The Supreme Court should listen to the doctors who care for abortion patients

The Supreme Court should listen to the doctors who care for abortion patients
© Greg Nash

I am a family medicine physician and have been providing abortion in Texas for the past five years. I came back to Texas after my residency and fellowship to do this work because I was worried about what Texans who needed access to safe, legal abortion would do if there weren’t doctors available to provide the care.

At that time, politicians in the Lone Star State were systematically shutting down abortion clinics using a medically unnecessary abortion restriction that was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court. Now the court is reviewing an identical law from Louisiana because a lower federal court failed to follow precedent and strike it down. 

Every single day, I get to help people who tell me that they can’t be pregnant. I’ve sat with thousands of patients — some of whom have tried to end their pregnancy on their own before coming to us. As a physician, I want anyone who needs health care to get it, safely and with compassion. Nothing matters more to me than providing quality health care for my patients, in a dignified and understanding manner that centers their needs and eases their burdens.

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I’m not the only doctor who provides abortion care in Texas, and I know my colleagues are motivated by the same things as I am. We’re committed to providing the best possible care to every patient we have the honor of caring for. 

Our abortion provider community is small, so it can be isolating. Thankfully, we’re a tight-knit family, and we’re proud of the care we provide. The misconceptions and stigma surrounding people who get or provide abortions can paint doctors and health centers as something we’re not. We’re experts. We’re here for our patients. We’re providing excellent medical care. We trust and care for our patients every day.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo, a challenge to a Louisiana law requiring providers like me to have local hospital admitting privileges for no medical reason

Much like in Louisiana and many other states in the South and Midwest, accessing an abortion in Texas is already difficult. The state has imposed dozens of restrictive abortion laws aimed at making it harder for patients. These laws include mandatory wait times, state-mandated information and ultrasound, laws that prevent us from using the most up-to-date evidence for medication abortion, and so much more. In 2016, providers in Texas were in the same position as those in Louisiana now: telling the Supreme Court of the United States that requiring admitting privileges for abortion providers serves no medical purpose and only harms people.

In Texas, when politicians enforced the same law, we saw the number of health centers offering abortion cut in half. A 2016 study shows that patients seeking abortion services in areas of Texas where clinics closed experienced more hardship and greater travel burdens to get care, including having to travel four times greater distances. This is our future if the Supreme Court ignores its 2016 precedent and upholds this senseless law in Louisiana.

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Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available and the complication rate is less than 1%. Abortion patients get the same care regardless of whether or not their provider has local admitting privileges. We know that requiring admitting privileges is just another tactic to make abortion even less accessible for patients.

This law has the potential to render the protections of Roe meaningless because even though abortion would remain legal, it could push access to abortion out of reach for many more people. The burdens will again be carried by the most marginalized among us. I am truly overwhelmed with concern for the safety of the people who would be affected if the Supreme Court were to uphold this law — those in Louisiana and in many states like it. 

As a physician, I am committed to being here for the patients who need me. I feel compelled to speak up for my patients because the politicians passing restrictions and shutting down access to health care don’t understand or don’t care who they are and what they’re going through. They haven’t sat in a room with them and listened to their stories, they haven’t seen the look of relief after their abortion, and they don’t stay up at night wondering what happened to the patients we couldn’t help.

The Supreme Court has an opportunity to listen — and really hear — doctors like me, the real experts in reproductive health care. After all, we are the ones who sit with patients and families every day and provide the health care they need and deserve. I hope the court listens. 

Bhavik Kumar, M.D., MPH is a family physician and medical director for Primary and Trans Care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. He has been an abortion provider in his home state of Texas since 2015.  He completed medical school at Texas Tech HSC in Lubbock and El Paso, Texas, residency training at Montefiore Medical Center, and a fellowship in Family Planning at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in the Bronx, N.Y.  He has a Master’s in Public Health at Columbia University.