#StoptheBans event informs on the future of reproductive health

Doctors, CEO, students discuss abortion legislation at the University and national level

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Samhita Nelamangala, a rising third-year Medical student and organizer of the event, brought together a panel of experts to raise awareness about ongoing policies about abortion. 

Vyshnavi Pendala | Cavalier Daily

In light of recent legislation passed on reproductive healthcare, Medical Students for Choice at the University hosted a #StoptheBans event in the auditorium of the Claude Moore Medical Education Building earlier this summer. The event intended to inform the Charlottesville community on the abortion bills, access to abortion care and ways to advocate for women’s health for an audience of about 40 people. 

The University’s MSFC chapter — originally founded at the Medical School in 2002 — was established in response to the increasing hostility towards abortion providers in the United States, according to Isabelle Gill, a rising second-year Medical student and leader of the MSFC chapter.

At #StoptheBans, MSFC hosted a panel of women’s health professionals including Amy Hagstrom-Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Women’s Health — a Charlottesville-based organization that provides abortion care and has been involved in numerous lawsuits petitioning for abortion access. The panel also featured Emily Young and Allegra Deucher, current practicing physicians and abortion providers and advocates in Charlottesville. 

“There has been an incredible influx of restrictive abortion legislation rippling through the country,” said Samhita Nelamangala, a rising fourth-year Medical student and organizer of the event. “As recently as [June 20], the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the federal government had the right to block healthcare providers from Title X funds if they offer any information about abortions or offer family planning services in the same facilities where doctors perform the abortion.” 

According to Nelamangala, these newer restrictions will force clinics to make a choice between receiving federal funding — which keep their other healthcare operations afloat — and providing abortion care to patients. Specifically, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws, affect abortion care providers, often prohibiting them from giving abortions based on gestation periods or holding abortion clinics to higher facility standards as compared to other healthcare providers. 

Hagstrom-Miller said abortion restriction laws, which vary extensively case-to-case and state-to-state, have shifted the focus onto the fetus since Roe v. Wade. 

“Abortion care is not only a medical care procedure, it has a cultural component, it has a spiritual component for a lot of people,” Miller said. “The actual abortion is medically uncomplicated, very quick, very simple. But all the things it represents in our culture is what gets people fired up ... The current law makes us think we’re treating two people on some level.” 

According to Young, legislation uses language that resembles personhood, as in calling a fetus a “baby” or “child.” In her practice, she addresses the abortion procedure as terminating a “pregnancy,” not a person. 

Additionally, Deucher said these laws are not making improvements in women’s health. 

“The states with the most restrictive laws or fewest abortion clinics are usually the ones that have the worst maternal mortality rates,” Deucher said.

Young said these legislations also disproportionately affect patients of low socioeconomic status, such as minorities and single mothers. 

“This is kind of the way for people to keep these patients still poor, not able to advance and get their education or have the resources and time,” Young said.

Currently, 29 million U.S. women of reproductive age live in states with barriers in place for those seeking abortion care. The Alabama Senate passed the country’s most restrictive abortion bill May 14, titled the Human Life Protection Act, making abortion a felony. Said bill, signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) May 15, has met opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and Democratic presidential candidates, and is predicted to be struck down by the courts.

In Virginia, legal abortions must be performed before the fetus is 14 weeks old. Women must also get an ultrasound of their fetus prior to undergoing the abortion procedure. Any second-trimester abortions must be conducted in licensed hospitals, and third-trimester abortions are only legal if received for the medical well-being of the mother. 

For those hoping to advocate for abortion care, Miller recommends utilizing language shifts as one of the first steps to normalizing abortion. 

“Start talking about the safety of abortion instead of abortion complications,” Miller said. “Talk about it as a human rights issue. Talk about the benefits of abortions instead of only the risks. Stop calling abortion surgery — there are no incisions.” 

At the University level, rising fourth-year College student Kirin Johnstone spreads awareness of the issues facing reproductive healthcare and provides information on abortion services through her role as vice president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, or PPGA — a student-run contracted independent organization. 

PPGA has also merged with University Leaders for Planned Parenthood to provide reproductive health education presentations to organizations at the University. 

According to Johnstone, the use of contraception and the morning-after pill is generally accepted, while a stigma remains around other reproductive care options like abortions or STI treatment. 

“I think that U.Va., as a college campus, is inclined to be more inclusive, but the stigma still exists,” Johnstone said. “One of the goals that our organization has is to decrease, if not entirely eliminate, that stigma through education.” 

In response to the recently passed federal anti-abortion bills, Johnstone said these laws will likely affect University students. 

“The new laws passed in several states will severely limit access to abortion services and will erase many of the gains made by pro-choice advocates over the last few decades,” Johnstone said. “Pertaining to the University, these laws are sure to affect the many students who call one of the affected states home.”

For reproductive health services, students may visit Elson Student Health Center. Appointments can be scheduled through the HealthyHoos patient portal.

“Students present to Student Health every day for help and advice on reproductive health issues,” said Jessica Simmons, Director of Medical Services at Student Health. “Students can meet with medical providers or with our care manager, depending on the nature of the visit. Common types of visits include well woman exams, pregnancy counseling, contraceptive counseling, STI screening and HIV prevention. If needed, clinicians will refer to students to specialists.”

According to Simmons, Student Health offers free medical visits and procedures, including long-acting contraception placement, though these medications are paid for through a student’s prescription insurance. STI screenings are provided at low cost, and condoms given free of charge.

Additionally, the Office of Health Promotion at the University provides Peer Health Education visits, where students talk to trained Peer Health Educators about reproductive health. The Women’s Center offers counseling and support services but is not a medical healthcare provider. Community clinics including Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood are also available resources.

Correction: This article previously misstated that Samhita Nelamangala is a rising third-year medical student. Nelamangala is a fourth-year medical student, and the article has been updated with the correct information. 

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