One OB-GYN discusses why she opposes abortions
SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
As we continue our coverage of yesterday's momentous Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal right to an abortion established nearly 50 years ago in the Roe v. Wade case, we turn to a medical professional who opposes abortion rights. Dr. Christina Francis is a practicing OB-GYN in Fort Wayne, Ind., and a board member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dr. Francis, welcome to the program.
CHRISTINA FRANCIS: Thank you, Susan. Thank you so much for having me.
DAVIS: Your reaction to the Supreme Court's decision?
FRANCIS: Well, I, along with my thousands of colleagues that are a part of AAPLOG, am just a bit overwhelmed, honestly, and it still seems a bit surreal. This is something that we've waited 50 years for.
DAVIS: Your group filed an amicus brief in this Supreme Court case. Can you explain what your argument was?
FRANCIS: We did. We did. We felt it was very important that the court hear from OB-GYNs and other medical professionals about the evidence that exists in the medical literature that shows abortion's impact on women, that it doesn't have a role in health care, and that it does pose oftentimes very real risks.
DAVIS: How do you respond to the argument that this doesn't necessarily stop women from seeking abortion services - it stops safe abortion services - that women will continue to seek out abortion, and they might just receive less adequate medical care?
FRANCIS: Well, you know, I know that that's a common talking point for people who promote abortion. However, I think there's a couple different things that we have to think about in that. And, you know, the first is that, of course, Roe v. Wade being overturned doesn't mean that abortion isn't available anywhere in this country. It just means that that decision has returned to the state so that people in each state can have a voice. But I think it's also important to talk about the safety, quote unquote, "safety" of abortion even when it's legal. We need to talk about abortion's actual impact.
DAVIS: Isn't there also a health risk and a medical consideration to this idea of forcing a woman to give birth against her will, including mental health, among other things?
FRANCIS: Certainly we're not about forcing women to be pregnant. But, you know, once they are pregnant and there's another human life at stake there, then our job as physicians is to provide excellent care to both of those patients. You know, two of the countries with the best maternal mortality rates in the world - Poland and Malta - abortion is illegal in both of those countries. And Poland actually saw their maternal mortality rates drop dramatically when they went from legalized abortion to making abortion illegal. And in this country, where we've had access to abortion on demand for the last 50 years, we have one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world.
DAVIS: But don't we also have one of the lowest ranked health care systems as well? I mean, many of our citizens don't have access to the same kinds of health care that other countries do. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a fair comparison.
FRANCIS: I'm not saying that abortion's the only contributor. I'm just saying it's not a solution to maternal mortality. I live - like you said, I live in northeastern Indiana. One ZIP code away from me, I have one of the ZIP codes with the worst neonatal mortality rates in our state. And a big contributor to that is the fact that the women in that ZIP code don't have access to prenatal care close to home. They have to travel for that. So these are the kind of solutions that not only are real solutions for our maternal mortality issues in the U.S., but they're also solutions that I personally feel that people on both sides of this issue can unite around.
DAVIS: I do wonder about the disparity issue here in that wealthy women in this country will still be able to access abortion services if they so choose. They can get on an airplane and fly to a state that still provides abortion services. But poor women cannot. I mean, this isn't really a red state, blue state. It's a rich, poor issue. I wonder if you have a message to those poor women in this country who might be facing an unwanted pregnancy and really scared today.
FRANCIS: You are better than that and you deserve better than that. That is what my message to them would be. And we as a health care system, we as a country, we owe you the support that you need. And so one of the founders of ACOG, one of the early leaders of ACOG, the American College of OB-GYNs, said that abortion is an attempt for a medical fix to a social problem. And it really doesn't have any place in the practice of medicine and really shouldn't in our society either because women - all women, but certainly women who are struggling with, you know, needing more resources - deserve much better than abortion. They deserve support and empowerment so that they can make healthy choices for them and for their children. And I think you see a lot of people in the pro-life movement already doing that. But I'll be the first to say that we need to increase those efforts.
DAVIS: Dr. Christina Francis is a board member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Thanks so much for joining us.
FRANCIS: Thank you, Susan. It was great being here.
DAVIS: After speaking with Dr. Francis, NPR called up a member of the organization she mentioned at the end of the interview, the American College of OB-GYNs. ACOG, as it's called, supports abortion rights. We spoke with the vice president of ethics there, Dr. Louise King. King told NPR, by contrast, that abortions are safe for the patient, safer even than carrying a baby to term.
LOUISE PERKINS KING: The complication rates are approximately 1.3% for first trimester aspiration abortion, so the most typically performed procedure. They rise to about, at most, 2% for medication abortions. And most of those complications are minor - bleeding, discomfort, pain - nothing serious, nothing major. So as compared to most of the surgeries that I do, the bulk of my clinical practice, that's exceedingly safe.
DAVIS: Dr. King went on to say that the highest maternal mortality rates are in developing countries where abortions are unsafe. And she says many medical professionals expect that more pregnant people in this country will die as abortions become harder to obtain.
KING: A lot of people twist these numbers around and twist them around to create outcomes that they wish to see. But we've been looking at these numbers very carefully for a long period of time. The numbers that we have are very accurate. And there is no reason not to believe them.
DAVIS: Dr. King's organization, ACOG, was joined by 24 other medical organizations in submitting a friend of the court brief to the Supreme Court case advocating for keeping abortions legal across the country.
NPR's health policy correspondent Selena Simmons-Duffin contributed reporting to this segment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.