Stop playing politics with women’s health

By Emma Davidson
Tell Them

Every year for the past 15, legislation has been introduced in our state that would outlaw your right to birth control. It’s just one of many policy attempts that put basic individual rights at risk. Nearly every day, I meet citizens who are shocked to learn just how aggressive the attacks on reproductive health have become.

During the past three legislative sessions alone, 41 ideologically motivated bills related to women’s reproductive health were introduced in the General Assembly. This legislation is being promoted by a vocal minority with an agenda that reaches into uncharted waters. The supporters use intense emotional arguments, often based on misinformation.

As you read this, our lawmakers are considering legislation that undermines people’s right to make decisions about their own health. The “Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act” (H.3408) would allow health-care professionals and institutions to use their personal ideology as a reason to deny patients information and services. That means any provider could legally interfere with decisions made by you and your doctor. For example, a pharmacist could legally refuse to fill any prescription (including birth control, HIV medications and even cancer medications) based on personal values versus what is in the best interest of the patient.

While the bill targets reproductive health, the language is so broad that it extends to general medicine. The precedent it sets threatens general medicine and even the very standard of care established in the Hippocratic Oath.

Would you approve of a nurse denying families routine vaccinations because she believes immunizations cause autism? Would you back the anesthesiologist who lets an expecting mother with pre-eclampsia suffer stroke because his “conscience” refused blood-pressure medication that might affect the baby? And what about the would-be parents who miss an opportunity to conceive because of a physician’s assistant who’s unwilling to dispense in-vitro fertilization medications?

These scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg. Some lawmakers are advancing a legislative platform that erodes long-standing health protections that most consider fundamental rights. They hide their real motives under seemingly benign language like “conscience” and “personhood” when in reality it’s a deliberate attempt to take away existing rights. How many South Carolinians are comfortable with this approach to policymaking? The answer is a tiny minority.

Citizens’ views on reproductive health are clear. Contraception is something that 88 percent of Americans support; something that 98 percent of sexually active women use during their lifetime. It is safe, effective and recommended by every legitimate medical association in this country. And yet an entire decade, and inestimable resources, has been spent attempting to frame it as controversial.

These efforts to misrepresent the majority’s views on contraception are particularly alarming in a state that consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally for the highest rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV/AIDS and struggles with a high number of unintended pregnancies.

South Carolina is not alone. Experts point to a long-gathering movement in this country to restrict health rights, specifically women’s rights. Currently, 13 states allow some health-care providers to refuse to provide services related to contraception; 18 states allow some health-care providers to refuse to provide sterilization services; and a recent ballot initiative in Mississippi sought to ban many forms of birth control and assisted reproduction such as in-vitro fertilization.

So how do we curb a minority agenda that sacrifices the health and well-being of millions of South Carolinians? We let consensus lead.

It’s time to restore balance to these important conversations by asking policymakers to get on board with what the majority of voters believe. Women should have the right to decide when they become pregnant. Couples should have the right to pursue fertility. Patients deserve to see their doctors’ treatments carried out.

Let’s call upon state leaders to acknowledge the many voices of reason speaking out on these issues. I hope yours will be one of them.

Davidson is the program manager for Tell Them, a member of the SC Progressive Network, which works to prevent unintended pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted infections.