Column: Vt. abortion bill protects longstanding rights

To the Valley News
Friday, February 22, 2019

I am proud to be a Vermonter. Vermont has a culture that understands the complexity of many social issues, and the state is not afraid to be a leader for the basic rights of all of its citizens.

As a physician who cares for and about the women of Vermont, I give my full support to bill H.57.

The bill protects the rights of women in Vermont to a safe and legal abortion by codifying this right into Vermont law. This legislative action will preserve the rights women in Vermont have had for 46 years, and it makes no change to Vermont policy.

Making abortion illegal does not reduce its incidence. Women will risk their lives to end a pregnancy that they deem they are unable to continue. All over the world that is exactly what women do: They make decisions about their bodies, and some pay with their lives in countries without safe and legal abortion.

According to widely accepted epidemiological evidence, whether abortion is legal or restricted in a country does not change the number of abortions in that country. When women believe that they must discontinue a pregnancy, whether or not the procedure is legal, they will not change their minds. They are dealing with a decision that they believe is theirs to make, given the impossibility for them to continue with the pregnancy. Being illegal only makes the abortion process significantly more dangerous, and often a cause of serious illness or death.

This is a burden that only women must face. If they die, however, they leave behind other children and loved ones, and then many more are harmed. How many of us have had to make life-and-death decisions? It doesn’t matter that anyone else might not feel that carrying a pregnancy is a life-or-death issue — to that woman, it is.

Abortion is more common than most people know: 1 in 4 women will have an abortion by the age of 45. These are your daughters, sisters, mothers, friends, aunts, teachers, coaches and women of all religions and socioeconomic standings.

Women have the right to bear as many children as they feel capable to care for, or to have none at all. In a country where half of all pregnancies are unplanned, these are decisions that women face regularly.

Women who have abortions are more often trying to be the best mothers they can to the children they already have. These are the stories that are not told, because women do not talk about their abortions for fear of stigma and judgment.

Safe abortion is possible when this private matter is shared with a medical provider who can give the woman medically accurate information. Unless one stands in that woman’s shoes, lives her life, understands her risk, and is willing to bare the weight of any decision she makes, then we must let her decide.

Much misinformation has been spread recently about abortions later in pregnancy. These are rare and extremely complex situations that occur mostly for medical issues that arise in the pregnancy.

I can tell you, they are the most difficult situations I have ever known. Usually this situation arises because a genetic or medical problem has been identified, often one that is severely limiting or lethal.

Women in need of an abortion in later pregnancy find themselves in a heart-wrenching and complicated situation where they face emotional — and private — decisions.

I encourage everyone to appeal to your state representatives and Gov. Phil Scott and ask them to protect the abortion rights that women have had in Vermont for decades. Our officials must pass H.57 to ensure that women have the freedom to make health care decisions that are best for their circumstances.

Renee Johannesen, of West Windsor, is an obstetrician-gynecologist.