Doctors and nurses should never fear losing their jobs simply because they treated patients seeking abortion, or because they support abortion access. Yet across the country clinicians are fired, threatened, and otherwise punished for providing abortion services, seeking abortion training, or engaging in advocacy around abortion. This kind of discrimination is unacceptable, but it is little known or addressed.
Today, we released a report that sheds light on these issues – Diagnosing Discrimination: Barriers Facing Health Care Providers Who Support and Perform Abortion. The report aims to reduce stigma and stoke efforts to develop and implement solutions by educating health care providers, advocates, and policymakers about discrimination against health care professionals who support abortion.
Health care professionals shouldn’t be fired or threatened because of their commitment to providing or supporting abortion.
Hospitals are mistreating health care professionals just because they support or provide abortion. Some of the many egregious examples discussed in our report include the following:
- A physician was directly threatened by a senior partner of a private OB/GYN practice during a job interview: “If I ever find out you did elective abortion any time in your professional life, you’ll never practice medicine in [this state] again. Do you understand that?”
- A physician in the West was forced to choose between providing abortion care and keeping their primary job at a Catholic health care system. “For years I worked for a small private practice and provided abortions once a week at a clinic nearby. Then a Catholic hospital system bought the practice and told me that if I wanted to keep my job I would have to stop providing abortions at the local clinic.”
- A physician in the Midwest reported that her employer threatened her shortly before she was scheduled to testify in opposition to a bill restricting abortions before the state legislature. The employer told her that if she showed up before the legislature, she would likely be fired.
- A cardiologist at a Catholic hospital center had a pregnant patient who was showing symptoms of a disease that makes pregnancy very dangerous, so he discussed with his patient the option of having an abortion if tests indeed showed that she had the disease. The hospital reprimanded the cardiologist for mentioning abortion as an option and forbade him from discussing it with patients in the future.
Clinicians should never be punished by their employer simply for providing their patients with the care they need.
When clinicians are punished for providing or supporting abortion, patients who need care for miscarriage or abortion suffer.
Discrimination against health care professionals isn’t just an employment justice issue – it also translates into harm for patients who need abortions or care for pregnancy complications. When hospitals and other health care employers prohibit or deter their employees from taking secondary employment as abortion providers or otherwise threaten or punish health care professionals who provide abortion, patients lose access to the care they need. In fact, one study found that hostile work environments were a greater deterrent to OB/GYNs becoming abortion providers than the threat of clinic violence. For example:
- Treatment for a miscarriage often involves procedures identical to abortion procedures, so when hospitals prohibit certain procedures, clinicians are forced to turn away patients experiencing life-threatening pregnancy complications.
- Medical students and clinicians are prohibited from obtaining training in abortion care or punished for seeking that training, resulting in fewer clinicians with the skills to treat patients who need care for a miscarriage.
- Prohibitions on clinicians taking secondary employment as abortion providers decrease the availability of abortion providers throughout entire regions, as abortion clinics rely on moonlighting clinicians. A clinic in West Virginia had to close in January 2017 because its physician provider stopped traveling from California, and no local physician was able to take his place.
- Employers punish health care professionals for speaking publicly about abortion, causing individuals who need abortion care to lose critical advocates in policymaking spaces. Discrimination against health care professionals who provide or support abortion has sweeping effects on both the health care workforce and patients, and it must end. Join us in working towards a world that is safer and more just for health care providers and patients alike!