Abortion Access is Personal for Me
Margaret L. Schneider, PhD, SBM President
Summer is winding down, SBM abstracts are in for the 2023 Annual Meeting, and many of us are settling in for a new academic year. The past few months have been eventful, to say the least, and I keep thinking back to a question posed by one of my colleagues during the 2020 SBM elections: “What, exactly, does the SBM president do?” I can assure you that my answer at the time would not have included “stand up for reproductive healthcare rights” or “defend SBM’s decision to hold an Annual Meeting in Phoenix.” And yet these are a couple of things that I have been called upon to do, in addition to the usual presidential duties like informing the Annual Meeting program, weighing in on new SBM leadership appointments, and ensuring progress on our strategic plan.
Although I did not anticipate that the overturn of Roe V. Wade would occur during this period, I suppose there is a bit of irony in it. I have been known to tell my children that if I were ever to go to jail for civil disobedience, it would likely be over the issue of access to abortion services. In addition to the compelling scientific and equity reasons for my passion about this issue (see SBM’s position statement on Protecting Abortion Rights), abortion access is personal for me. I was a teenager when I discovered that my birth control had failed and I was unexpectedly pregnant. There was never any question in my mind about the necessary course of action. I was too young to be a mother, I could not disappoint my family in this way, and I had goals and aspirations that included finishing high school and attending the best college that would take me.
Despite being the child of very liberal parents in Berkeley, CA, I was unable to bring myself to tell my parents. Thankfully, I had an older female relative who had been through this herself and advised me on the steps: Apply to the state for MediCal coverage and make an appointment with Planned Parenthood. Thanks to these resources and to the social support that I received from those around me, I was able to have an early abortion and move on with my education and growing up. I have never regretted my decision.
Until the recent news coverage of the adverse impact of the reversals in women’s reproductive rights, it never occurred to me that my support of abortion access was equally relevant to the miscarriage that I had in my 30s. Married, and hoping to be a mother, I was saddened to learn in my first trimester that there was no heartbeat. Again, I had no difficulty making a decision as to the course of action, which was prescribed to me by my physician. I had a procedure known as a “D&C” which is medically indistinguishable from the procedure I had as a teen. I cannot imagine the trauma that I might have experienced had I been denied that medical care and forced to carry an unviable fetus until it resulted in a life-threatening medical emergency.
I am fortunate that I had access to the medical care I needed at these two very different phases of my life. There are many women today who are not so lucky. Some ask whether a professional society that is dedicated to promoting “better health through proven science” should take a stand on this issue. The answer is clear for me. SBM is not a religious institution. We are not a philosophical organization. We are “the nation’s leading group of multi-specialty professionals, dedicated to improving health and quality of life through proven behavioral science.” It is our responsibility to speak out against healthcare policies that are not backed by science, especially on behalf of those who are at a disadvantage as a result of social, economic, or political circumstances.
To provide our members with trusted information that may help them navigate the complex policy and legislative climate around reproductive health care, former SBM President Sherry Pagoto, PhD, will host an SBM webinar series focused on the topic of reproductive rights. We have secured three prominent and outspoken scholars who have distinguished themselves in this area: Dr. Monica McLemore, professor in the School of Nursing at University of Washington and a former public health and staff nurse turned researcher on reproductive justice; Dr. Khiara Bridges, professor of law at UC Berkeley who has written extensively on the intersection of race, class, and reproductive rights; and Dr. Mary Ziegler, professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the world’s leading historians of the U.S. abortion debate. I invite you to join me in learning from these three eminent scholars and placing recent events in a historical context. Visit the Grand Rounds Webinars page to register.
So what does the SBM president do? Well, in my case, she takes a stand in support of evidence-based behavioral medicine, the disadvantaged and underserved, and a healthcare environment that facilitates optimal health for all.