Abortion proponents should care about safety if they are truly pro-woman

This week the Supreme Court will hear one of the most monumental cases regarding abortion and women’s health since Roe v. Wade. On the docket is Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt where the Court will weigh in on the constitutionality of health regulations for abortion clinics. The case seemingly pits the pro-life and pro-choice camps against one another, but a closer look at the facts reveal that the Texas law under scrutiny is in the best interest of women’s health.

For years, abortion advocates have equated improving women’s health with increasing access to abortion. But at the same time, they have accepted and protected the abysmal health standards and regulations for abortion clinics or providers. This is not a pro-woman policy, even for the staunchest of abortion proponents. First, until recently clinics have not been regulated which has led to horror stories for women and babies.  Furthermore, from a strictly medical perspective, abortion is invasive and carries risks and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Last, holding abortion clinics to the same level of health standards as other outpatient surgical facilities is not only common sense, but anything less is actually harmful to women.

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If you can believe it, until recently, beauty parlors, public pools and veterinary clinics were held to higher levels of regulatory oversight than abortion clinics in most states. It is only after women suffered terrible health consequences, including death, at the hands of poorly-regulated abortion clinics that states like Texas have since passed laws raising the health standards of these facilities.

One such instance is the gruesome tale of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who practiced medicine for decades as a late term abortionist. The investigation into Gosnell’s clinic by the Philadelphia District Attorney (a pro-choice democrat) revealed a multitude of atrocities: women contracting sexually transmitted diseases from the unsanitary equipment; patients suffering infertility, infanticide, and illegal dispensing of prescription medicine including “a la carte” medicines depending on what patients could pay for. Two of Gosnell’s patients died from malpractice and neglect after seeking an abortion.  During this time, Pennsylvania was one of twenty-five states that had a law regulating abortions, but tragically the regulations were not enforced.

Aside from basic health clinic standards, abortion on its own is a deeply invasive surgery—whether surgical or chemical, and it sometimes involves serious complications. According to the CDC, a very conservative estimate of women who have died as a result of abortion in the United States (between 1973 and 2010) is 490. The actual number is much likely higher because states are not required to report abortion-related data to the CDC and many do not – including California where 20 percent of nation-wide abortions occur. Other physiological side effects related to abortion include increased risk of pre-term birth, increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, bleeding/hemorrhage, laceration of the cervix; menstrual problems; inflammation of reproductive organs; bladder or bowel perforation; and serious infection.

Between surgical and chemical abortions, the latter is more harmful to women’s health yet its use is on the rise. The Food and Drug Administration’s most recent official adverse events report shows that at least 11 women died as a direct result of chemical abortion between its approval in 2000 and 2012 (no data has been made public since 2012). According to the report, many more women suffered severe physical complications during that time including 612 hospitalizations; 258 ectopic pregnancies; and 339 women having severe blood loss requiring transfusions. A pro-choice “Marie Clare” magazine reporter wrote once that it took fully nine months for her to feel better after undergoing a chemical abortion. Chemical abortion is not easy on women.

Like other invasive surgical procedures, at a very minimum abortion requires strong health oversight and certainly no less than standard regulations for outpatient surgery. Because in the words of one doctor, “[T]here are few surgical procedures given so little attention and so underrated in its potential hazard as abortion.”

The Texas law does just this; it requires that abortion clinics have the same health standards as other outpatient ambulatory facilities. This will ensure a sterile and sanitary environment, emergency access, proper staffing and minimum safety requirements. The law also mandates that physicians conducting abortions have admitting privileges to hospitals. Federal law has long required that participating ambulatory surgery centers either have a written agreement with local hospital or that all physicians have admitting privileges. This ensures that patients have immediate medical or emergency treatment at a hospital if necessary.

Abortion proponents used to claim that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. As the head of a pro-life organization formed after Roe v Wade to oppose abortion and build a culture of life, my sincere hope is that no woman will step foot in an abortion facility in her own best interest as well as that of her baby. But until that day, can’t we agree that abortion facilities should be held to the same safety standards as other health clinics? Abortion proponents should care about safety, if they are truly pro-woman. 

Mancini is president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.