Kerry Pound, M.D.: Roe Act ignores second patient
BOSTON — When I began my medical school rotation in obstetrics, I was surprised when the lecturing obstetrician stated, "We are the only specialists who deal simultaneously with two patients." I was sensitive to any remotely pro-life words during my medical studies. In my early days of higher education, I'd conscientiously tucked my pro-life leanings into a neat, silent, "do not open" box in order to remain well-liked and respected. I remained strongly pro-life in silence.
I had to bite my tongue a few times during medical studies. In embryology class, as we learned the mechanics and timeline of the formation of each organ system in the body, I waited for the lecturer to mention any system that developed beyond 10 weeks of gestation. It never happened. I wanted to shout, "Ten weeks?! How can any of us be in favor of abortion after learning this?!" But I did not want to offend the political leanings or sensitivities of my friends. Truth faded into silence.
So, when the obstetricians acknowledged their treating two patients, I was relieved to hear it spoken aloud. The message — re-iterated numerous times during the rotation — was that the goal of prenatal and labor care was a healthy mother AND baby.
The proposed ROE Act of Massachusetts should shock even ardent pro-choicers — essentially guaranteeing an unfettered right to abortion throughout the pregnancy; increased tax-payer support of abortion; elimination of adult consent for minors; elimination of legal penalties for botched procedures. Please read S.1209 to see the extent to which the bill celebrates abortion at any time, for any reason, without any legal regulations.
Most revealing and radical, the legal language of S.1209 eliminates any acknowledgement of the second patient — the baby. In fact, so foreign is this way of thinking to most doctors, that as I read the bill I was forced to remind myself that the term "patient" only referred to the woman. Pregnancy is no longer "a mother carrying an unborn child" as the prior legal language stated; it's been replaced by "embryo within a person's uterus." (No child, no mother, not even a woman!)
Hence, it follows logically that the bill eliminates any medical care (that was written in the prior law) for an (accidentally) born alive baby. Clearly, no doctor can be obligated to offer life-saving resuscitation to an unacknowledged existence. The inconvenient truth rears its head again when a failed abortion results in a gasping, kicking, twisting newborn born beyond 23-weeks gestation who deserves immediate medical care, but which S.1209 denies.
For physicians, concern for the woman's well-being is central. Recognizing that an unplanned pregnancy presents numerous challenges that may derail a woman's life is essential to proper care. However, these very real concerns do not erase the sobering reality that there are two lives involved and, therefore, two lives to consider and care for. Science and medicine certainly recognize it (even if they ignore it when swayed by politics). So too does the pregnant woman. Changing language to erase the reality does not lessen the burden on the woman.
When language is changed to erase the humanity of certain persons, it is typically for those with the advantage to use, abuse, or destroy those without a voice. History screams of language adjustments to justify mistreatment of women, slaves, and Jews. The great conundrum with abortion though is that those who possess the "power" of "choice" in this case are the women — the same women who simultaneously may be incredibly vulnerable, scared and desperate due to an unplanned pregnancy.
To me, abortion is a very understandable but desperate escape route which inconveniently costs another's life. Rather than pretend it's not a child's life, I'd rather be an active force to pick up the burden with the woman and help her to feel less vulnerable. I'd rather eliminate the temporary circumstances that make ending another's life appear to be the only option. I'd rather tell women the truth — even if the truth is difficult, inconvenient and painful.
Given the elimination of the truth by language manipulation of S.1209, I can be silent no more. Fundamentally, the language of this bill erases, and thus denies, the reality of the preborn's existence. Let's not continue down the road of denying personhood to those with less strength and no voice. In doing so, we not only deny reality of another's worth and dignity, but we also minimize the suffering of women who have had abortions. In denying personhood to some, we do long-term harm to society. Let's instead speak the truth and be silent no more.
Kerry Pound, M.D. is board director, Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
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