Roe v. Wade was overturned one month ago. The flagrant assault on women’s health and their reproductive rights is now at full throttle. My blog post, Trauma Amid Roe v. Wade Despair, addressed the historical, manifesting, and enduring trauma experienced across society from this new norm. Providers, practitioners, patients, and their supports have long dealt with public scrutiny over the decision to terminate an unintended, unviable, if not potentially life-threatening pregnancy. Yet, this intimate choice was a guaranteed right under the law for almost 50 years, that is until June 24th, 2022.
I introduced the hashtag, #Therewillbetrauma, which has resonated loudly across the globe. It has joined other entries on social media related to this topic, including:
There has been an outpouring of mobilization this last month to counter the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. Struggles to ensure necessary care for women in need have been fierce with ongoing efforts to craft new abortion and reproductive rights legislation. More vulnerable populations, such as women of color, transgender men, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming persons. and those living in poverty were disproportionally impacted prior to Dobbs v. Jackson; their access to appropriate healthcare often limited. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis identifies these populations are more likely to obtain abortions, yet have limited access to health care, and face systemic inequities that make out of state travel for abortions more difficult compared to White counterparts.
Recent events have occurred amid these struggles that reinforce the impact of trauma’s wrath. Each packs a fierce intensity to challenge ethical tenets across health and behavioral health care. Patient autonomy is compromised, as is beneficence, fidelity, justice, and non-maleficence. What happens when “do no harm” is the antithesis of reality for those reconciling their intimate right to choose, and the inability to do so?
#Ethicsmatter is another of my popular hashtags. The following news stories demonstrate how little ethics matter to far too many. Each event activates a trauma response that sends my cortisol levels into overdrive. I am a seasoned clinical professional, but also a woman working hard to maintain balance amid a range of emotions, from anger and frustration, to sheer rage:
- Within weeks of Roe v. Wade being overturned, a horrific story surfaced. A 10 year old in Ohio, had been sexually assaulted and raped by a 27 year old man, resulting in a pregnancy. At 6 weeks and 3 days of gestation, the child was denied an abortion in her home state due to the Dobbs v. Jackson decision; she was forced to travel across state lines to receive appropriate health care. The physical and psychological trauma from rape is unthinkable. The thought of a rape victim being forced to carry a resulting pregnancy to full-term against her choice is reprehensible; for a 10 year old child, it is unconscionable. This is trauma.
- The 10 year old discussed above was referred by her physician to an OB/GYN in Indiana to terminate her pregnancy. The treating physician, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, has subsequently been harassed and threatened by the public, as well as Indiana’s attorney general; her medical license is now under scrutiny. Reports validate Dr. Bernard complied with state and local laws, such as existing HIPAA privacy rights laws for treating a minor, reporting the case to child protective services, and other regulations. Despite acting with beneficence, fidelity, non-maleficence, and egal due diligence, Dr. Bernard faces “reputational harm and emotional distress”. This is trauma.
- Marlena Still and her husband, Abie DeSilva live in Texas and were excited about their pregnancy; the couple have a toddler and had tried conceive a second child for some time. During a routine office visit at 9 weeks, doctors informed the couple that there was no heartbeat, and thus, no viable pregnancy; a fetal demise was their new norm. The emotional intensity of their baby dying in utero was unthinkable and traumatic enough. Yet, this tragic situation took an even, more tragic turn. The events that followed were antithetical to “do not harm”:
- Marlena was forced to carry a dead fetus for 2 weeks: This is trauma.
- Marlena requested a Dilation and Curettage, also known as a D and C and the traditional care following a miscarriage. Her physician refused to do the procedure, citing the new Texas anti-abortion law as the reason. She noted the patient must have a transvaginal ultrasound before further consideration of the procedure. This is trauma.
- Marlena endured this invasive diagnostic procedure, plus, then was forced to hear the words no parent experience, and more than once: “your baby is dead”: This is trauma.
- After the second ultrasound, Marlena’s OB/GYN still refused to provide clinically indicated care putting her at grave clinical and emotional risk. The patient endured, yet another, ultrasound: This is trauma.
- The literature notes profound risks associated with fetal demise and from carrying a dead fetus for an extended period of time: hemorrhage, infection, infertility, organ failure, mortality. The psychological impact of being forced to experience this reality is unacceptable: This is trauma.
- Marlena found another physician to do the D and C procedure. This denial of clinically appropriate miscarriage care and treatment is unethical and immoral. This is trauma.
- The couple are considering leaving their home state of Texas, their family and support system. They have also opted to not try and conceive another child. Marlena is fearful of being unable to access appropriate care should she have another fetal demise. She is not prepared to put her life in jeopardy and risk leaving her daughter without a mother and husband without a life partner. This is trauma.
- The reality for Elizabeth and James Weller of Texas is gut wrenching and almost too much for, even, this author to fathom. At 18 weeks pregnant, her water broke. Given the length of this blog post, those interested can review the heartbreaking events in an article on NPR. They tell a horrific story no person should have to endure: traditional obstetric care amid a medical emergency obstructed due to state law, a patient’s life at risk as she is forced to endure medical and emotional trauma while awaiting “fetal death”, a physician caught in a legal quagmire and unable to practice medicine in a way that prioritizes, “Do not harm”. This is the grim reality which has been created; THIS IS TRAUMA.
The Current State of Trigger Laws
The emergence of trigger laws banning abortion has been swift. An interactive map of current laws across the nation appears on Governing.com. As of this writing, abortion is illegal in 10 states, though 13 others limit access. Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas will join the state bans in place as this article is published, on July 24th, 2022; Arizona and Georgia will follow in the coming months with a growing number of states curbing women’s reproductive rights. Providers may refuse to participate in an abortion procedures in 45 states. Those practitioners supporting reproductive rights are being threatened at every turn. They are becoming more reluctant to provide necessary care and treatment to women experiencing fetal demise, or where the termination of a pregnancy is clinical indicated; fear of legal reprimand and sanction may supersede patient care. Waiting periods for abortions are advancing, as are efforts restricting all types of abortions: those received across state lines, telehealth procedures, and mail access to medications that induce miscarriages. The reproductive rights scene for women, their families, and all providers who care for them, is becoming scarier by the minute. This is trauma.
As the first 30 days of our post-Roe v. Wade era draws to a close, advocacy continues to be the antidote. The resource listing from my initial blog post on this topic is posted below for ease of access. Engage in action as you can and vote:
- Center for Reproductive Rights
- Center for Trauma-informed Policy and Practice
- Guttmacher Institute
- Human Rights Campaign
- International Partners for Reproductive Justice (Ipas)
- Keep Our Clinics
- NARAL Pro-Choice America
- National Abortion Federation
- National Black Women’s Reproductive Agenda
- National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice
- National Network of Abortion Funds
- PACEs Connection
- Planned Parenthood
- Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)
- Women Have Options
It is unclear what the next 30 days will bring, though there is one certainty. Trauma is now its own epidemic, and will only intensify. Amid the battle to fight for reproductive and women’s health rights, there is, and will continue to be, trauma. How much will be determined by ongoing advocacy toward action.