Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, my mind has been flooded with the emotions of disappointment, fear, helplessness, and rage. While I process the news and try to move forward, a sense of survivor’s guilt remains. Currently, I am a Complex Family Planning fellow in California, but prior to last year, I spent my entire life in Florida. I continue to provide abortion care without the fear of prosecution. Meanwhile, my family, friends, and colleagues back home remain trapped as they scramble to figure out what to do in the aftermath of this tragedy.
The day the Supreme Court decision was announced, I was in the operating room performing an abortion. As I went through a 24-week dilation and evacuation procedure, I could hear my phone vibrating as text messages and social media alerts started to flood in. Those who have met me know how much I care about reproductive rights. I was not surprised when family, friends, and former colleagues reached out to check on me. While I appreciated the support, I could not help but think how it was not me who needed the comforting. I did not have to question whether my team could complete our full day of abortion procedures. I knew there were providers across the country making devastating calls canceling and denying appointments for patients needing abortion care. They were meeting with their staffs, administrators, and lawyers, and fielding responses from the media. I thought about all the patients and the fear they must be experiencing as they scrambled to make arrangements for possible travel to other clinics or self-management of their abortion. I know that for many, their only option is forced pregnancy.
Like any other day, the patients we cared for that day were seeking an abortion for a variety of reasons. There was a patient who recently learned her desired pregnancy was complicated by a lethal fetal malformation. One patient shared that she experienced contraception failure. Another patient feared pregnancy because her last pregnancy was complicated by severe preeclampsia and hemorrhage. Our last patient told us she missed her period and knew she did not want to be pregnant. While each individual experience is unique, these stories are not exclusive to people living in California – these stories are the same ones I heard from patients and friends seeking an abortion in Florida - across the country.
The Supreme Court majority argued it was handing the question of abortion over to the states and their voters to decide. Recent surveys found 61% of U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases,1 but in several states, within hours to days of the SCOTUS decision, patients were forced to make other plans as their prior fundamental right to an abortion was immediately removed. There were no further conversations, elections, or votes. It no longer matters what the majority supports or what the details are about the lives of those people making the personal decision to have an abortion. All that matters now is the ZIP code someone happens to reside in.
After I completed the first case, the graduating resident on our team expertly completed the remaining procedures. I felt confident that she would be leaving the program able to take care of any patient needing an abortion. She would also be able to manage any emergency that requires the quick evacuation of a uterus. Dread set in as I thought about the residents back home in Florida and other restrictive states. Many of these programs already struggle to provide abortion training, and their ability to do so in a post-Roe world will be near impossible. Around 50% of current ob.gyn. residents are training in a state that is expected to or already has banned abortions.2 Even in states without abortion bans, residents often are not exposed to full spectrum abortion care for a variety of reasons.
During my time in residency, a family planning rotation was developed thanks to a few dedicated educators. While there were no laws prohibiting abortion at that time, like most hospitals in the state, our primary training site only allowed terminations for a select list of indications. An all too familiar story was the transfer of a patient from a nearby hospital after a failed multiday induction for a pregnancy loss or lethal fetal anomaly. They would arrive with heavy bleeding, infections, and hemodynamic instability. Most of these patients told us they were only offered an induction because there were no providers who could or would perform a dilation and evacuation. Even at our top-rated hospital, it was often a struggle coordinating emergent care for these patients because of the limited number of proficient abortion providers. These situations will become the new norm across the country as hundreds of residents will no longer learn these critical skills. As a result, these states will see more maternal morbidity and mortality for years to come.
The reversal of Roe v. Wade affects everyone, not just people who can become pregnant. It will have a devastating effect on medical training. It will change the trajectory of people’s careers and it will result in people losing their jobs. I am so proud to be an abortion provider and cannot imagine doing anything else. I am also a proud Floridian and always envisioned a future where I could live near family while caring for the people in my community. After this decision, I don’t what my future holds. I am concerned for the next generation of health care providers. I imagine many medical students may think twice about obstetrics and gynecology given concern about prosecution for exercising the full scope of the specialty. Most importantly, I am afraid for the patients who will no longer have access to essential abortion care. While we all process this traumatic event, the prochoice community of health care providers, lawyers, politicians, researchers, students, organizers, and volunteers will continue the fight for reproductive justice. For now, I will push this feeling of guilt aside as I take advantage of working in this protected space and embrace every opportunity to provide the best abortion care possible.
Dr. Brown is a complex family planning fellow at the University of California, Davis.
1. America’s Abortion Quandary [Internet]..
2. Vinekar K et al..