— “Physicians can mobilize,” organizer says
Marcela Azevedo, MD, sat in frustration late last month as she first watched the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, and then Ohio enact its 6-week “heartbeat” abortion ban.
Azevedo, a pulmonologist and critical care physician in Cleveland, told MedPage Today how she was gravely concerned about the life-threatening ramifications the decisions would have, and what it would mean for women to lose autonomy over their own bodies.
She was hardly alone.
After connecting with fellow Ohio physician Lauren Beene, MD, a pediatrician, and organizing on Facebook, Azevedo and Beene co-founded a grassroots group called Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights. The group decided to write and publish a letter detailing physicians’ anguish and medical opinions about what has happened, and what they believe a ban on abortions will do to their patients.
In 3 days, 700 physicians from all over the state and with countless specialties had signed the letter, Azevedo said. And in 5 days, 1,000 physicians had inked their name in approval. Since the letter’s publishing, there are now some 1,200 physicians who have joined the group, and that number is expected to grow.
“People’s lives are at stake when they don’t have access to abortion,” Azevedo said.
Pregnancy can be debilitating, depending on a person’s underlying conditions or complications that may arise, she said, adding that her group’s letter also includes strong language about what it means to lose autonomy over one’s own body.
“That changes the citizen status of a person, and that’s really impactful,” Azevedo said. “That’s emotionally overwhelming for me.”
“We are all extremely worried about the mental health of our patients,” she added.
Azevedo said that physicians have already witnessed parents requesting to place their adolescent children on birth control due to fear over Ohio’s law.
Physicians regularly prescribe birth control, she noted. However, the fact that people are electing to medicate themselves out of fear rather than necessity completely changes the tone of what patients are experiencing.
Additionally, the medical community has even reported difficulty obtaining certain medications that carry teratogenic risks for the treatment of patients with health conditions unrelated to pregnancy, due to concerns about what may be deemed criminal, she said.
“There are repercussions that affect pregnant and non-pregnant patients of all ages,” Azevedo said.
Azevedo and other members of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights focus on those and other issues in their public letter addressed to patients.
“What defines and necessitates abortion is nuanced,” the physicians wrote in their letter, adding: “No explanation should be required for a choice that allows a woman to enjoy the same status in society as a man: freedom to preserve her health and wellbeing.”
“The decision to perform an abortion should be left solely to a woman and her physician,” the physicians further wrote. “Doctors are guided by evidence-based medicine and are bound by our commitment to do no harm. The ‘heartbeat bill’ is an intrusion of government on personal autonomy and will directly lead to oppression, illness, and death of countless women.”
The physicians added that Ohio’s law “will disproportionately affect women of color and individuals without the financial means to seek other options and will perpetuate the cycle of poverty.”
Ultimately, Azevedo said, Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights has both long- and short-term goals.
“Ideally, we get abortion on the ballot and codify abortion in the state of Ohio,” Azevedo said.
At the same time, “We need to help patients today,” she added.
The group would like to serve as a source of accurate information for patients and other healthcare professionals on the state of legal abortion in Ohio and on abortion more broadly. Another goal is to create a large network of providers that can quickly and safely help patients.
“I’m proud of the work that we did in just a couple of days,” Azevedo said. “Physicians can mobilize.”