Dr. Anne Nolte, a family physician, takes time today from her busy patient schedule at the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility she directs in Manhattan to protest Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act.
Despite the fact that women have “almost unlimited access to abortion, as evidenced by abortion rates which are nearly double the national average,” as Nolte noted in a letter to an Empire State newspaper this week, the governor’s agenda includes expanding access to abortion in New York State, including by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions.
“Women faced with unplanned pregnancies want and need access to life-affirming alternatives to abortion, less bureaucratic obstacles to adoption, more support and resources to enable them to bear their children and raise their families with dignity,” she implored.
“Women given a poor prenatal diagnosis need love and support as they parent their child through whatever months of life that child may have, not pressure to end the life of their child. Most of my post-abortive patients tell me that they didn’t want to ‘choose abortion’ but did so only because they felt like they ‘had no other choice,’” she shared.
Dr. Nolte begs New York lawmakers to challenge the governor’s cheerleading — literally, there was “choice!” chanting from the governor during his State of the State address — and to consider alternative legislative moves, to not buy into the conventional narrative that insists that it is acceptable to equate “women’s health” and freedom with a radical safe, legal, and seemingly preferred-abortion mindset.
Dr. Nolte will be joined by fellow doctors in Albany today urging the reconsideration of the governor’s “reproductive health” agenda. She is protesting the agenda with the confidence that New Yorkers don’t consider abortion expansion a priority for New York. A poll from the Chiaroscuro Foundation makes this clear. Even pro-choice Democrats think the abortion rate in New York is alarmingly high.
Not for the first time, the best friend of a radical reproductive-health agenda is misinformation, confusion, spin.
Dr. Nolte talks about the legislation and what drives her to Albany in an interview with National Review Online.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why are you protesting the governor’s agenda with regard to abortion?
DR. ANNE NOLTE: Though Governor Cuomo has not yet proposed specific legislation, his comments to the media suggest he plans to introduce legislation similar to the bill commonly referred to as the “Reproductive Health Act,” which could be used to allow abortion even of an infant who can survive outside of the womb and which would allow non-physicians to perform invasive surgical abortions in medical clinics outside of a hospital setting.
I, like many of my colleagues, believe that such legislation makes abortion less safe for women. We worry it will increase the use of late-term abortion when this type of abortion is not necessary to protect a woman’s health. And it devalues the lives of our second patient — the infant in the womb.
We are also concerned about defining abortion as a “right,” which the Reproductive Health Act would do. Does this mean that doctors and institutions which refuse to provide abortion for religious or moral reasons will be charged with “discrimination” for failing to respect this right? Will we be fined? Lose our licenses? These are real and serious concerns that lawmakers in Albany must not gloss over.
LOPEZ: Aren’t you doing a disservice to women, and even children, in New York by opposing this?
DR. NOLTE: Quite the opposite. Many physicians oppose abortion because we have all cared for women who have suffered physical or emotional complications from a past abortion. The risk of physical complications from a surgical abortion increases, the later in pregnancy that these procedures are performed. If the “termination” of a pregnancy after 24 weeks is required to protect a woman’s health, this can be accomplished by inducing labor or performing a C-section – options that are safer than late-term abortion when a woman’s life or health is truly at risk and that preserve the life of the infant. Both mother and child are better off when we recognize that late-term abortion is not good health care.
Further, as physicians who care for pregnant women, we have two patients. Women trust us because of this fact — that we are dedicated to preserving both the health of the mother and the health of the child in her womb. When we provide care, our goal is to provide the best care to both of these patients, no matter what the circumstance — not to pit mother against child for the sake of advancing a political agenda.
LOPEZ: Why do you believe this legislation represents ”abortion expansion”?
DR. NOLTE: The rate of abortion in New York State is double the national average. In some parts of New York City, over 60 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. It is estimated that 90 percent of children with Down Syndrome are aborted, and many abortions after viability occur because the child was given a poor diagnosis, such as Down Syndrome. All of these statistics represent the current state of affairs under current New York law.
With staggering statistics like these confirming that there is no lack of access to abortion in New York State, why would we seek to allow less qualified, non-physician health-care providers, with less surgical training, and less experience managing complications of surgery, to perform abortions? Why would we allow outpatient abortion clinics to perform late-term abortions, with the inherently higher risk of complications, rather than continue to require that high-risk procedures be performed in the safety of a hospital? The Reproductive Health Act, as it is currently written, does both of these — expanding access to abortion, while decreasing its safety. These regulations represent a step backward, to more abortion and less safety for women.
LOPEZ: What about expanding late-term abortions?
DR. NOLTE: Let’s be clear. The RHA and Governor Cuomo’s comments both clearly indicate that they want to allow abortion through all 40 weeks of pregnancy if it is necessary to protect the “health” of the mother. This is deceptive. As I already mentioned, any complications of pregnancy after 24 weeks’ gestation can be managed safely by delivering the living child, whether by induction of labor or by C-section. The death of the child is never medically necessary to preserve the mother’s health. “Health” however has been broadly interpreted to mean not just serious, life-threatening conditions, like high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, but also any disturbance of “mental health.” This essentially allows a woman to terminate her pregnancy through all 40 weeks of pregnancy for any reason that “upsets her mental health.” As a single example, one young woman, who spoke before the New York City Council a few years ago, testified that she was pressured at an abortion clinic to say she was “depressed” by her pregnancy, because it would be the only way for her to get a legal abortion at 25 weeks’ gestation.
