When the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade on June 24, the Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost moved quickly to enforce the state’s six-week abortion ban. Shortly after, a 10-year-old rape victim who was six weeks and three days pregnant was denied an abortion in Ohio, forcing the girl to travel out of state for necessary medical care to end the pregnancy.
On July 5, a grassroots group of physicians called Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights released an open letter signed by over 1,000 doctors in the state and published as a full-page ad in the Columbus Dispatch on July 6.
“A government that takes away the freedom of women to access critical medical care and threatens physicians with criminal penalties for upholding their oath is un-American,” said the letter, which was circulated at a rally for reproductive rights in Cleveland on July 4.
Republicans in the Ohio legislature passed the six-week abortion ban in 2019 in anticipation that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade after Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh to the Court, giving anti-abortion conservatives a majority of seats on the Court.
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights hopes to meet with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) and with other elected and appointed government officials to discuss repealing the abortion ban.
“We are experts in medical treatments. The government should not overreach into the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” said Dr. Stephanie Pope, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Cleveland area who spoke on behalf of the group. “Being a physician is an honor we take seriously including advocating for our patients’ rights.”
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights described its mission “to unify, represent and mobilize Ohio physicians in order to advocate for all people’s right to access evidence-based reproductive medical care,” including abortion care, and to inspire political, legislative and policy change to increase abortion access in Ohio. The group includes doctors from across the state working in a wide range of specialties.
The open letter expresses concern that “women are now losing bodily autonomy, basic human rights, and access to life-saving medical care” and condemns the ban’s supporters as “complicit in the greatest assault on women’s rights in our lifetime.”
The physicians address the numerous reasons women and girls need abortion healthcare and underscores the health dangers of denying them this critical medical care.
“What defines and necessitates abortion is nuanced. Women may require abortion in order to undergo life-preserving treatments such as chemotherapy. Women may choose to have an abortion to terminate an unviable pregnancy, and to be spared the emotional anguish and physical threat of carrying a fetus that cannot survive outside the womb. A woman (including a child or an adolescent minor) may choose to have an abortion after being raped and impregnated. A woman may choose to have an abortion simply to protect her future. No explanation should be required for a choice that allows a woman to enjoy the same status in society as a man: freedom to preserve her health and wellbeing.”
The letter notes that “a woman’s mental health is essential in the discussions regarding medical necessity and emergency” because “suicide is a leading cause of death amongst women of childbearing age.”
The physicians underscore how denial of abortion healthcare “will directly lead to oppression, illness and death of countless women. This will disproportionately affect women of color and individuals without the financial means to seek other options and will perpetuate the cycle of poverty.”
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights objects to government interference into the relationships between doctors and their patients.
“The decision to perform an abortion should be left solely to a woman and her physician. Doctors are guided by evidence-based medicine and are bound by our commitment to do no harm. … We stand steadfast in our support for the sanctity and privacy of the patient-physician relationship. Withholding treatment until a preventable medical emergency occurs is antithetical to our roles as healthcare workers.”
The letter calls on lawmakers to repeal the abortion ban and “to defend the separation of church and state, to support reproductive autonomy and to respect our basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Republican lawmakers are unlikely to comply. In fact, Ohio Republicans are pushing for even more restrictive laws, including banning abortion from the moment of conception, even in cases of rape and incest. Gerrymandered political maps in the state are likely to perpetuate Republican supermajorities in both houses of the Ohio legislature.
“Ultimately, this is an issue that is at the core of a person’s dignity: the ability to make decisions about our own bodies,” said Dr. Marcela Azevedo, a pulmonary and critical care physician in Columbus.
The 10-year-old Ohio rape survivor got an abortion in the neighboring state of Indiana, but that state is now considering its own abortion ban. Future survivors may have to travel much further to get the abortion healthcare they so desperately need.
“We fear for our patients and what will happen when they cannot access necessary medical care,” said Cleveland pediatrician Lauren Beene.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.