Raise Your Hand if You’d Like To Be The Test Case: Thoughts on the state of Women’s Healthcare

I recently read an article in Self magazine entitled “Is Your Doctor Playing Judge?”. The article, in short, is about the challenges and discrimination women are facing when it comes to their health care and specifically in terms of their reproductive health. On the page facing the main title and article is a flow chart of sorts with the following entries:

  • DENIED: Emergency Room Contraception–Lore Boyer, 35, and Tara Harnish, 21, both of whom had been raped and who visited the same Pennsylvania ER
  • DENIED: Emergency Abortion–New Hampshire’s Kathleen Hutchins, whose doomed pregnancy put her at risk
  • DENIED: Tubal Ligation–An Illinois mother of four who hoped to have her tubes tied
  • DENIED: Birth Control Pills–Elizabeth Dotts, a single 26-year-old who visited an Alabama M.D.
  • DENIED: Preadoption Physical–California single mom Cheryl Bray, 44, who was adopting a baby from Mexico
  • DENIED: Medication for Ectopic Pregnancy–An Illinois patient in jeopardy who hoped to have the fertility sparing treatment
  • DENIED: Fertility Treatment–Guadalupe Benitez, 35, a lesbian seeking artificial insemination in California

What this article does nicely is NOT turn into a pro-choice vs. pro-life debate. Nor does it harp overly much on the “men vs. women” elements of health care vis-a-vis their reproductive capabilities. In fact, it mentions once, and only once and rather succinctly, that men are not faced with the same challenges women are if they choose to pursue medicinal means of boosting their virility or conversely ceasing sperm production via sterilization. Rather, this article sticks to the facts: women are being denied various forms of health care specifically targeted at their reproductive capabilities and multiple states and hospitals do little to nothing in regards to preserving patient rights as it comes down to a matter of “religious freedom” on the part of the doctor (or hospital) denying care.

What sort of care is being denied, you may find yourself asking? Everything from emergency contraception, to abortions, to referrals, to certain types of health care for single mothers. And everything in between. The argument that this article makes is that legally there are an over abundance of loop holes through which health care providers–be they nurses or doctors–can refuse patient care and be dead with in their rights to do so. It cites various examples, the following an example of one of the more alarming:

Ob/gyn Wayne Goldner, M.D., learned this lesson [of putting aside one’s personal beliefs to do what’s best for the patient] a few years back when a patient…came to his office n Manchester, New Hampshire. She was just 14 weeks pregnant, but her water had broken. Dr. Goldner delivered the bad news: Because there wasn’t enough amniotic fluid left and was too early for the fetus to survive on its own, the pregnancy was hopeless. [The patient] would likely miscarry in a matter of weeks. But in the meantime, she stood at risk for serious infection, which could lead to infertility or death. Dr. Goldner says his devastated patient chose to get an abortion at local Elliot Hospital. But there was a problem. Elliot had recently merged with nearby Catholic Medical Center–and as a result, the hospital forbade abortions.

“I was told could not admit her unless there was a risk to her life”…”They said, ‘Why don’t you wait until she has an infection or gets a fever?’…”

Thankfully, this doctor went above and beyond his call of duty and paid for a cab to take this patient 80 miles away to get the abortion she needed in order to not risk infertility or her life.

In fairness to the “other side,” this article does interview a representatives from both the Christian Medical and Dental Association and the American Center for Law (which was founded by minister Pat Robinson). The gist of their stance is “Don’t make your choice my choice.”

To that I would say this: women do not chose to be raped, they do not chose to have difficult pregnancies that endanger their lives, they do not chose to be lesbians. Is it not enough (in the case of the woman adopting a Mexican child who was denied a physical because of her single parent status) that some women WANT a child? Is it not enough that some women WANT to be responsible and not continue to blithely procreate? Women are not asking their doctors to compromise their religious or personal beliefs, merely to provide the best care that they possibly can. If the services we are asking for do butt proverbial heads with your beliefs, then please have the common decency (even if, legally, you aren’t required to) to at least refer us to one of your colleagues who is of like mind with us–the patient–so that our quality of life, our health (you know, that thing you went through 8 years of school to learn about) is maintained. You are providing us a service, much like, say, the cable repair man or the telephone company or, heck, even the garbage disposal service. While many will say “Don’t like the service? Then switch!” I say I shouldn’t be forced to switch something so personal as my health care provider just because of my doctor’s personal views. Unlike other service providers, a doctor’s choice should NOT constitute shoddy service. I am not an utility bill that has been over charged, or a crappily repaired faucet. I am a human being. And as such, you MUST respect my choices if you are asking to respect yours. Simply put: Don’t make your choice our choice.


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think one could write a book on this topic, actually. I wrote a long time ago about how back in the 80’s they were studying the abortion pill strictly for its viability in treating breast cancer, and protesters shut them down anyway.

