As a family physician in Portland, I have seen firsthand how critical it is that women have access to the time-sensitive reproductive health care they need, including abortion care. I work with patients across the full spectrum of health care, including pregnancy care, every day in my clinic and in the hospital.
Unfortunately, those of us who work in this field also see firsthand what happens when reproductive health care is restricted by politicians’ ideological agendas, deprioritizing and jeopardizing patients’ health and wellbeing as a result. Through my medical training, I have witnessed the devastating consequences patients experience when they can’t access reproductive health care. I know patients who have been forced to carry pregnancies by abusive partners or were refused birth control by family doctors who put their own ideology before their patients. I have seen the emotional trauma of women who have been denied control over their own bodies, and the toll that takes on physical and mental health.
Political agendas have no place in the exam room. The majority of people in Maine — and across the country — agree that decisions about pregnancy should be made by a woman, with the support of the people she loves and trusts. And a woman should be able to make these decisions without interference from politicians in state houses or Washington, D.C. who can’t possibly walk in her shoes or know her circumstances.
It concerns me deeply that even now, as people across our country struggle to stay healthy in the middle of a global pandemic, anti-choice politicians are still passing laws at a record pace to limit access to abortion care instead of working to make sure doctors and health care providers have the resources they need. The medical community, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is in agreement: abortion is essential, time-sensitive, necessary care that should not be restricted during the COVID-19 crisis. We cannot allow misinformed and ideological politicians to determine what medical care is “essential,” and now more than ever we need to rely on science and medical experts.
Even outside of our immediate public health crisis, I am worried about how much is at stake for reproductive health care right now. The Supreme Court will soon decide the June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo case, which not only threatens to decimate abortion access in Lousiana, but could give the green light to anti-choice politicians in other states to pass similar laws to rollback reproductive freedom. If the Supreme Court rules the wrong way, women and families will pay the price.
I can’t shake the fact that one of our home state senators, Susan Collins, helped put us in this precarious moment. I believe she has jeopardized reproductive freedom for millions of people across the country, including Mainers. Sen. Collins has not consistently stood up to Trump, even as he and his Republican allies threw women, medical expertise, and truth itself under the bus in order to score a few political points.
What’s more, she voted to confirm anti-choice justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is hostile to Roe v. Wade and abortion access, to the Supreme Court. Collins often claims the mantle of supporting women and families, but you can’t be a real champion for women and families if you’re also willing to sometimes cast aside their fundamental rights and reproductive freedom. Putting personal beliefs over medical expertise will never be appropriate or safe for our patients, and it is time we have elected representatives who understand that.
As a physician, it is my duty to make sure the needs of my patients are met. Collins has repeatedly put politics over people’s health and rights by too often supporting Donald Trump, along with Mitch McConnell and Kavanaugh. It’s time Maine is represented by someone like Sara Gideon, a proven champion of reproductive rights and access to health care.
With the Kavanaugh vote, Collins turned her back on Mainers, on my patients, and on the fundamental notion that women know better than politicians what’s best for their own health, lives, and futures. For those reasons, and for the health and safety of the people I serve in Maine, I hope we usher in new, much-needed leadership by replacing Collins with Gideon in November.
Brendan Prast is a family physician in Portland.