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Heroism

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For me, heroism is being an abortion provider and helping women with their health care in an age where doctors can be murdered by extremists for providing this care. Such as Willie Parker:

In public health, you go where the crisis is. If there is an outbreak and you have the ability to relieve suffering, you rush to the site of the need. This is why, a year and a half ago, I returned to my hometown, Birmingham, Ala., to provide abortions.

For the previous two years, I had been flying to the South from Chicago to provide care to women whose access to abortion services was limited to a few clinics, despite the fact that abortions are deemed legal by the Supreme Court. These women face harsh life circumstances and incessant hostility, merely for wanting to exercise their rights.

My decision to provide abortions represented a change of heart on my part. I had been working for 12 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist, and had never performed abortions because I felt they were morally wrong. But I grew increasingly uncomfortable turning away women who needed help.

Ultimately, reading a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged me to a deeper spiritual understanding. I was moved by his discussion of the quality of the good Samaritan and of what made the Samaritan “good.” The Samaritan reversed the question of concern, to care more about the well-being of the person needing help than about what might happen to him for stopping to give help. I realized that if I were to show compassion, I would have to act on behalf of those women. My concern about women who lacked access to abortion became more important to me than worrying about what might happen to me for providing the services.

I stopped doing obstetrics in 2009 to provide abortion full time for women who needed help. Invariably I field questions regarding my decision, with the most often asked being: Why? The short answer is: Because I can. And: Because if I don’t, who will?

The South has become one of the centers of the abortion crisis. While women across the country are losing the ability to make private health care decisions because states have passed hundreds of laws chipping away at that right, the South is the most restrictive.

Who are these women who need abortions, people who should be thrown into prison if you believe anti-abortion rhetoric?

Years ago, I saw a patient in Mississippi whom I still think of often because of her intense grief in the midst of pregnancy. She had had five children, the youngest of whom had died the year before from cancer. She knew that she could not care for another child, financially or emotionally. She had traveled two hours to see me for her first appointment, which is for counseling only. Even though she was resolute, and knew what was best for her family, the procedure could not be done that day because state law requires that it be done in a follow-up visit, after initial counseling.

I want for women what I want for myself: a life of dignity, health, self-determination and the opportunity to excel and contribute. We know that when women have access to abortion, contraception and medically accurate sex education, they thrive.

What will these women do when they can’t have access to abortion services? They will self-abort, as is happening all the time now in Texas:

Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves, according to a pair of surveys released Tuesday by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a University of Texas-based effort aimed at determining the impact of the state’s reproductive policies.

The figure was found by asking an online, representative sample of 779 women whether they themselves or whether their best friends had ever tried to self-induce an abortion. Of the Texas women surveyed, 1.7 percent said they had performed an abortion on themselves, but 4.1 percent of them said their best friend had or they suspected she had.

The most common method reported was by taking the drug Misoprostol, also known by the brand name Cytotec. Other reported methods included “herbs or homeopathic remedies, getting hit or punched in the abdomen, using alcohol or illicit drugs, or taking hormonal pills.”

The finding is important because the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, that concerns abortion law in Texas. The court will decide the constitutionality of a 2013 law requiring the state’s abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers and for their doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

If some of the women die through self-abortions, that’s a feature, not a bug, for the drafters of the Texas law.

Of course, therein lies the core of the anti-abortion argument. Those people don’t want women to have a life of dignity, health, and (especially this) self-determination and the opportunity to excel and contribute.

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