    The flipside way of looking at this is interesting, too. I see no doctors refusing to give men Viagra scrips unless they produce marriage certificates. Even though – gasp – some of those men asking for it could be gay, which is about as offensive as abortion to these folks. I don’t see any doctors refusing to give men vasectomies without marriage licenses, either, and you can pretty much figure an unmarried man wanting a vasectomy is some horribly offensive immoral scum (who is taking responsibility for not bringing unwanted children into the world).

    The purported “morals” of the “moral majority” belie themselves at every turn with contradictions and mutual exclusions. The only consistency in their stances is that they seek to control women.

  2. says

    This stuff enrages me. Especially the woman in the excerpt… to me that highlights the fact that it’s not really about “protecting the child.” The fetus was as good as dead, yet they wouldn’t let the doctor perform the abortion because they wanted to take the moral high ground. Yeah. Because your political statement is worth a person’s life.

    I remember being surprised when I went to the Planned Parenthood last year to get Plan B, because they gave it to me with no questions and with no lecture. It was the quickest, friendliest emergency contraception experience I’d ever had. Why was I surprised? Because that had never happened to me before. When you think about it, how scary is that? That I thought it was OK to have to steel myself to answer personal questions and get a lecture every time I sought out a service? (I’m not talking about “when was your last period?” I realize they medically need to know that. I’m talking about stuff like, “Are you in a committed relationship? Oh? How long have you been with your boyfriend?” Which I find offensive, because it’s not their business. I always got the impression they were fishing around to find out if you were being “slutty,” so they could commence with the lecture. So just the general aura at a pro-choice place made a difference, and you could feel it.)

  3. says

    Exactly… hypocrisy upon hypocrisy upon hypocrisy. It infuriates me to know that a woman has to be in physical jeopardy in order to recieve certain services, and for others (such as the health examination for the woman wishing to adopt) you can be denied based on your status a single woman or even as a woman in a committed partnered relationshipthat is not considered the “right” kind of relationship.

    I aksed a few of my guy friends about this and asked them to be honest about what it was like to visit their doctor specifically in terms of the types of discussions they have in regards to their sexual health. They were shocked at some of the treatment that women, and specifically myself, have been faced with. At first they were like “maybe you’re being too sensitive” but when I explained to them (with the help of some of our girl friends) that it is not just me complaining but friends and sisters, ect., they were like “that’s not right.” It hadn’t even occurred to them that we, as women, aren’t congratulated (bad word choice but can’t think of a better one) for taking charge of our sexual health and attempting to “stay clean” but looked upon as a “slut” or “dirty girl.” Which lead to a whole discussion about perception of men vs. women in terms of sexual freedom (a topic for another day).

    I too have had a Plan B experience that was completely shocking to me. I went, no questions asked, recieved and that was that. It was freeing not to have to steel yourself up for a lecture, to just get in and get out. It wasn’t totally “personable” but it wasn’t cold and alienating either. It was just business as normal.

  4. says

    It’s not just sexual health, either. There’s a nice long history of denied coverage for birth control pills even when they’re being used for hormone control on virgins rather than birth control. A history of unnecessary hysterectomies and mastectomies, of breast cancer that’s “all in your head” until whoops, there’s an inoperable tumor.

    There’s no real treatment for TMJ, and if you do find a treatment your insurance will do anything to avoid paying. 90% of TMJ sufferers are women.

    There’s no great medicine for migraines, which mainly affect women – no med that will leave you functional enough to go to work anyway.

    There’s a nice long history of women being told bunions come from those awful shoes women choose to wear when in fact (A) there’s a genetic component without which you are never going to develop a bunion and (B) ALL women’s shoes, including sneakers, are cut in such a way to exacerbate bunions so the only “choice” would be to wear men’s or boy’s shoes. I am living proof you can develop a bunion after 30 years of wearing hardly any pumps, and never once a pair of heels, and never once in your life thinking, “God they hurt, but they’re cute so I’ll wear them anyway”.

    There’s a nice long history of Viagra being covered by insurance while birth control pills weren’t – even, as I said, when there’s no question the BC was being used for a disorder and not (just) BC. No – that’s presumed to be a dirty lie, you slut.

    When we get sick, it’s our fault for being stupid or vain. Or it’s all in our head. Or it costs us more than it costs men. Disorders that affect mainly us get no R&D. Disorders that affect only men get serious treatment options. Like having an erection is more important than having the ability to go to work without a blinding headache or jaw arthritis or to keep a functioning endocrine system.

    Wait, of course it is. It’s All About Men.

  5. SunlessNick says

    They said, ‘Why don’t you wait until she has an infection or gets a fever?’

    “Evil” is the only word that describes that attitude. Well, not the only one, and “misogynistic” should be in there too, but “evil” should be among those at the front and centre. We can’t give her an abortion until she’s hurt enough – how do they seriously expect anyone to believe they care about women?

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