LOPEZ: “Choice” was the rallying cry of the governor during his State of the State address when he talked about this. Aren’t you lending support to a “war on women” that Catholics and pro-life folks are so often accused of waging?
DR. NOLTE: Again, we feel that the opposite is true. Abortion harms women. In my family practice over the past seven years, I have asked every woman who has had an abortion if she has experienced any negative effects, physical or emotional. I have been surprised by the number who have had physical complications, as I was always taught that these were “rare.” But besides that, thus far only one woman has said that she did not regret her abortion.
Many have experienced depression, anxiety, flashbacks, and regret. Some live in fear of their spouse or living children finding out about an abortion they had as a teenager. Some are infertile and are tormented by the knowledge that they aborted the only child they will ever have. Some terminated a pregnancy for a birth defect, and mourn the loss of the precious time they could have had to parent the child for as long as her natural life would have lasted. Thousands of women have sought help for the emotional trauma caused by their abortion.
Reasonable limits on abortion are not promoted to take away women’s rights, wage war on women, or harm them. They are actually protective of women.
For instance, prohibiting late-term abortions protects women who have been given a poor prenatal diagnosis from the intense pressure they often experience from peers and even from the medical profession to end their pregnancy. When supported and given the chance, many women whose unborn child is given a life-limiting diagnosis want to parent the child during whatever days, weeks, or months of life that child may have. When abortion is not an option, it allows the whole medical team to turn their attention to what they do best — caring for mother and child in a difficult circumstance. This is evidenced by the success of programs such as perinatal hospice.
Another example: Requiring a waiting period, as some states do, gives women time to think through and process the roller coaster of emotions they experience when they first discover that they are unexpectedly pregnant.
As physicians, we are taught that the worst time to make a decision is when you are in a crisis. It takes time for emotions to settle and for a person to rationally weigh her options in the context of her personal values. A waiting period allows women to make a choice they can live with and not one dictated by the impulse of fear. It also protects them from unscrupulous providers of abortion who may take advantage of this vulnerable state of the woman for financial gain.
These are just a few examples, but they demonstrate that it is reasonable to limit abortion — something with which most Americans agree.
LOPEZ: Your press conference is being held in conjunction with the New York State Catholic Conference; Cardinal Dolan has urged the governor to rethink his agenda here; and yours is a Catholic medical practice. Why should Catholic doctrine have anything to say about Empire State public policy?
DR. NOLTE: It is not Catholic doctrine that motivates the concern of the physicians speaking at our press conference. In fact, we will be joined by other Christian and Jewish colleagues.
What motivates us to speak out is our experience working with women and our conviction that abortion is not good for women. Women do not need greater access to abortion in New York State, they need greater access to prenatal care, less burdensome adoption laws, community support when they are given an adverse diagnosis, working conditions that allow them to work and parent their children, and protection from pregnancy discrimination.
LOPEZ: Do you feel a particular obligation as a doctor to speak up in regard to the push for the Reproductive Health Act?
DR. NOLTE: I do. When I listen to politicians speak about abortion, I am struck by how little they seem to understand about the real experiences and needs of women with unplanned pregnancies. Sometimes it seems like they care more about advancing a political agenda than about actually protecting women. I am not an expert in law or politics, but I know what my patients have told me — and what they have told me has convinced me that more abortion is not good for women.
LOPEZ: You live in a state that is not exactly a bastion of pro-life activism. Shouldn’t you just let this go? Why is it worth fighting for something else?
DR. NOLTE: Despite all of the rhetoric and all of the strong emotions that surround any discussion of abortion, I have witnessed the negative effects of abortion on women. Women who are suffering because of a past abortion deserve to have their suffering acknowledged, and women who are contemplating abortion deserve to know that it might really have a negative impact on their lives. I work in women’s health. It is my job to stand up for them.
LOPEZ: In your daily work, what are the needs of women? Are there ways the state could help with any of them? Perhaps as part of a governor’s reconsidered women’s rights and health agenda?
DR. NOLTE: We should support women who are pregnant with access to good prenatal care. Provide support for the wonderful network of pregnancy centers trying to help women with housing, clothing, parenting classes, etc., equal to the support that the state provides to abortion clinics. Simplify adoption laws and make the state more adoption-friendly. Fund medical centers that want to provide perinatal hospice services, grief counseling, and support to families given a poor prenatal diagnosis. Strengthen pregnancy-discrimination laws. Encourage employers to create a work environment that allows parents to parent their children and doesn’t penalize parents when a child becomes ill. New York lawmakers need to consider a healthier approach to policy than affects women and children in our state. Expanding abortion access in a state with such high rates can’t be a priority.