Plenty of reasons to be outraged

Jessica Valenti started a recent address with a question that she said a young man asked her: “Why are you so angry?” She immediately said that she was not angry but sad and exhausted. Then after enumerating a series of laws and actions against women and reminding the audience that the Hyde Amendment has nullified the Roe decision for many financially vulnerable women, she finally admitted that she is angry: “I am angry that forty years after Roe, women are still fighting for recognition of our basic humanity.”

The fact is that there are plenty of reasons to be outraged.

A recent study demonstrates that, in the United States, many actors are eager to deny women their basic humanity and access to care and are already doing great harm to pregnant women thanks to recent legislation that put a pregnant woman in a lower rank than a fetus.

The feticide laws have encouraged and required health providers to inform police of pregnant patients who had problems with drugs. Many providers comply with these demands quite easily, especially when their patients are African Americans and/or poor. In many instances, for women patients, and especially for African American women patients, there is no medical confidentiality.

Why are so many American doctors ready to relinquish their medical ethical responsibility toward their women patients? A court can put a fetus in protective custody with a guardian to the fetus being appointed by a court decision requiring “the fetus to be detained…and transported” to the local hospital for “in patient treatment and protection.” The care of the mother is not considered, whether by health care providers of the pregnant woman or whether by the court.

Where are medical ethical rules for women like Laura Pemberton who wanted to have a vaginal delivery after having had a C-section? Her doctor used a court order to perform the surgical procedure. Pemberton was strapped and hauled off to a judge who decided her fate. Neither she nor her husband was allowed legal assistance.

In case after case, pregnant women who have sought help for reasons ranging from problems with drugs to requesting vaginal birth as the first option have been threatened and persecuted instead of being helped, and all of this with the approval of their own health care provider.

Where are the social workers and social programs to support women with the problem of drug addiction? Instead, their lives are torn apart even more?

Astonishingly, already inadequate access to health care is threatened during pregnancy, especially, but not only, for women who live in precarious conditions. They need to be listened to in order to receive the most appropriate care. Instead of receiving health care, they get prison.

Absurd situations have been created to intimidate and even terrorize pregnant women.  Sometimes the State goes to unbelievable lengths. For example, one woman was imprisoned because she “did willfully and unlawfully give birth to a male infant”.   In its absurdity, the wording of the official court document shows the profound disdain for the life of the pregnant woman

Sending pregnant women to prison in the name of protection of the personhood of the fetus while prenatal care provided by the state to incarcerated women is notoriously inadequate, if not absent, is absurd … and criminal.

There is an alternative.

Under the Nazi occupation of France, authorities commanded French doctors to report any wounded person. The board of the newly formed French Medical Association responded immediately:

“The President of the French Medical Association takes this occasion to remind every colleague that when called to assist the sick or the wounded, there is only one mission to fulfill and that is to deliver care. Respect for professional confidentiality is a necessary condition for the trust those who are ill have in their physicians. No administrative reason whatsoever exists that allows you to free yourself from this obligation.”

This declaration was sent to every doctor in the country. It became the nonnegotiable rule of ethics. It still is. This declaration is engraved on marble and is visible in the hall of the French Medical Association building in Paris. It is also taught in medical school to future doctors who would have eventually to fight for their patients’ protection. To this day, medical confidentiality is key and protects patients, even in court.

Doctors, nurses and other medical and social workers should be protecting women, who deserve the care they need. Instead, they have become `providers’, removing their human responsibility that the French doctors once understood to be their unbreakable ethical duty. Alternatives to state brutality already exist. Being ethical sometimes demands resistance to inhuman laws.


(Photo Credit: Charlotte Cooper / Flickr)