Doctors Testify: Employers Have to Stop Punishing Us for Providing Abortion

Health care providers in D.C. may soon be better able to treat patients who need abortion care. On Thursday, June 7, I attended the D.C. Council hearing on the Abortion Provider Nondiscrimination Amendment Act of 2017. Our very own Noel León, Counsel on the Reproductive Rights and Health team, delivered testimony in support of the bill. She testified alongside physicians and a medical student who shared their own stories of being discriminated against because of their commitment to providing abortion and speaking publicly about abortion, and together they urged the Council to pass the bill. The bill, introduced in November 2017, would reinforce existing federal protections and ensure that employers do not discriminate against health care professionals based on their participation, or willingness to participate, in abortion or sterilization services.
Health care professionals around the country greatly need reinforced protections, and we’re thrilled that the D.C. Council has introduced them in our own backyard!
Clinicians fear discrimination for providing or speaking publicly about abortion
As the National Women’s Law Center demonstrated in a recent report, Diagnosing Discrimination: Barriers Facing Health Care Providers Who Support and Perform Abortion, clinicians across the country face numerous barriers and discrimination due to their participation in abortion services. Health care professionals are fired or punished by their employer because they:

  • Participated in abortion care at some point previously in their career;
  • Treated a patient who needed abortion as the standard of care for a miscarriage;
  • Provided a patient with accurate medical information about or referrals for abortion;
  • Worked a second job or volunteered at an abortion clinic;
  • Sought training in abortion care; or
  • Spoke publicly – to the media or to lawmakers, for example – about abortion.

This discrimination happens despite the fact that federal law prohibits discrimination against individuals because they performed or assisted in the performance of an abortion, or based on an individual’s moral convictions about abortion. One clinician confided in the Law Center that she was denied 15 jobs in a month because of her activism around abortion access. Another was directly threatened in a job interview when the interviewer said “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?”
At the hearing on this bill on June 7, 2018, clinicians and a medical student brought home the need for this bill in D.C. specifically:
Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper, whom NWLC represented in 2016, spoke personally about her experience with an employer threatening to fire her for speaking publicly about the harassment she faced as an abortion provider: “Despite the fact that the care I provided for patients was safe, compassionate, and most importantly perfectly legal and constitutionally protected, I experienced a hostile work environment because I spoke out about threats to my safety and my family’s safety.” The Abortion Provider Non-Discrimination Act would have protected Dr. Horvath-Cosper from her employer’s threats.
An obstetrician gynecologist and family planning specialist in D.C. testified: “I have worked incredibly hard to be a skilled physician, it is unacceptable that I would be denied job opportunities because of my commitment to making sure that abortion becomes accessible.”
A D.C. medical student also testified that:  “Every time I engage in public advocacy around abortion, including right now, I worry about consequences to my education and residency prospects that may result.”
The Council Members were clearly moved by the clinicians’ testimony, and they followed up by asking whether any of them had experienced this kind of fear or discrimination regarding their participation in any other health care. The clinicians all said no – this has only happened to them when they want to provide abortion.
This bill will both protect health care professionals and ensure better care for D.C. patients
The Abortion Provider Non-Discrimination Amendment Act is not only needed to protect health care professionals’ ability to pursue their careers – it will also ensure better care for patients. Providers should be able to give patients accurate medical information about abortion and referrals for abortion services without fearing retaliation, and they should never have their jobs threatened just for providing patients abortion according to patients’ needs and medical standards of care.  Doctors and nurses are vital patient advocates. They should never fear discrimination for speaking up in the interest of patients who have decided to have an abortion.
Clinicians in D.C. deserve the protection that the Abortion Provider Nondiscrimination Amendment Act of 2017 will provide them. No physician should fear that advocating for their patients and providing safe, comprehensive, legal, and compassionate care could jeopardize their job security or career. Here’s hoping the D.C. Council will pass the bill and ensure that providers are given the protection they need.