Kelley Dennings, on behalf of the American Public Health Association's Sexual and Reproductive Health Section, volunteered to write a blog post after the fall of Roe v. Wade this past June. Read article below.
All Hands On Deck: Working Across Disciplines to Support Abortion
By Kelley Dennings, Center for Biological Diversity, on behalf of APHA, Sexual and Reproductive Health Section
The Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) section of APHA is horrified but not surprised by the recent SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. State lawmakers have been limiting access to abortion for years.
As APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin stated in a release following the decision, APHA recognizes abortion as a right and a fundamental component of healthcare. As public health professionals we need to work to mitigate the harms that come with the fall of Roe v. Wade, just as we act in response to other public health crises.
According to a new article in Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health written by SRH section members, there are three things public health departments can do to help mitigate these harms:
- In states where abortion is illegal, public health professionals should use local data to estimate how many pregnant people will be forced to continue a pregnancy. They should also increase public health capacity to care for the pregnant people, children, and families in the areas of highest need.
- Public health professionals should provide resources on where and how to obtain an abortion for those requesting it; anticipate more self-managed abortions; and work to ensure these abortions are not criminalized in our areas.
- In states where abortion remains legal, public health professionals should support and strengthen the existing abortion care delivery system and facilitate access to abortion. APHA has also called on state and local governments to allow health departments to continue engaging in activities related to abortion.
Additionally, legal experts note that cities in states that make abortion illegal can provide abortion care prosecution protection or possibly even provide abortion care directly. They recommend progressive local prosecutors use their discretion to decline bringing legal proceedings against medical staff, public health professionals or patients in these cases.
Also, staff working for government-owned hospitals or clinics should talk with their legal and administrative departments about how to document miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and other conditions that are likely to be scrutinized. The Big Cities Health Coalition recently released a statement pledging to combat all attempted criminalization of medical professionals who provide these services and pledged to work together to combat misinformation.
As the activist and poet Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We know from the social determinants of health that health equity is affected by healthcare access as well as education, economic stability, our environment, and our social and community ties. Research shows that denying people abortion has adverse impacts on the health and well-being of pregnant people, children and families.
Our section works to learn from and lift the values of the abortion justice framework in ensuring abortion access for all. We strive to reframe abortion within the public health context. Please visit the Reproductive and Sexual Health section of the APHA website for social media shareables, news releases, and these recent policy statements adopted by APHA on abortion:
As the APHA statement from Dr. Benjamin noted, “States must take action to make the procedure legal for patients who seek it and abortion providers who offer the essential health care service. Further, states should fund and equip their public health departments to help people obtain comprehensive reproductive health services consistent with public health values and frameworks.”
One way to support states in this endeavor is to recommend that President Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services declare this time a public health emergency. This would ensure abortion clinics seeing a higher demand would receive support, federal funding could pay for travel expenses to receive an abortion out-of-state, registered nurses could perform abortions, doctors could practice outside their geographical jurisdiction, and patients could participate in other states' Medicaid programs.
We call on all public health professionals to review the policy statements above and reach out to our task force chairs with any questions. Join us today in defense of bodily autonomy.