Women, it’s time to walk out on your doctors

24458315652_8c56cae219_zThe last week brought us a stark look at what we as a country will be facing in the next few years. A week of testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and potential Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh showed us clearly that the Republican Party has absolutely no interest in the health and safety of the women of the United States. Nominee Brett Kavanaugh showed his true colors earlier when previously blocked documents from his time as a lawyer for the Bush administration were leaked, proving that this potential new justice doesn’t believe Roe is actually “settled law.” His later reference to some forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs” also was a red flag that we aren’t just looking at the end of abortion, but a curtailing of access to contraception, too. 

Then, when faced with accusations of sexual assault and other offenses while drinking in high school and college, he dodged, dissembled and even lied repeatedly under oath, in some cases belittling the female senators asking him straight questions. 

Despite it all, there were positive moments during proceedings. Nearly two hundred activists were arrested and physically removed from the building for disrupting the testimony. Sexual assault survivors followed Republican senators through the halls, demanding that their experiences not be ignored. Activists even knew that this was the last, slim chance to stop the Supreme Court from decimating decades of civil rights gains in our nation, and while it was a long shot prospect to stop these sham hearings it might be the only remaining hope. At the very least, they showed us all that even if it meant arrest, they wouldn’t give up without a fight. 

Those moments of civil disobedience were a true inspiration, and a reminder that we all have the ability to act out to affect change no matter how hopeless the situation may seem. Each individual can pledge to take one large step to keep our reproductive freedoms intact, even if the courts eventually try to strip them from us, and we can act now to get started. 

Ladies, let’s walk out on our doctors. 

It was nearly 20 years ago, but I still clearly remember a talk I had with Dr. Tamos, a colleague of mine who provided abortions for many years here in Phoenix. Abortion was already starting to be restricted in Arizona – not legally, yet, but by doctors who were eliminating it from their practices, cutting off even the option of it as a part of full spectrum reproductive health care services 

“You know, women should just walk out,” he told me. “Just walk right out of their offices. If your doctor won’t talk about abortion, won’t discuss referrals or even consider the procedure, they should just step right out and find a new one.” 

If every patient did that, he argued, doctors would be forced to make abortion a general part of their practice. With no patients left to serve, these physicians would have to face the fact that abortion is an indispensible part of patient care, and not simply something they can opt to include or reject on a whim. 

Today it is even more important than ever to know if your doctor is pro or anti-choice. It is imperative that as the right to birth control and abortion is restricted that you know beyond a doubt if your family physician or Ob-gyn is trained in all medical procedures, is willing to refer for abortion care if the situation arises, even where he or she stands on allegedly non-controversial topics like birth control and tubal ligations.  

I cannot count the number of times that I have spoken with patients in my clinic who arrived after claiming they had been “abandoned” by their primary provider, who either could not or would not offer a termination if a pregnancy became too medically complicated to continue or a miscarriage was pending. I’ve seen women turned down for tubal ligations because their doctors rejected them because they were too young, or had only one or two children – one even was told no because she had only given birth to girls and her doctor was convinced some day she would want a boy. 

One time, I saw a patient seeking a new provider because she no longer could get birth control from her regular physician. The doctor – a devout Catholic – decided that she would give up prescribing hormonal birth control pills for Lent. With no warning, her patients were cut off from prescription renewals and left in the lurch with no means of contraception. 

These are not one off accounts – these are the people that I see every day, denied and rejected by practitioners and health professionals who all took vows to do no harm. 

So how can you make sure now that your reproductive health isn’t in the hands of a secretly anti-choice physician who doesn’t truly respect your autonomy? The easiest thing to do? Just ask. Ask your doctor if they provide medication or non-medication abortions, or if at the very least they would refer you to someone who does if you need it. Ask where they stand on birth control, and if they believe it should be offered to anyone who asks, regardless of their age or marital status. Ask them if they have any particular rules when it comes to sterilization procedures, and if that is available to any person who chooses that option even if they are unmarried or have no children at all. Plus, if you are in a state like Arizona, where doctors are protected from lawsuit if they fail to disclose fetal anomalies or any issue during a pregnancy that could cause a patient to consider an abortion, ask your doctor if they will promise to always tell you the truth about the potential outcome of any prenatal testing, and ask long before you get pregnant in the first place. 

They very well may say no, and if they do, be prepared to walk away and seek out a new doctor. Your life may very well depend on it. 

If we all agree to do this one simple act, we can strike out against physicians that refuse to offer full spectrum reproductive health care. If we all stand together, we may finally have a chance to control our bodies – regardless of what the courts eventually decide. 

Take inspiration from those who challenged power during these Kavanaugh hearings: from Christine Blasey Ford, from abortion rights activists, from the survivors of sexual assault. The GOP may get the Supreme Court justice they want, but if we work together we will be the ones to get justice in the end. 

Author: drgoodrick

Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick is the owner and medical director of Camelback Family Planning, one of only four private abortion clinics left in Arizona. She also serves on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona.

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