Guest Commentary

Missouri women deserve facts, not lies, about their health care

Colleen McNicholas is a physician who treats patients in St. Louis, Columbia, Wichita, and Oklahoma City.
Colleen McNicholas is a physician who treats patients in St. Louis, Columbia, Wichita, and Oklahoma City. From the author

This week, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in an important case: National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. I’ll be paying close attention — and so should you.

This case centers on the notion that patients should receive full, accurate, and comprehensive information about their health care.

As a physician, I wonder what the acceptable alternative is. As humans, we all should demand nothing less.

In 2015, California passed the Reproductive FACT Act, which ensures women are provided with complete and accurate information about their health care and programs related to pregnancy and family planning. It’s an important step to ensuring honesty and professionalism in the delivery of reproductive health care services. It simply requires facilities to disclose whether there is a licensed medical professional providing or supervising the facility or, in some cases, to post a notice about the availability of comprehensive state family planning and prenatal care programs.

So, who would oppose such a benevolent act? There are organizations all over the country that purport to be women’s health clinics but in reality, provide singularly-focused, ideological and religiously-driven services.

There are about 72 of these fake clinics in Missouri shamelessly violating the ethical principles that real physicians are bound by. They use deceptive tactics to lure women in and provide biased and inaccurate information in an attempt to influence their health care choices. Real clinics respect that patients have the capacity to act intentionally in their own best interest free of controlling influences.

These fake clinics may provide substandard, inadequate, or unnecessary care — subjecting women to harm through acts of both commission and omission. Real clinics provide evidence-based, compassionate care, free of personal ideology.

These fake clinics approach each woman through a single lens, without recognition of their individuality, without consideration of the complexity and intersectionality of the many areas of life they bring to a pregnancy decision. Real clinics see patients as far more than a pregnancy to save. Real clinics understand that to provide adequate care, they must also understand how the pregnancy affects the patient’s global health, family and economic stability.

As an obstetrics and gynecology specialist and an abortion provider, this case touches my patients personally and intimately. The job of a physician is to provide a patient with the best medical evidence allowing each individual to consider that evidence in the context of their own lives, health goals, cultural or faith beliefs, family structure, and economic security.

A successful patient encounter is one in which the patient understands the information presented and feels empowered to make a decision that’s best for their health. It is not when the patient chooses what I would choose for my own health.

By challenging this law, one can only assume these fake clinics want to continue deceiving women. It’s alarming to think that they don’t want women to have access to accurate information about all of their options, but it’s not surprising, given that their backers are the same individuals who harass patients outside of real health care facilities.

At the end of the day, this case demonstrates that we have come to the place where ideology and politics has replaced reason and humanity. Where anyone can claim to provide health care services to advance their partisan and ideological agenda. Where patients can be left vulnerable by the very institutions that are supposed to protect them.

I am paying attention, and so should you.

Colleen McNicholas is a physician who treats patients in St. Louis, Columbia, Wichita, and Oklahoma City.