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(Leah Torres. Courtesy photo)
Op-ed: It’s time to put a woman’s health, safety and rights first

By Leah Torres

First Published Aug 30 2014 09:04 am • Last Updated Aug 30 2014 09:07 am

In states across the country, politicians are passing laws that single out abortion care for regulations that apply to no other similar medical practices. As a result, a woman’s ability to access safe, legal, essential reproductive health care in the United States today varies widely from state to state. This means a woman in Utah does not have the same access to health care that a woman living in Colorado does. That simply isn’t fair.

As an obstetrician-gynecologist serving Utah women and their families, I am committed to providing the highest quality, compassionate medical care to my patients. In my work, I am guided by the newest scientific evidence and the best clinical practices used by physicians across the U.S. But in recent years, the surge in political interference in reproductive health care has become a serious concern for both doctors and patients. In addition to laws that interfere with my ability to practice good medicine, politicians in our state have passed laws that limit Utah women’s ability to access the abortion care they need.

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That is why I support a bill Congress introduced earlier this summer, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which aims to safeguard every woman’s access to the reproductive health care she needs no matter what her zip code is.

The act would put a stop to laws that are counter to medical and scientific evidence, and counter to the health care needs of patients. One such law in Utah is the requirement of an in-person counseling appointment 72 hours prior to the abortion procedure. This is a medically unnecessary requirement that can impose substantial additional expenses and stress on a woman who needs abortion care.

Consider the fact that well over half of Utah women live in a county that does not have an abortion provider, meaning that women in most parts of our state have to take time off work and arrange for travel to another city — for two separate appointments three days apart. Consider also that the average woman getting an abortion has one or more children, which means she has to arrange for childcare for two, instead of one, appointments. Indeed, for a woman who is already struggling to make ends meet, these factors alone present a significant burden and can result in delays accessing timely care. And for what reason? It is established medical practice that on the day of her abortion, every woman receives counseling, just as she would with any other procedure.

Let me offer a broader perspective. Abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that abortion procedures have a safety record of over 99 percent, with women experiencing complications from abortion less than one percent of the time. Medical experts are constantly working to improve existing protocols to ensure that patients receive the best and safest possible care.

And yet, claiming to act in the name of protecting women’s health and safety, from 2011 to 2013, politicians in 30 states enacted over 200 abortion restrictions that have no basis in scientific evidence or medical practice.

One restriction that state legislatures in 26 states have passed, including in Utah, requires clinics that offer abortion care to meet standards intended for ambulatory surgery centers. These standards mandate things such as the width of hallways, paint colors and the location of janitors’ closets—things that have little to do with actual patient care. Clinics that have been providing safe abortion care for decades have had to close because they can’t afford million dollar renovations to meet the new building requirements. By forcing good clinics to shut down, these restrictions do the opposite of protecting women’s health. Abortion restrictions have only one true aim: to make safe, legal abortion hard or even impossible to access.

It is time for a law that puts a woman’s health, safety, and rights first. The Women’s Health Protection Act does exactly that.

We may all have different personal beliefs about abortion, but I am sure that we can all agree that women deserve the ability to access the health care they need, and that doctors must be allowed to offer evidence-based medical care to their patients without political interference.

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When I met with my representatives in Washington, D.C., earlier this summer, I told them this: Women’s inability to access the health care they need is bad for their health, bad for their families and communities, and frankly, bad for the country. The types of obstacles my patients face on a daily basis in order to access constitutionally protected health care are unacceptable. I urge you to join me in speaking up to protect the health of our sisters, our daughters, and our friends. We can’t afford to stay silent any longer.

Leah Torres is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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