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Roe v. Wade, the Story of Two Sides

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Sunday, 19th February ,2017

A few days ago, several friends and I went to the Arena Stage to see “Roe,” a play by Lisa Loomer.  It was an incredibly powerful play about the landmark Supreme Court Ruling (Roe v. Wade) handed down 44 years ago.  My husband remembers participating in one of his early political marches as a teenager in support of that ruling and how inspiring it was.  Ironically, as I was writing this blog, there was breaking news that the real life Roe (Norma McCorvey), the anonymous plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, just died of heart failure in Katy, TX.  She was 69 years old.

Norma’s wrote a book about her life as a young adult and how she ended up as the plaintiff in this major Supreme Court case - I have not yet read this book.  She was a “wild flower,” abusing drugs and had a life with no clear purpose, until, when unintentionally pregnant, Sarah Weddington, a young lawyer, drastically changed her path.  Sarah and “Roe,” the pseudonym provided to the courts by Sarah to give her client privacy, fought to establish women’s abortion rights.

The play was brilliantly presented to show how one can see a controversial issue from both sides.  No matter which side you are on, people on the opposite side can be equally passionate about their view for their own reasons.  Later in life, after she was taken into the inner circle of a preacher, Roe reversed her views on the issue of abortion.  I remember that day when Norma changed her mind and stood against what previously she had fought for.  Maybe Norma was fighting, as many people believe, with whomever she thought was caring about her.  Maybe Norma was looking for love and nurture and not having a firm belief whether women should or should not have the right to terminate their pregnancy.  Or maybe, as people age and experience different circumstances and emotions, certain long held philosophical beliefs change.

Abortion is always among the most divisive issues in our society.  Fortunately, I am surrounded by “moderates,” those who try to respect both sides of the spectrum.  Should we “moderates” consider “pro-choice,” the best option as we believe women themselves should have the option to decide what is best for their life, or “pro-life” as the best option?

Have you ever met somebody who would consider herself “anti-life”?  Whose lives are the so called “pro-lifers” or, more aptly titled (if you are on the opposite spectrum) “anti-choice” people talking about?  Which life is more important, that of the mother or the unborn?  Should the unplanned, unborn fetus be valued more highly than that of the mother? Can a “pro-baby’s life” be the equivalent of an “anti-mother’s life”? 

What is life anyway? Should happiness be considered important for survival? Shouldn’t the element of happiness for the woman be included in this issue of abortion? What if the birth of her baby literally will ruin the rest of a good life the woman (never mind that of the soon-to-be born child) previously was planning for.  This was the case of Roxie, a character in the play, who couldn’t find a clinic to terminate her pregnancy.

The discussion between the cast and the audience after the play was fascinating.  Many believed the play brought out the humanity from both sides of the issues.  One member of the audience expressed how an unborn child’s life should not trump his mother’s life, similar to a situation where a mother would not legally be obligated to give her blood to her living child, even if it meant the child might die.  So why then would she be obligated to have a child she doesn’t desire?  

I remember watching an interview between a woman who participated in the March for Life in Washington a few weeks ago.  She stated enthusiastically that the death penalty should be applied to women who have abortions.  She could not even agree to an exception for a hypothetical case posed by the interviewer where a 12 year-old was raped by her father and got pregnant.  Somehow, this woman could not concede that even in this horrific scenario, an exception should be permitted. 

Unless humans can multiply by binary fission as in flatworms, why should only the women be put to death? What about the men who contributed to them getting pregnant?  What about the companies who manufactured the defective condoms or defective birth control pills, in cases where people used protection but still got pregnant? 

I just heard a story from a neighbor how her friend’s eighteen year-old student shared that she was mystified that having engaged in sexual relations only at night, she became pregnant.  She thought sperms only worked during the day, as if they sleep at night and therefore couldn’t get a woman pregnant.  Should we punish the teacher in this student’s sex education class or cut funding to her school? 

All of my friends who saw “Roe” with me were physicians, and all agreed the issue is incredibly complex.  Some of us shared that we would never think of having an abortion ourselves, but find it hard to force another woman to carry on with her unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.  After all, unless there’s a national registered list somewhere of the “pro-life” people who would be willing to take the unplanned babies home and care for them like their own children, being black, white, brown, yellow, deformed or mentally challenged, why coerce someone into having an unplanned baby?  Adoption could be an option for many babies, but not all babies could be adopted.  Maybe the lawmakers who want to reverse Roe v. Wade also should register their names on the list of ready adoptee parents.  Compassion should be more than just words.  

Since I do not believe such list will ever exist, I don’t think it’s wise to defund Planned Parenthood, if we don’t want to see more unplanned parenthood.  The lawmakers need to educate themselves, or to be more honest with their constituents on the role of Planned Parenthood in many women’s lives.  You can’t cut all the fins off a fish and expect it to swim safely across the river.   

