News Flash, Senator Collins: Abortion Is Health Care

And pretending it isn't puts the rights of pregnant people at risk.

[Photo: Senator Susan Collins]
Susan Collins’ comments today are disappointing for several reasons. Alex Wong/Getty Images

I have an important message for Sen. Susan Collins.

Well that message is for everyone, really. But I’m directing it at Susan Collins specifically because earlier today, she made a few comments—according to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic—that demonstrate some confusion on the subject.

The Republican senator from Maine said that Democrats have switched from talking about Roe v. Wade to talking about health care “in an attempt I assume to unify their caucus” on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court:

No, Susan. Democrats haven’t “switched” from talking about Roe to talking about health care because—and I’m going to type this loudly—ABORTION IS HEALTH CARE.*

And if you don’t understand that, Susan, do us a favor. Stop calling yourself pro-choice, stop getting our hopes up, and join your anti-choice cohorts in the GOP who seem hell-bent on stripping the constitutional right to choose from every pregnant person in this country.

In the wake of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a lot of members of the public are imploring the purportedly pro-choice Republican from Maine to have the backs of the women and pregnant people she’s supposed to support. They hope that she will break with her Republican colleagues and vote “no” on Kavanaugh in order to protect the rights of pregnant people to access safe and legal abortion care.

Setting aside the fact that she already voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch and I am therefore not optimistic that she will decline to confirm Kavanaugh, Susan Collins’ comments today are disappointing for several reasons. They indicate that she plans to toe the party line and vote to confirm Kavanaugh: a man who will either vote to reverse Roe v. Wade outright, or, more likely, to uphold state regulations that restrict abortion out of existence under the guise of “women’s health and safety.” After all, courts evaluate abortion restrictions under the “undue burden” standard that the Supreme Court established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and strengthened in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. And as long as the court believes a particular regulation doesn’t pose a substantial obstacle to a person seeking an abortion, that regulation is hunky-dory. I look forward to the Court deciding, for example, that forcing abortion clinics to spend millions of dollars to meet the standards of inpatient surgical clinics is just hunky-dory. In fact, expect a lot of “that’s hunky-dory!” rulings from the Supreme Court when it comes to abortion, should Kavanaugh be confirmed.

Perhaps more importantly, her comments indicate she’s decided that abortion—which is a medical procedure—is somehow outside the realm of health care. She’s not alone in this: By differentiating between abortion and other medical procedures, anti-choicers are able to justify singling out abortion providers for burdensome regulations that don’t apply to health-care professionals who do not provide abortion care.

This pattern has been playing out for years. States have enacted Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws specifically to isolate abortion and regulate it in a way not applicable to other health-care procedures.

As journalist (and Rewire.News alum) Robin Marty aptly put it, “The legislation isolates the medical act of purposefully terminating a pregnancy and requires it to have a completely different and unnecessary set of regulations and standards than any other medical procedure, regardless of whether the other procedures are more or less dangerous, common or invasive.”

And make no mistake about it: Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. According to the Public Leadership Institute, which has drafted model legislation entitled The Abortion Is Health Care Resolution, “aspiration abortion, for example, causes no complications in 99 percent of cases, and medication abortion causes no complications in more than 99.9 percent of cases, making it safer than Tylenol, aspirin, and Viagra.” (That last one’s got to sting a bit. Maybe the government should regulate Viagra as stringently as it does abortion? Perish the thought.)

Nevertheless, anti-choice advocates have been twisting themselves into knots in order to set abortion aside and call it “something else.”

Some anti-choicers, apparently aware that the “abortion isn’t health care” line lacks all reason—because honestly, if it’s not health care, what the hell is it?—have tried to differentiate legally between so-called elective abortions, which are supposedly performed at the request of the pregnant person unrelated to the health of the pregnant person or the fetus, and therapeutic abortions, which are performed to protect the health and safety of the pregnant person or in cases where the fetus is not viable.

But that’s a distinction without a difference. Even an elective abortion often protects the health and safety of the pregnant person—if one includes psychological and financial well-being in the equation, which, unfortunately, most abortion restrictions do not. (Indeed, many abortion restrictions that include health and safety caveats expressly exclude the mental health of the pregnant person.)

Claiming that abortion isn’t health care is like claiming apples aren’t food. It’s absurd. And it’s possibly even dangerous: If abortion isn’t health care, it’s that much less of a reach to call it a crime instead.

Pregnancy is a medical condition. What’s the first thing most people do when they think they might be pregnant, besides either panic or jump up and down in excitement, depending on circumstance? They call a doctor. In my book, that automatically places pregnancy and all pregnancy-related procedures—of which abortion is most assuredly one—within the realm of health care.

So Senator Collins? If you’re going to turn your backs on pregnant people, at least do it honestly. Just admit that your claims to be pro-choice are hot air.

But spare us the indignity of being forced to listen to you pretend that abortion isn’t health care. Because it is.