Typically, “first in the nation” is a title that a state would feel proud to receive. However, in the case of Kansas’s first-in-the-nation law that criminalizes doctors who perform a certain type of abortion procedure, our policymakers should be ashamed. In a state that is already hostile toward women, this new law prevents doctors from providing the best care to their patients and limits women’s ability to decide what is best for themselves and their families.
Even worse, Kansas has already been joined by Oklahoma, with Governor Mary Fallin’s signature on nearly identical legislation. These bills are sprouting up throughout the country as part of an extreme, anti-women agenda that intends to ban abortion care across the U.S. Most recently, the Oklahoma Senate passed yet another restrictive law that will increase the amount of time a woman must wait to have an abortion after providing consent—from 24 to 72 hours. For the women who must leave their families and their livelihoods and travel long distances to seek reproductive health services, the increased waiting time is an unnecessary and cruel barrier.
I wish there was a simple compromise or solution to the seemingly endless abortion wars. But the truth is that every woman faces a deeply personal decision when it comes to choosing whether and when to have a child—and whether and when to have an abortion. While 90 percent of women access abortion care in the first trimester, there are a variety of reasons why women seek abortions in the second trimester. Some women don’t know they are pregnant until they are further along. Others can’t afford to access care earlier.
Still others are devastated with a diagnosis of maternal or fetal health problems—as was the case for one woman I recently met. She faced a heartbreaking decision when she learned that her baby had a severe brain abnormality and wouldn’t survive—but was deeply grateful to have the power to make the decision she did. If she and her husband had been unable to terminate the pregnancy, they would have spent one heartbreaking day after the next waiting for their baby to die.
The right to decide—the ability to seek a trusted physician who can use the safest medical procedure possible—enabled her and her family to end their anguish and begin picking up the pieces of their lives again. As the founder and director of an organization that trusts women to make decisions concerning their own lives, I support their reasons for seeking abortion as valid, including decisions made later in pregnancy.
The deeper problem with the heated debate on abortion is the very premise that public opinion should bear any relevance in access to abortion care. Politics and public opinion have no place in our doctors’ offices. Abortion is a health care procedure that has saved many lives and access to an abortion is a human right. Those who are opposed to abortion have been crystal clear about their intent – they not only want to ban the procedure altogether, but also block women from accessing contraception. They will not be satisfied until women are once again hiding in dark alleys and putting their lives at risk to seek necessary medical care. This is dangerous and disgraceful; we cannot allow our grim history to repeat itself.
When women lack the ability to make reproductive choices, their fate is no longer their own. To be able to choose to work; to support her family; to gain an education; to escape the crush of poverty; to survive—that’s what’s at stake when policymakers restrict a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
The decision to have an abortion is a private and intimate decision—one that can almost assuredly never be understood by an outside observer. This is exactly why protecting access to abortion care is more important, more serious than trivial politics. Those who work in reproductive health care or have ever had an unplanned or complicated pregnancy know the truth—there should be no debate here. We must protect every woman’s right to access an abortion—in Kansas, and in every state of our nation.