It’s even more peculiar to have all these mostly male politicians decide on what women ought to do with their bodies and pregnancies.  Legislators have not passed laws forcing men to wear condoms or to undergo a vasectomy after a certain number of children.  They have not passed many laws holding the male partner responsible legally for taking financial, emotional or any other type of care of the unplanned children.  They know by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, among other things, they will remove family planing counseling services, contraception methods and other women health services from the same women they would coerce into keeping their pregnancy.   

Last week, in Indiana, Representative Ron Bacon tried to introduce a bill to help “reverse” medication-induced abortion.  The bill would require health providers to inform their patients about taking progesterone to “reverse” the abortion process after they have taken the first few pills to induce their abortion.  The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, however, has stated that there is no scientific evidence or proof that this “abortion reversal” medication would work.  In the end, the Indiana panel approved an amendment from Rep. Terry Austin to add a disclaimer to the information provided to women about this “abortion reversal” drug stating that it has not been scientifically proven that abortion can be reversed after the abortion-induced medication has been taken. 

Rep. Ron Bacon is a 75 year-old politician.  His biography shows he received a diploma in Respiratory Therapy from Deaconess Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy, a two year diploma, and no further education.  He’s among the politicians who want to determine or change the life path of women.  Would you men want him to work on policies regarding prostate cancer and such? 

Did you know only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities involve abortions?  Further, are you aware that not a single dollar of public funding permitted (by federal law!) to be used for any abortion services except in the extremely narrow exception that medicaid funds are permitted to be used where rape or incest led to the unwanted pregnancy or the mother’s life is in danger from the pregnancy?  Did your politicians who plan to defund Planned Parenthood tell you these facts? 

Did you know in many rural areas, with a severe lack of ObGyn physicians like me, Planned Parenthood might be the only place a woman can get her pap smear performed, her sexually transmitted Disease screening, and her mammogram?  Did you know Planned Parenthood is not just for the poor?  I know young girls who receive their contraception through Planned Parenthood so their parents will be unaware that they are sexually active.  Planned Parenthood is available for women who need these services during vulnerable periods of their life.  It is as simple as that. 

I once was an “ultra conservative” who made judgements relating to many women.  I was one of the “pro-lifers” myself.   All that changed the day I delivered a patient whose baby had anencephaly, a nonviable condition where the brain is absent.  The baby looked as if there was nothing above his eye brows.  The mother, who had known her baby had this condition and did not choose to have an abortion, was so terrified she asked her nurse to take the baby away.  She did not hold the baby.  She could not control her crying.  I was confused because I did not know if I was feeling sorry for or angry with her, for not holding the child she chose to carry.  

Very soon, you will hear how our lawmakers plan to defund Planned Parenthood or to reverse Roe v. Wade.  I hope you will join me to encourage a national registry for the “Pro-baby’s life” members to adopt the unplanned babies of the “Pro-mother’s life” members, just in case there are babies who can’t find adoptee parents.  Unless, you, like me, believe it would be easier and more rational to support Planned Parenthood in one of its goals which is to reduce the unwanted pregnancy rate in society.   

Did you know, because of Planned Parenthood, the national unwanted pregnancy rate is at an all time low?  Planned Parenthood has prevented hundreds of thousands of abortions and unwanted pregnancies every year with their services.  I bet our lawmakers who plan to defund Planned Parenthood will not tell you that.  Besides, Planned Parenthood is irrelevant to their lives anyway.  These lawmakers have great insurance and live in big cities.  Their wives and daughters would not have to travel far to find contraception.  Until their own health insurance is restricted, or they are required to live in the rural areas they represent, they will not recognize the invaluable role of Planned Parenthood.  We constituents need to educate them about those facts, or, to be more practical, to inform them that we are aware of these facts.  These are facts, not alternative facts, about Planned Parenthood. 

It’s terrifying for me to think of living in rural areas where Planned Parenthood might have to shut down its operation, followed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  Remember the example of the fish without fins?  Try to clip off that fish head and see if it can even wiggle in the water.  That’s what it will be like for rural women when it comes to the lack of healthcare. 

In 1970, President Nixon signed Title X into law, giving women access to family planning assistance because of economic conditions.  This incredibly important Title X has provided millions with women’s healthcare services including sexually transmitted diseases screenings and treatment, family planning, well-women exams, lifesaving cancer screenings.   

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology just alerted physicians that the US House Rules Committee has moved legislation that will allow states to deny funding for services provided by Title X.   A vote by the full House is imminent.

Do you consider yourself compassionate?  Do you think we have a moral obligation to help those in need to better their lives for the sake of a more peaceful and happy society?  Whatever your perspective about the Roe v. Wade issues, the time is now, to act with compassion and thoughtfulness.  Do not let the rhetoric of selfish and ignorant politicians ruin the foundation of our country, where the haves are supposed to lift the have nots.






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