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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Dr. Stacie Bering: Abortion decision should be left to women, not legislators

Dr. Stacie Bering

By Dr. Stacie Bering

I learned how to perform abortions in, of all places, Houston. As a requirement of my OB-GYN program, all residents were required to spend time in the public hospital’s VTP (voluntary termination of pregnancy) clinic, performing first trimester abortions for low-income women who couldn’t afford a private doctor – or figure out how to get to the closest town in Mexico, 350 miles away. Funny how things change.

My commitment to reproductive rights started much earlier. While taking premed courses at UC Berkeley I worked at a feminist health clinic in Oakland where I counseled women about options for their pregnancy and subsequent birth control. I accompanied women throughout their procedure and during the postoperative recovery.

Later, when we had a medical practice in Spokane, my partner and I continued our advocacy for women, despite picketing at our office and homes and vituperative letters to the editor. We remained steadfast in our belief that decisions about reproductive health should be made between a woman and her health care provider. Legislators, particularly male legislators, have no more a role in these decisions than they have in whether male patients should take Viagra.

I know, as do those of you who are reading this piece, all the pros and cons of the abortion debate. But I have seen firsthand the consequences of an illegal abortion (she almost died and lost her female reproductive organs). I have suffered with a woman who carried a baby with a universally fatal anomaly, as she came to our office hoping not to hear the heartbeat so she could end the pregnancy. She was in the military and the federal government does not pay for abortions. And I counseled a woman against terminating her pregnancy, a stance I can pretty much guarantee no illegal abortionist would take.

When life begins, when ensoulment occurs, how an unwanted pregnancy affects a family already struggling with food insecurity are ethical questions that individuals must answer for themselves in consultation with their loved ones, their health care provider and their spiritual counselors. I don’t see legislators as part of this equation. To take a complex decision like this and reduce it to black and white, or yes/no is naïve.

I am retired, but glad I live in Washington state where the right to an abortion is guaranteed by a referendum passed by the people. A recent Pew Research poll found that 59% of all respondents felt that abortion should remain legal in most cases. Among those who claimed a religious affiliation, only white evangelical Protestants (not the majority of Americans by any calculation) believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases. The vast majority of those ages 18 to 50 (61-67%) who grew up in a post-Roe world felt abortion should remain legal in most cases.

If Roe becomes a historical footnote, then legislatures will make the decision for us.

And legislators are elected. If legislatures enact laws that contradict the will of the people it’s time to elect new legislators.

Stacie Bering, M.D., is a retired OB-GYN in Spokane.

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