Congress: Listen To Doctors and Patients. Protect Abortion Access Now

As a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist, I care for people from all walks of life. Despite their differences, my patients all have something in common: When they come to my office, they are making thoughtful decisions about their health, working to care for themselves and their families, and seeking ways to build their families with dignity, respect and self-determination.

Sometimes, that means that they decide to have an abortion. Medical experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical societies, overwhelmingly agree that abortion is an essential health care service. And yet, while abortion has been legal in all 50 states for nearly half a century, legality has never guaranteed true access for many people across the country. This is in large part because of a vast range of ideologically and politically motivated abortion restrictions at the state level.

This year alone, 16 states have enacted more than 80 abortion restrictions, from banning abortion after an arbitrary number of weeks, to imposing limits on medication abortion, to passing laws that result in the closure of abortion clinics. When states block access to abortion, communities suffer. Black people, Indigenous people, communities of color, immigrants, young people, LGBTQ+ people and those living in rural communities disproportionately bear the brunt of these ideological battles because they are more likely to be marginalized from health care more broadly and more likely to lack access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion. These battles come at the expense of their dignity and at the expense of their health.

Here’s the truth: Abortion is extremely safe, and none of these arbitrary barriers make it any safer. Medical authorities agree that the biggest threat to patient safety is the litany of medically unnecessary regulations that raise costs and delay procedures, ultimately putting people’s health at risk. The fact that such restrictions have been vocally opposed by the medical community shows that the politicians who enact them aren’t concerned about protecting people’s health and safety, they’re focused on imposing a political agenda designed to control people’s bodies.  And politics has no place in the health care I provide.

With the mounting surge of anti-abortion legislation in the states, and with the Supreme Court poised to potentially undermine Roe v. Wade, Congress must act immediately to address this health care emergency. The Women’s Health Protection Act, which received a Senate hearing in June, would be a critical step to protecting access to abortion and eliminating current disparities that make this care all but impossible to get for millions of patients.

WHPA would ensure that doctors like me can provide abortion care for their patients, and that our patients can receive that care if they need it, free from medically unnecessary restrictions that single out abortion and impede access. It is a desperately needed, broadly popular protection for both providers and for people seeking health care.

When ideology takes the place of medical care and science, my patients suffer. Enacting WHPA would help protect my patients and communities nationwide by eliminating the abortion restrictions that limit their autonomy and threaten their wellbeing. Whether they’re ready to build or create their family, already parenting or focused on their education or career, the people that my colleagues and I serve all deserve high-quality reproductive health care, regardless of who they are, their income or where they live. They deserve support. They deserve dignity. They deserve autonomy and agency.

I went to medical school to become a doctor to take care of my community. This is not care. This is not justice. When 12 Black women coined the term Reproductive Justice, they affirmed that every person has the human right to bodily autonomy, to have children, to not have children and to parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. As a doctor and a Black woman, when I think about the care that my community needs and deserves, I know that access to abortion is an essential component for living healthy, free lives.

It’s time for Congress to make clear that our nation trusts patients to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families. I urge lawmakers to listen to the voices of doctors and those seeking abortion care and pass WHPA immediately, before the landscape of abortion access deteriorates even further.

Dr. Jamila Perritt is president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an OB-GYN in Washington, DC.

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Correction: A previous version of the phrase “This is not care” omitted the word “not.”

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