Stop playing politics with people's health during a pandemic

Stop playing politics with people's health during a pandemic

Over the past several weeks, politicians across the country have used the COVID-19 pandemic to advance one of their most extreme and dangerous political goals: blocking people who need an abortion from obtaining one.   

While many of these bans have been stopped by the courts, they are still having a devastating impact on families and communities.  We hear it in the desperate voices who call us daily seeking care, and we see it in the eyes of those who have driven hours to reach our clinic from somewhere that abortion is now out of reach.  

What politicians had already succeeded in turning into an ordeal is now a nightmare for many people seeking abortion care.   

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Patients from as far as Houston have traveled to Kansas, Oklahoma, as well as other states, after Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) banned abortion in that state. Another woman called us, frantic after she’d had six appointments canceled by other providers. It was heartbreaking to hear the fear in her voice before I reassured her that we would be open and her appointment was confirmed. In a matter of weeks, visits to our Wichita clinic have increased by 300 to 400 percent as state after state has used the virus as an excuse to push care out of reach. 

I wish the politicians pushing these bans could talk to our patients and hear their stories. If they did, they might understand that in their zeal to ban abortion, they are creating a health crisis within a health crisis.  

A pregnancy cannot be paused, even in a pandemic, and by restricting or even banning access to care, they are forcing families to put themselves in harm’s way. A global pandemic is the worst possible time to be forcing people to travel hundreds of miles to seek care when they should be staying at home and minimizing their interactions with other people. That is why leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, have warned that abortion bans are likely to increase — not decrease — the demand for other health care services and put further strain on our hospital system.  

Clearly these bans have nothing to do with women’s health and everything to do with furthering a narrow political agenda. The fact that some states are lifting bans on telemedicine regulations during the pandemic — but excluding abortion providers — is more proof that these politicians are more concerned with pursuing their own ideological crusade than protecting people’s health.  

Allowing providers to administer medication abortion through tele-health would be a safe, effective way to preserve access to care while minimizing the need for in-person visits or unnecessary travel.  Instead, politicians are determined to force people to jump through needless bureaucratic hoops and travel hundreds of miles to access the care they need.  

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Regardless of how someone may feel about abortion, none of us know the circumstances that led a woman to that decision. We are not in her shoes, and we certainly shouldn’t be letting politicians interfere once someone has made that deeply personal decision.  

This is why we, along with hundreds of other providers across the country, are committed to continuing to provide abortion access. We know the importance of having compassionate reproductive health care. No one should ever be forced to relinquish control over their own fertility and the outcome of their own pregnancies.  

It is time for lawmakers to stop using reproductive rights as a political football and start prioritizing the health and well-being of all of us. By expanding access to care, not restricting it, we can weather this crisis and build a stronger, healthier future for everyone.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their health care. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.