As it becomes increasingly clear that it’s not safe to be pregnant in states with abortion bans, I wanted to take a moment to continue discussing exactly why and how that’s the case, from making miscarriage effectively illegal to refusing to address the fact the United States is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be pregnant in.
In conjunction with this, one of the most insidious comments I hear spewed by Republicans in regard to abortion is the continued insistence that abortion isn’t healthcare. "We're only going after elective abortions," they say, able to talk frivolously about healthcare and bodily autonomy, secure in the knowledge that theirs will continue to be fully protected by the law.
As should come to no surprise to anyone reading this, abortion IS healthcare, and the Republicans are full of it- and they know it. But let’s discuss exactly why and how.
Looking at the anti-abortion bill put forward in South Carolina, for instance, the legislators there bragged that the emergent abortions we do in the ER- for ectopic pregnancies, for septic uteruses, for things like that- are still allowed because they "aren't elective." Except they're defining elective as "anything that isn't imminently life threatening," which means that none of those patients will be allowed to access abortion care until they're actively dying.
That's not how medicine works. The vast, vast majority of the abortions I've done in the ER have been 100% routine. It takes nurses several times longer to get into the chemotherapy rated PPE, do all the medication checks, and go through the patient training than it does to actually do the procedure. The patients were totally stable. Most were even entirely pain free, not even a twinge of discomfort. But by South Carolina’s reckoning, the abortions we did were illegal, and the doctor, the patient, and I would all be going to jail for having performed them, even though the patient unequivocally would have died without an abortion.
Let me give you another example. I was recently diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Thanks to a combination of incredible luck and the availability of preventative medicine, my melanoma was caught at Stage 1- before it became metastatic. However, melanoma is incredibly aggressive; it accounts for 1% of all skin cancers, but 75% of all skin cancer deaths. So thanks to a melanoma that was a third of a millimeter in diameter, I had to have surgery to remove about 5% of the skin on my back. But that now means my 5-10 year survival chances are now around 99%, instead of a chilling 22%.
But the surgery to remove my melanoma was "elective". My life wasn't in imminent danger. Heck, there was a chance they actually got all the melanoma on the initial biopsy scrape. I mean, there was even a chance that I was past this crisis permanently, and I could resume tanning outside and eschewing sunscreen at will and live another 50 years without any medical problems whatsoever. Who can say?
Again- that's not how medicine works. Yes, my surgery was "elective"- but it unequivocally was to save my life. And it wasn't just for my physical health, it was for my mental health. Even though I am sore as hell, cannot raise my left arm to reach above my head yet, and will have a scar spanning half the width of my back now, I feel in such a much better place mentally than I was before the procedure. I knew that if one melanoma cell evaded detection, I could be a walking dead man in as little as six weeks. Waiting for the procedure was damn tough- but now, I have some peace of mind.
Find me a single Republican legislator who would ever say aloud that THEY should wait to have their cancer treated until it was "imminently life threatening". Or a cardiac arterial blockage- by that rationale, a 90% blockage of your left anterior descending artery (colloquially known as "The Widowmaker") should be left alone because hey, there's still blood flow to and from their heart! You might be able to survive years like that! Who's to say?
But we all know here that none of them believe that rationale should be extended to them. They’re done even pretending it should.
Every pregnancy is a life-threatening medical condition. Sure, people frequently get through it completely unscathed. But that's a pretty recent turn of events. Sort of like vaccines, modern obstetrical care revolutionized the healthcare field and kept tens of thousands of women from dying or being permanently disabled during pregnancy and childbirth. But even so, those things still happen all the time- moreso in the United States than in any other industrialized country in the entire world.
The moms- plural- I have had to watch die during childbirth were the result of a policy decision. All of them would probably have survived had they had access to the prenatal care they needed, something that wasn't available to them in the richest country on Earth, that spends more money on healthcare than almost every other country in the world combined.
But- and this is a key point- they also would have survived if they'd had an abortion.
The fact we have people who have no problems with forcing women to give birth, to rip their bodily autonomy from them- although, let's be clear here, it's not all women, because the daughters, wives, and mistresses of these politicians will continue to have full access to whatever abortion care they desire- without giving them the access to the care they need.
Because, see, if they DID care about “abortion”, as they claim, then they'd make sure every single mom has access to high quality, affordable (or free!) obstetric, gynecological, prenatal, and postnatal care in the community they live in. They'd make birth control as freely available as you possibly can. They'd support life AFTER birth, making sure kids have healthcare, have universal pre-K, have the proper nutrition and financial support available to them. They'd make it so you can actually afford to have and raise a child in the United States of America, with parental leave, affordable daycare, tax credits and direct monetary support going to families across the country.
But they don't. But that's because they don't care about abortion. They never have. That's been true for decades now, but Donald Trump, Herschel Walker, and their ilk have made it perfectly and loudly clear now that this, all of this, isn't about abortion at all.
It's about POWER.
Things are going to get worse before they get better, folks; I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is. But that’s why I’m running for office here in Virginia. So that my colleagues and I can treat patients without worrying if we’ll be thrown in jail for saving their lives. So Virginia can remain the last bastion of abortion access in the South, since now tens of millions of Americans are looking to us to protect them.
So I can go to Richmond and unequivocally lay into the Republicans, expose their bullshit to the general public, embarrass them publicly, and join my colleagues in passing a constitutional right to privacy to ensure reproductive rights are forever protected in Virginia.
If you want to see that happen, donate today to send me to Richmond. I can’t promise to make the Republicans listen to reason- but they’re damn well going to hear it.
And if we can’t change their minds?
We’ll change their seats.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, and is the only candidate in Virginia to have performed lifesaving abortion care running for the Virginia House of Delegates.