Commentary: NC doctor: Abortion saves lives. It saved my grandmother's in the 1970s

Beverly Gray, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Op Eds

Legislators, please listen to doctors!

Since the U.S. Supreme Court removed the constitutional protection for safe and legal abortion, we’ve seen an avalanche of news about lives harmed by the resulting abortion bans across the country. As a physician who provides abortion care as part of my medical practice, I fear for the health of women if the North Carolina legislature goes down the same road and enacts an extreme abortion ban.

To understand what is at stake, here are some real examples of what I see in my clinic:

I care for patients facing new diagnoses of cancer, where abortion care can save or extend their life. An abortion allows them to start treatment and spend valuable time with their families.

I care for patients whose lives are in danger due to dire medical emergencies like severe kidney or heart disease, molar pregnancy or life-threatening infection. Access to safe and legal abortion care is critical to saving their lives.

I care for adolescents and teens with unplanned pregnancies, sometimes the result of rape or incest. Abortion care can give these teens their lives and futures back.

I care for parents who struggle to provide for the families they already have. More than half of women seeking abortion care already have children and many live in poverty.

I care for patients who have received devastating news about lethal birth defects. The ultrasound that should be a happy event can be the source of great sadness and lead to an unexpected, excruciating choice. But it’s their choice to make.

Many patients I care for simply want autonomy over their bodies and the freedom to make the best decisions for themselves.

In North Carolina, our patients already face tremendous challenges accessing abortion care.

-- We are one of a handful of states with the longest mandatory waiting period in the country (72 hours)

-- 91 counties in our state do not have an abortion provider.


-- Patients with limited resources are often unable to afford care.

-- Even before the recent Supreme Court ruling, patients experienced inequities in care, with those inequities disproportionately impacting communities of color.

The reality is these barriers already make it difficult for most patients in this state to access safe, legal abortion. More abortion bans will further these inequities and will not improve the health or wellness of those seeking care in our state.

Many of us have someone in our lives who has had an abortion. For me, that person was my grandmother, who was diagnosed with both an unplanned pregnancy and cervical cancer in the early 1970s. At that time North Carolina was one of a progressive handful of states that allowed abortion in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. My grandmother received care that saved her life and I am a better person for knowing and being loved by her.

I am honored to care for the patients in my community and provide access to safe, evidence-based care. Our patients are the experts of their lives, and they deserve the right to make health care decisions with the guidance of their health care provider — and without political meddling in this important moment. Providers need the freedom to provide safe reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortion care.

When doctors say that access to safe and legal abortion saves lives, we mean it. And we beg that you listen.



Beverly Gray is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University.


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