Joco Opinion

Compassion missing from the debate over later-term abortion

Julie A. Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women in Wichita
Julie A. Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women in Wichita

Recently we have seen some reassuring highs and the deepest of lows in the ongoing battle to protect a woman’s right to decide whether and when to have a child.

In a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on February 7, the court blocked a Louisiana law that could have left the state with only one doctor authorized to provide abortions. It’s a momentary victory because the high court only issued a temporary stay and will likely rehear the case in the next terms.

So, we celebrate for a brief moment, and then return to the battleground where there is a reemerging fight with the anti-choice movement over post first-trimester abortion.

For seven years, I worked for George Tiller, one of the country’s only doctors who performed later-term abortions. He did this because he trusted women and he knew they needed him. Women from across the country sought his care when their fetus was diagnosed with a severe condition or anomaly; when they had a serious medical condition develop or worsen; and when they were unable to access abortion sooner due to age, abuse, finances or lack of services where they live. While their exact circumstances may vary, these women are ultimately seeking care for the same reason that women have abortions in the first trimester: The pregnancy is untenable, and they are not able to carry the pregnancy to term.

For this, Tiller was murdered by an anti-choice extremist.

Since his death, I have taken up his clarion call to trust women. Which is why I am so incensed by the lies and misinformation about later-term abortions because New York and Virginia have taken bold steps to put women’s health first.

New York recently passed a law — and Virginia just introduced a bill — that would make it easier for women to access later abortion care in cases of a fetal anomaly or a maternal health condition. Women would be able to consult with their own doctors, in their own home state, to choose the safest medical care for themselves in a medical crisis. This is not only safe — it is compassionate.

Tiller saw women from all over the world who needed access to later abortion care. Meeting these families taught me that people deserve access to medical care without judgment and need to be met with kindness.

I will never forget the husband of one of Tiller’s patients who said to me that he would do absolutely anything to end his wife’s and their baby’s suffering. This stands out not because it was an anomaly, but it was a recurring refrain from women and their families desperately seeking help. Tiller gave them the comfort they needed and showed that we must put the health of women and families squarely in their hands.

New York and Virginia are trusting women — and other states must follow their lead. We must ease restrictions and regulations that are burdensome and medically unnecessary, which make it that much harder for women to get the care they need. And we must provide broader access to contraceptive care so that women can control their own fertility.

If I’m being honest, I am weary of the battle. The temporary highs, followed almost immediately by the lows, are exhausting. Burying my hero, my boss and my mentor nearly 10 years ago almost broke me.

But in Dr. George Tiller’s memory, I will continue to fight for women and their families. I will continue to trust women and implore policymakers to do the same.

Julie A. Burkhart is founder and CEO of Trust Women in Wichita.