VOICES: Ohio failed our citizens who deserved reproductive freedom

This Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, access to life saving medical procedures like abortion and the ability to choose what happens to your own body is being threated daily. In a crisis point like this, it’s important to reflect on those behind the clinic doors, working each day to protect that right. Today is a day we should honor the commitment to serving the people of our region and stand together as look ahead to the fight that’s left to ensure we can continue this work in Ohio.

As an Abortion Patient Navigator at Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, I can say confidently that our world as providers has been turned upside down in the last year. I have seen firsthand the impact that restrictive laws have on our patients, reproductive health care workers, and the stigmatization of abortion related services.

I meet with patients traveling from across the country to be seen by our physicians, desperate to have the opportunity to take control of their own body. This process is not only expensive and inconvenient – but emotionally exhausting for all those involved. For a nation that touts the idea of equality among all, our rights shouldn’t depend on where we live.

For nearly three months, our clinic was unable to offer abortion services if cardiac activity was detected on ultrasound, usually around 6 weeks after the last menstrual period. Those three months consisted of sending patients hundreds of miles away to receive care, assisting with travel accommodations and expenses, and scrambling to see patients as soon as possible in order to avoid the need to travel out of state. Though we have been able to resume services in the state of Ohio, the impact of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision continues to reverberate throughout the walls of our health center.

Many states that have a total ban on abortions make an exception if the life of the mother is in danger – but it is difficult for lawmakers to define all instances where this would be necessary. For example, Ohio was the subject of news, outrage, and disgust around the world when a 10-year-old patient was forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion. According to the World Health Organization, pregnant adolescents have a high risk of eclampsia, infection, preterm birth, and intrauterine growth restriction. The body of a child is simply not equipped to handle pregnancy and birth - not to mention, the severe mental and emotional trauma that one must face to experience an assault resulting in pregnancy. If it is widely agreed that there are dangers associated with pregnancy at such a young age, then why was this patient sent out of state? The answer is simple: abortion providers do not feel safe that their medical expertise to serve their patients will be trusted and agreed with by politicians. In Indiana, the physician that performed this patient’s abortion was investigated by the Indiana Attorney General. How can physicians be expected to perform their job under constant scrutiny by those who have no understanding of the human body or a background in medicine? For many providers, the risk of losing their job, having their medical license revoked, and even being threatened with jail time, is an ever-looming fear.

Reflecting on what should be a time to celebrate the tireless work of health care professionals, I can’t help but feel a sense of injustice that it’s a right that, despite our best efforts, is still out of reach for so many. Though Ohio has since become a haven state for patients experiencing a total ban on abortion, we cannot forget the three months that we failed our citizens who deserved reproductive freedom. Despite all the wonderful things the state of Ohio has to offer – Fiona the Hippo, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Joe Burrow, to name a few– the legacy of our state has been reduced to be known as the place where adolescents are forced to give birth. As a lifelong Ohioan, I know that we are better than this, and hope we have the opportunity to prove that to the rest of the world.

Zara Ahmed is a Patient Navigator with Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region.

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