Written by Snigdha Chigurupati, Sophia Cordes, Hannah Kralles, Sophie Kurschner, Rachel Nassau, Priya Sathyanarayan – a group of medical students in Washington, DC, USA
On June 24, 2022, women and people who are able to get pregnant were stripped of one of their most fundamental human rights: their right to bodily autonomy. The Supreme Court of the United States’ decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade will have detrimental consequences for years to come, however, repercussions of this ruling have already been felt across the country.
As medical students in a sanctuary city, we are fortunate to live and train in a community committed to ensuring safe and legal access to abortion care. But we fear for others who are not so lucky, who lost their reproductive rights the moment Roe was overturned. We fear for the future when reproductive freedoms are replaced by values that do not represent the majority of Americans.
A New York Times’ study predicts that the invalidation of Roe vs. Wade will force 25 percent of individuals who seek abortion care to travel more than 200 miles (320 km) for a legal abortion. The Court’s decision will exacerbate disparities between lower socioeconomic groups and people of color compared to those from privileged demographics.
In contrast to the Supreme Court’s dehumanizing decision, we find solidarity and hope in the community of providers and patients we know by volunteering our time at a local abortion clinic. Our experiences in the patient recovery room have forever shaped the lens in which we view abortion and reinforce the importance of abortion access. Each week, clinic patients represent diverse ages, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. Mothers, students, teachers, engineers, nurses and other professionals and workers are among those who entrust us with their stories and their care. There is no single group of people that make up patients seeking abortion care. Indeed, each individual has made a personal decision about their reproductive health, their own bodies, and their futures.
The toll of this milestone ruling impacts the entire spectrum of reproductive health: maternal and child mortality, mental health, domestic violence, and much more. Without bodily autonomy, millions of people will be forced to continue pregnancies and raise children despite challenging personal, physical, emotional, and financial circumstances. Each patient has their story. As one patient consoled another young woman in our clinic’s recovery room, “You made the decision that was right for you. They (referencing the protesters outside) will not be there to support you and your children. You are here to take care of your family.”
In a nation lacking universal health care, child care, and limited parental leave, these words speak to the challenges now magnified by banned abortion care. We would be remiss if we did not highlight the irony of the “pro-life” movement. They continue to deny families this basic support.
To the “pro-life” protesters parading outside our clinic with signs: “adoption is the loving answer” – your words are hurtful. They are hurtful to the individuals who decide to terminate their pregnancy because of a lethal fetal abnormality. They are insulting to clinic patients who have been abused or raped. They sting and damage patients who are already mothers seeking care out of love for the children they have at home. Whatever reasons patients have when seeking medical care at our clinic, the sentiments and violent words of “pro-life” protestors outside are devastating.
As future physicians, we are frightened for a future when the government, not our patients, is the decision-maker. We are frightened for a future when young doctors like us may face legal repercussions and threats against our personal safety for standing for patient autonomy and reproductive rights and access. We fear for the day we are forced to say, “we cannot help you” because we are not legally permitted. We implore medical schools, residency programs, and other medical training facilities to expand abortion training now in cities where abortion care is still legal and address the vacuum of safe abortion care caused by clinic closures and bans.
We also urge medical students across the US and globally to tackle this issue head on – volunteer at a local abortion clinic, attend or organize a protest, write an op-ed, email your representatives, and ultimately, vote in each and every election. The scale of this issue can feel intimidating, however, these are actions we as medical students can engage in to enact change not only in our local communities, but also on larger platforms.
The decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade was one made with complete disregard of fundamental human rights. It is a decision that will only perpetuate inequality and poverty. Patients everywhere will be impacted, and we refuse to stand by and watch.
Please note that blog posts are not peer-reviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of SRHM as an organisation.