at no cost to benefits-eligible faculty and professional staff, their family members, and Drexel graduate students. More information is available on the Human Resources website. Students can reach out for support via Student Wellbeing.


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