We are seeing alarming movement toward criminalizing abortion — both the women who have them and the doctors who provide them. So-called “heartbeat bills” in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and elsewhere are threatening hard-won reproductive rights by prohibiting doctors from performing abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks of gestation (and thus just two weeks after a pregnant woman has missed a period). The new Alabama law doesn’t even allow exceptions for rape or incest. Looming over these challenges is a conservative Supreme Court conceivably poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
We were in protest mode in 1974 when the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center opened its doors, never imagining that we’d still be defending our rights 45 years later. Our mission, then as now, is to improve the health of our patients and the community and advocate the feminist goals of social, political and economic equality.
Our ideal — what we’ve fought for as advocates and within our clinic walls — is that the interactions between patient and physician are driven by the best of what science, medicine and human compassion dictate. It is these confidential, privileged interactions that build trust, improve health and transform lives. That’s why we view access to primary care as a fundamental human right that defies income, social class, immigration status, race, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other factor.
The new state laws, such as in Alabama, create dystopian scenarios where intimate health choices are determined by a panel of distant, aging, white male bureaucrats and where pregnant (and possibly miscarrying) women and their doctors are suspects, liable for criminal prosecution. As with so many health, economic, and criminal justice issues in our country, poor women and women of color will be punished the most – just as they and their brothers, fathers and sons have been disproportionately incarcerated since the birth of the nation.
Today, along with our East Cliff Family Health Center in Live Oak, Santa Cruz Community Health Centers’ clinics provide comprehensive, high-quality primary care to 11,000 people with low income (a family of four that earns no more than $25,750 per year).
Here on the front lines of community healthcare, we’ve seen how poor women have endured over the last four decades. Every single day, our doctors work to heal complex health issues that originate in poverty and are exacerbated through violence, discrimination or trauma. Women routinely present Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in our clinics after surviving dehumanizing experiences, including rape.
Social responsibility is the necessary foundation for personal responsibility. In fact, per the Guttmacher Institute, most women who have abortions are already parents. The majority are trying to be responsible for choosing when to become parents or add to their families. Legislating women’s bodies doesn’t change the underlying situations that lead women to seek abortions. But it does promote the dangerous alternative of an unsafe abortion – either by people lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking minimal medical standards.
The science of human development tells us how to ensure babies, children and youth thrive: healthy, nurturing parents; access to quality health care; affordable childcare; universal preschool; quality teaching and learning; progressive economic policies; access to healthy food; safe neighborhoods; adequate housing; pro-social activities for teenagers that inspire hope and goal-setting; and accessible long-acting and emergency contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Feminism stands for equality for women, but it is also liberating for men. Many of us feminists will defend equality as both a means and an end for all people. Abortions are on the decline thanks in large part to improved access to health care and contraception. Grandstanding politicians and ideologues have no business legislating the bodies of women, disempowering them, and exerting their beliefs from a safe distance as women and those who care for them suffer the consequences.