- The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has endangered women who have complicated pregnancies.
- Physicians risk being convicted as criminals for saving the lives of pregnant patients who need evidence-based care.
- The United Methodist Church should stand up for women and their physicians by revising the denomination’s Social Principles and Book of Discipline.
As several countries are liberalizing abortion restrictions — countries like Kenya, Argentina and Ireland — that is not the current American trend. As a result of the reversal of Roe vs. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Tennesseans are now living under the most extreme abortion law in America.
And physicians like myself are criminals by legal definition for saving the life of a pregnant patient by providing standard, evidence-based, patient-centered care.
I ask you to understand that the Dobbs decision should not cause your Methodist heart to rejoice. When laws are this extreme, there is no room for grace.
Our 2016 Book of Discipline instructs:
“Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion…”
I am not a theologian. I cannot cite Scripture as easily as many in my congregation. Luckily, in the Methodist faith, we rely on tradition, experience and reason to support our interpretation of Scripture. I have been raised in the Methodist tradition and am trying to shepherd my own family down the Methodist path. However, with my experience as a physician and my reason as a pragmatic practitioner of medicine, I can tell you celebrating the Dobbs decision is unconscionable, especially as state actors are inhumanely regulating health care decisions. As a physician, I see many conflicts of life with life.
For example, in Tennessee after the Dobbs decision, surgically removing an ectopic pregnancy is criminal, even though the physician saves a life by performing an abortion. A pregnant mother can experience life-threatening conditions during pregnancy — such as preeclampsia, eclampsia or cancer. Treating the mother with appropriate medical care results in hurting the life inside her.
When physicians care for pregnant patients, we do the best we can for each life involved, but we cannot save every life that we encounter. Some unborn children develop in their mother’s womb without a skull or brain, a condition called anencephaly. This is an unsurvivable fetal anomaly, and these families’ treatment options are severely limited in Tennessee at this moment. A physician performing an abortion in this situation would be engaging in a criminal act.
In these examples, our Tennessee laws are unjust and inhumane. The laws under which I practice medicine are inappropriately burdensome for physicians and patients. As a result of these abortion restrictions, some physicians are leaving my state, and some patients are deciding against having a family, worried that their medical treatment options are limited.
As I bear witness to this new reality in my home state, I lament our repeated failures to learn from our past. How have we forgotten the history of our pre-Roe America? Do we not recall women dying of infections in septic abortion wards, making their other children orphans?
Do we not recall the actions taken by the Rev. Howard Moody and the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a national network of Protestant and Jewish clergy who helped women find safe, confidential and compassionate abortions before they were legal? In Renewal magazine, he wrote:
“It is hard to draw any other conclusion from the background and history of the present law than that it is directly calculated, whether conscious or unconscious, to be an excessive and self-righteous punishment, physically and psychologically, of women. This example of severe sanction against women may have been understandable when men were convinced that women were witches and demons, but in the latter part of the 20th century, it is a cruel travesty on equal justice and a primitive form of retribution unworthy of both our theological and democratic traditions.”
As I try to reason through these conflicts of life with life and as I try to understand our history, I also know this abortion topic has always been hard for me — I recognize that I am internally conflicted at baseline about this topic. But I realize that I am only lucky enough to never have needed such medical care.
My own path to motherhood is full of near misses and close calls. At my mid-pregnancy ultrasound with my second child, concerns over a possible fetal abnormality subsided with more advanced imaging of the baby inside me. I should be thankful for my journey and only want to lift others up along the path as we all try to find our way in this world. It’s taken time for me to understand that abortion is health care — really. Politicians will turn up the heat of the conversations surrounding controversial health care topics, but let’s take each other’s hands and walk toward the light — as white hot as it may be.
I call on our United Methodist General Conference to revise the Social Principles and update the Book of Discipline. I urge our Protestant denominations to again ally with our Jewish brethren at this time. Controversy is just an opportunity for community — a community we desperately need to rebuild.
Until the Dobbs decision, I only knew a world where important health care decisions like abortion were made by a woman in consultation with her family, faith and physician. As the state seeks to take control, it is not just taking freedom away from the individual, but The State is claiming authority over The Church. I urge The Church to declare this State overreach an unwelcome intrusion into our faithful practices. I urge our faith leaders to stand up for women and families and their physicians. In these times of controversy, silence is deadly.
Gordon Bono is a United Methodist and a primary care physician who works in Nashville and Mt. Juliet, Tenn.
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