Before I finished high school, I learned I was pregnant. As a result of fear and a lack of resources, by the time I confided in my mother and grandmother, I had no choice — I was going to be a mother. Becoming a parent as a teenager came with many harsh realities. I love my children with all my heart, but I know that everyone should be able to make the decision to parent for themselves.
This personal experience, along with my passion for young people, is how I came to my work at the Alabama Women’s Center. As a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and medical director of a Huntsville-based reproductive health clinic, I provide prenatal care, deliver babies, treat mothers after they give birth, and provide abortion care. I have been in the shoes of many of the young people I see in my clinic, and it’s important for them to know that regardless of their decision, I am here to support them.
Today, I’m testifying on Capitol Hill in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act because access to abortion care should not differ depending on your zip code, as it does for my patients in Alabama.
Providing abortion care in my state is challenging. Decades of medically-unnecessary restrictions have slowly chipped away at access to abortion care in Alabama and nearby states, forcing many providers to shut their doors. It is not unusual for my patients to travel up to eight hours or from as far away as Louisiana and Florida. They are required to endure a 48-hour state-mandated delay period before I can provide the care they need. I know of people who have slept in their cars during this period because they had no other options.
The state also mandates that my patients receive outdated materials and misinformation that I then need to correct. We are required to perform ultrasound examinations, even when they are unnecessary and provide no medical value.
Alabama bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. Patients needing care after that point have to travel out of state, making the care more expensive. And young people have to navigate an onerous, time-intensive judicial approval process to have an abortion if they cannot involve a parent.
And, just last year, the legislature passed a near total ban on abortion that threatens doctors like myself with up to 99 years in prison for providing ethical, medically-appropriate care. Fortunately, the ban is currently blocked, as a result of a lawsuit filed by myself and other abortion providers, represented by the ACLU. But that does not change the web of medically unnecessary restrictions that still exists and causes harm to my patients on a daily basis.
Indeed, over the years, the Alabama Women’s Center has been forced to comply with onerous, medically-unnecessary building requirements. We were required to install 24-hour lighting, even though we do not see patients after 5 p.m. A local anti-abortion group sued the zoning board, then drafted legislation (later struck down by a court) making it illegal to operate an abortion clinic within 2,000 feet of a school to try to force us to close.
Meanwhile, the maternal and infant mortality rates in Alabama remain unconscionably high. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, a majority of Alabama counties lack hospitals that offer obstetrical care. Moreover, the number of pregnancy-related has steadily increased. Black women in Alabama are nearly five times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. We know that racial disparities in health care are exacerbated by policies that make accessing health care more challenging. Without access to abortion, maternal mortality rates will rise even more — in Alabama, and across the country.
Every patient deserves access to abortion care, regardless of where they live or how much money they have. Even though Alabama’s all-out abortion ban is not in effect, my patients are worried. One told me of the nightmares she had prior to coming to the clinic about being turned away and denied services because of these restrictive laws.
The bottom line is this: Abortion care is health care. Health care in any specialty should be patient centered, and medical decisions should remain between the patient and her physician, without political interference. The Women’s Health Protection Act would bring needed protection from that interference for my patients, safeguard their right to abortion care, and ensure that my patients have the time, information, and ability they need to make life-changing personal decisions.