Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Article 22 will protect care

As a physician, my calling is to provide safe, equitable healthcare for individuals and our communities. In this capacity, I believe that all medical decisions must remain between people seeking care and their health care providers. Reproductive autonomy — the choice to determine when or whether to become pregnant — is a medical decision. The way we provide reproductive health care should remain the responsibility of health care providers, no different than our colleagues who care for the heart, the lungs or the brain.  

When I became a physician, I took the Oath of Geneva, which states: “I solemnly pledge to dedicate my life to the service of humanity; The health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration; I will respect the autonomy and dignity of my patient.” Supporting Article 22 allows me to uphold the oath I took at the start of my career and is aligned with my values as a physician. My job is to provide evidence-based, person-centered care that upholds individual dignity and autonomy. I am proud of the track records of Porter Medical Center and the UVM Health Network as a whole in supporting access to necessary health care. This includes the reproductive health care services our patients request and rely on us to provide. 

Access to basic reproductive health care services is being restricted at an alarming rate by state legislatures across the country. Passing a Constitutional Amendment in Vermont that protects reproductive rights makes it more difficult for a future legislature to pass laws that limit access, harm people in need of reproductive health care, allow or even lead to pregnancy-related deaths. Every year, there are bills introduced in Vermont to restrict reproductive health care, which is why we need to codify this in our constitution rather than rely on the 2019 “Freedom of Choice” act.

There is widespread misinformation about Article 22. Article 22 is not only about access to safe abortion, but also supports individual decision-making about when or if people become pregnant. Opponents of Article 22 are deliberately misrepresenting the scope of the amendment. I have seen many Article 22 opponents using scare tactics that suggest that all health care providers would be at risk of being sued for failure to perform an abortion. This is a complete fabrication and is an example of the coercive nature of anti-choice individuals and organizations. 

It will not force physicians or other health care providers to perform or participate in abortions against their will. Instead, both the Act and the constitutional amendment allow a pregnant person to receive an abortion from a willing provider without undue government interference. It does not require a provider to perform an abortion, and therefore would not allow a person to sue a provider for refusing to provide it. Additionally, the focus on late-term abortions is disingenuous and divisive. 

I was recently approached by a nurse whose husband was appalled that she would support Article 22 because it allowed people to choose to have an abortion for any reason up to the moment of birth. This is, again, simply not true. That does not happen now and will not begin with the passage of Article 22. In 2020, 0.1% of abortions in Vermont happened after 21 weeks (which is just under halfway through a pregnancy and before a fetus could survive outside the womb). As an Ob/Gyn, I know that later abortions (which are exceedingly rare) happen due to severe birth defects or life-threatening conditions of the pregnant person. I am personally and professionally offended by the manipulative and untrue narrative used by opponents of Article 22.

The oath I took when I became a physician also states: “I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity in accordance with good medical practice.” Article 22 will support me and my patients by allowing professionals to provide good medical care to those who seek it. Knowing that bans on abortion increase suicide, poverty, domestic violence and pregnancy-related deaths, I have a moral and professional imperative to advocate for Article 22, and I ask that you vote “yes” in support of our friends, neighbors and colleagues, who should have the right to self-determination when it comes to their health.

Dr. Anna Benvenuto

Cornwall

Dr. Benvenuto is the Chief Medical Officer at Porter Medical Center and a Physician at Porter Women’s Health.

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