The World Health Organization recently issued an alarm about the resurgence of measles globally as a result of immunization refusals. Teens in the U.S. are seeking ways to get vaccinations on their own, in spite of their parents’ anti-vaxxing positions.
As a nurse practicing for the past 10 years, I’ve see the recent rise of the anti-vax movement as well as the anti-abortion movement as symptoms of a lack of understanding of safe, evidence-based medical practices.
Falsehoods based on flawed logic at times appear louder than the facts from medical providers. This is especially true when the president of the United States falsely accuses medical providers of executions, preferring to garner support with revulsion rather than facts.
Witnessing these emotional issues debated in the public forum is disheartening. My job is to prevent illness in my patients and to treat their diseases as they occur. I advise patients to receive vaccinations. I refer patients to another provider for an abortion if they request it and my decisions are based on medical facts, evidence and protocol.
Parents in my clinic refuse vaccines out of fear for the health of their child, but their fear is misplaced. They should fear the life-threatening illnesses which have largely been eradicated from the modern world, not the side effects of vaccines that are either rare or misstated.
The same is true for legal abortion. The fear that millions of women would choose abortion on a whim or because they “changed their mind” is unfounded. What people should fear is women not having access to this procedure which continues to save lives.
Some misconstrue the data regarding vaccines. I witnessed this firsthand as a piece I wrote on the HPV vaccine and its ability to eradicate cervical cancer around the world, was met with a swarm of anti-vaxxer, baseless denials on social media that are easily disproved with facts.
In the anti-abortion movement, a similar aversion to facts seems to dominate. The term pro-life assumes binary opinions and presumes anyone who does not prescribe is “anti-life.” In my experience, all health-care providers are pro-life as the mission is for people to live.
Prior to the recent abortion laws approved in New York state and the hotly contested proposed bill on third trimester abortions in Virginia, many in the anti-abortion movement incorrectly thought “on-demand” abortions were already available to women. The truth is most state laws restrict abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.
“On-demand” is a term coined by conservatives to further stoke an emotional response. The uniformed, incorrect belief was that any woman at any stage of her pregnancy, could walk into any Planned Parenthood in the United States and get an abortion.
As some misinterpret the Reproductive Health Act in New York, the term “on-demand abortion” resurfaces to cloud the facts.
Recently Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin referred to abortion as “infanticide,” but infanticide is not a medical practice. The confusion apparently intended to further stoke an emotional response, however inaccurate.
Rubio and Palin were referring to comfort care, a common practice in health care where, should life-saving procedures prove fruitless, the decision is made to focus on reducing pain and suffering of the newborn. It is a peaceful time that allows the parents time to say goodbye to their newborn; it is nothing like the images the word “infanticide” conjures.
Certainly, proponents of the anti-vax movement are in the minority, and the anti-abortion movement does not represent the beliefs system and actions of all Americans. According to the Pew Research Forum, 58 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal, while 37 percent believe it should be illegal.
Health-care professionals can also be misinformed. The most notable is Andrew Wakefield, the discredited physician who started the vaccines cause autism myth, with the recent 9th anniversary of that fraudulent study’s retraction.
Every day I need to reeducate my patients about misconceptions they saw on Facebook or read on a blog about medications I prescribe, ranging from contraceptives to anti-hypertensives (medicines to help manage blood pressure) to misinformation about risky pregnancies.
I’m pro-living, pro-humanity. The vaccines I give are life-saving, the abortions I refer patients to are life-saving.
Health-care providers are taught in school how to discern a reliable source from flawed research, no matter the issue, whether it is about vaccinations or abortion access. False information is not excusable when it affects the health of individuals, the community and humanity.
In an age when false facts, mythology and misinformation can be lethal, health-care providers are allies, not enemies.
Terry Gallagher is an assistant professor and family nurse practitioner at Rush University College of Nursing, a 2018-2019 fellow of the Duke-Johnson & Johnson Nurse Leadership Program, and a Rush Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter: @AprnTerry.