Physicians Group: ‘We Absolutely Support the Right to Choose’

The president of Physicians for Reproductive Health responds to Ann Furedi’s spiked essay questioning the organization's decision to drop "choice" from its name.

The president of Physicians for Reproductive Health responds to Ann Furedi’s spiked essay on abortion and choice. Logo courtesy of Physicians for Reproductive Health

Cross-posted with permission from spiked.

See here for further discussion of framing choice and reproductive justice.

Since 1995, I have had the extraordinary experience of serving as president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, now newly named Physicians for Reproductive Health. Several years ago, we decided to take a fresh look at how our organization is perceived by our members and within the communities in which we work. Part of that undertaking included asking the question, “Does our name present us as we see ourselves?”

Our doctors answered that question for us: abortion is a vital service to women that represents a modest portion of providing comprehensive reproductive health care, and our passion as physicians is all about providing comprehensive care to everyone. It became clear that changing our name to Physicians for Reproductive Health more accurately reflected how our members, doctors, and supporters alike see our work.

It is not a secret that in the United States, the battleground is no longer just on abortion. In the last year alone, politicians went after contraception with a vigor never before seen. At times like this, when our fundamental values are under attack, we must examine the words, phrases, and actions we’ve used in the past and how they resonate with those we represent. What we found, both anecdotally and through empirical evidence, was that removing choice from our name and keeping health was not about dropping anything, but rather was about reaffirming the holistic view that abortion is contained within health, not that it was separate and apart. It is part of mainstream medicine, not separate from it.

When Ann Furedi questioned our name change in her spiked piece, Remaking the case for a woman’s right to choose, she asked if we, and the doctors we represent, still support a woman’s right to choose. To me, this was an astonishing question. (As is the statement that we are part of a new anti-choice movement.) The answer is yes, without a doubt. Building public-policy support for allowing women to make their own choices is why Dr. Seymour Romney founded this organization. It remains the core of our work today. We are not replacing one word with another or elevating one service over another. We are instead ensuring that no matter what a woman faces, our doctors are supporting their right to access the full range of reproductive health services. And, just as doctors who provide abortions cannot view this care separate from their overall practice, a woman seeking an abortion does not view it as separate and apart from her overall life circumstances.

All issues intersect—from economics to education to employment to sexual violence—and affect each woman and how she chooses to act. Yes, for many it is a choice to end a pregnancy, but for some it is not. This is often because circumstances have left women with abortion as their only option because they didn’t have access to routine preventive health care or birth control. This can also happen because something has gone awry late in pregnancy. “Health,” however, encompasses both women who are choosing abortion and those who may not see themselves as having a real and autonomous choice.

Every single day, our doctors see patients who face challenging circumstances. One of our board members, Willie Parker, an abortion provider based in Chicago, sees patients every day who do not have adequate insurance coverage and face unintended pregnancies. Dr. Parker shared the following story with us. “My patient has an unplanned pregnancy because her insurance doesn’t cover any birth control. She could have afforded to pay for the pill out-of-pocket, but she takes a seizure medication that makes hormonal birth control less effective. What she needed was an IUD, which would have given her far better protection. The IUD and its insertion cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000. She couldn’t afford it. My patient’s seizure medication causes birth defects. She was more than a month along when she learned she was pregnant. Her insurance company will pay for the long-term care of a child born with severe health problems but not for birth control. Now she has decided to have an abortion. Her insurer won’t pay for that, either.”

Dr. Parker’s story is only one example of the complicated lives women lead, and it speaks to how we at Physicians for Reproductive Health view a patient’s need for comprehensive reproductive health care.

Physicians for Reproductive Health is a physician-led national advocacy organization, first and foremost. We work boldly and aggressively to create a world where comprehensive reproductive health services are an integral and respected part of mainstream medicine. Our values are the same as those of Furedi’s organization, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and also Catholics for Choice. Like our founders in the early 1990s, we stand united and affirmed with a woman’s right to decide when to become pregnant and when to have a child. Our doctors commit their practices and their time to defending this right, often at great personal risk.

We stand for them, and when they tell us, as one doctor in our survey research told us, “Reproductive health doesn’t abandon choice, it legitimises it,” it is crucial that we listen. Our physicians are the ones in the examination room seeing women every single day. Our new name represents doctors as they see themselves, supporting their patients’ health, and all their many and varied choices.