Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, this is The Takeaway. In 1970, a woman using the pseudonym Jane Roe filed a lawsuit against the district attorney of Dallas County, Henry Wade. That Texas lawsuit was decided by the Supreme Court three years later. Here's a report for ABC News on January 22nd, 1973 when the decision was handed down.
Speaker 1: The Supreme Court today ruled that abortion is completely a private matter to be decided by mother and doctor in the first three months of pregnancy. The 72-ruling to that effect will probably result in a drastic overhaul of state laws on abortion.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The court's decision in Roe V. Wade affirmed a constitutional right to privacy and asserted the legal right to obtain an abortion before viability, which is at about 23 weeks of pregnancy. Here is more from attorney Sarah Weddington who represented the woman known as Jane Roe.
Sarah Weddington: We are once again, before this court to ask relief against the continued enforcement of the Texas abortion statute. I ask that you affirm the ruling of the three-judge court below, which held our statute unconstitutional for two reasons. The first that it was vague, and the second that it interfered with the ninth amendment right of a woman to determine whether or not she would continue or terminate the pregnancy.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, nearly 50 years later, the state of Texas and the Supreme Court are once again at the center of the battle over abortion. On Wednesday, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States went into effect in the Lone Star state called SB8. It bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Because most people are unaware that they are pregnant until six weeks, this law effectively bans abortions.
The law also provides private citizens with the right to sue anyone who provides or aids people in getting an abortion. This includes everyone from the doctor who performs it to the Uber driver who brings the patient to a clinic. Abortion providers in Texas filed an emergency appeal against the law, but late on Wednesday, the Supreme Court blocked that appeal. For more on this let's speak with two abortion providers in Texas. Dr. Bhavik Kumar is a staff physician for Planned Parenthood - Center for Choice in Houston. Dr. Kumar, great to have you here.
Dr. Bhavik Kumar: Thanks for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Here is Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OBGYN, and abortion provider in Texas and board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health. Dr. Moayedi, welcome back to the show.
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Thank you so much for having me again.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm going to start with you, Dr. Moayedi. Before we get into the specifics of this new law, can you just walk us through your experience as an abortion provider in Texas?
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Up until this week, it was a very joyful job, but this week has been incredibly devastating to be a provider here, to be a mom here, to be a human here.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk us just a bit through the pandemic and the ways that over the course of now, nearly two years, it may have impeded access to reproductive care in the broadest sense for patients.
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Yes. Texas, at the beginning of the pandemic, shut down abortion services for a month. Providers like Dr. Kumar and I were scrambling to get patients' care and show up for people where they needed us. It took us several months to be able to catch up to the backlog of people needing care, all of this during a pandemic, trying to figure out what was safe, how to keep our staff safe, how to keep patients safe. Providers in the state have been through a lot. We've been just struggling every single day to find new ways, better ways, innovative ways to get people care through everything that's been happening.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Kumar, I'm struck by Dr. Moayedi talking about this experience of providing reproductive care, pregnancy care, and abortion as a joyful, as a job of care, using that language again and again. Does that align with your experience?
Dr. Bhavik Kumar: Yes, absolutely. I've been in Texas now providing abortion care for about six and a half years. It's really a core part of my existence. I think, as a physician, what brings me joy is taking care of people, and that includes providing abortions. Seeing people who need help and then being able to help them, making them feel better, being compassionate, being nice, those are the things that bring me joy and pride in my job as a physician. That includes when I provide abortions for people. I think the staff that I work with share a very similar sentiment. It's a very sacred thing for me. Of course, when it's taken away from us, like it is now under Senate Bill 8, it's just as difficult to deal with because we're left helpless and we can't do what we're here to do.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Moayedi, can you remind us again what is actually in this law, SB8?
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Yes. This law does not impose criminal penalties on physicians or the person seeking an abortion themselves. Rather, it allows for civil lawsuits against physicians, nurses, healthcare staff, anyone at the clinic, or anyone helping someone get an abortion, but also anyone intending to help someone get an abortion. The law is very vague. It removes some of the civil procedure requirements in Texas courts. It removes what is called standing.
I definitely wish I was a physician that did not know this much about the law at this point. Typically in Texas, you have to prove that you've been injured in some way to bring a civil lawsuit against someone. This law has removed that very basic standard, and it allows anyone related to the patient or not, to bring a lawsuit forward. It is 100% intended to intimidate us out of doing our ethical duty and caring for our community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Kumar, does the law apply to both surgical and medical abortions? Maybe also just for some of our listeners who may not know the difference, can you walk us through surgical versus medical abortion?
Dr. Bhavik Kumar: Of course yes. Senate Bill 8, the law that we're talking about, is a very gnarly law. There are very few, if any, exceptions, and of course that includes any abortion, whether it's a medication abortion or a procedural abortion. Just briefly, the differences with those two or that a medication abortion involves pills that somebody can take and part of the process is at home where folks may feel more comfortable. It's very effective, it's very safe versus what we call procedural abortion or what some folks may know as surgical abortion, which is a procedure that takes place in the clinic at the health center with me as their doctor, perhaps, and nurses and other staff, but it doesn't take place at home. That is also extremely effective and extremely safe. Patients have the option of choosing whatever's best for them, but unfortunately under Senate Bill 8, either one would not be allowed in Texas if cardiac motion could be detected,
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Moayedi, how would anyone know if someone else had a private medical procedure or surgical procedure? How would someone know that someone has sought an abortion?
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Well, the scary part is that these extremists actually camp out outside of our clinics every single day. They take pictures of staff, they take pictures of patients, they write down our license plates. They already have an expansive infrastructure across the country for surveillance and harassment of abortion clinic workers and abortion seekers. How they would know is through their expansive surveillance infrastructure that they already have in place.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let me ask a follow-up to that. What if someone maybe who has a private physician goes into say a university hospital and sees their private physician and is either prescribed the pills necessary for a medical abortion or is actually given, say a DNC, a surgical procedure? Does that mean that, basically, it's only those who can be surveilled who are most vulnerable here?
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Yes. Were unclear right now who they're going to bring suits against and how, but, yes, it is unlikely that a private family physician or OB-GYN in their office that is providing just individuals in their practice care is going to be found out. It's also important to remember that, in Texas, your regular physician is not technically usually allowed to provide abortion care to you. Our state has already been regulated to the point that pretty much all abortion care happens within our known clinical settings. They've already thought of that. They've filtered us down to a few spots where most, if not all abortions in the state happen.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Kumar, I'm struck again, Dr. Moayedi said that the primary purpose of this law is to intimidate and frighten. Are you feeling intimidated and frightened?
Dr. Bhavik Kumar: Certainly, yes. I totally agree with Dr. Moayedi that, to your question before about, "How would you know or what happens if this, that, the other?" I think just asking those questions is what this law is designed to do. It's designed to have folks who may need access to abortion, folks who provide abortion to think about every little thing that could happen and how somebody could find out if you want to continue providing the care that you've been providing and make people feel fear and feel intimidated.
I think even having this conversation and working through these questions and, of course, the last few months about all the what-ifs, and how, and who, and where, and what's going to happen, the amount of energy and time that's been put into that is exactly what this law or part of it is designed to do. Feeling fear and intimidation is not a new thing for us that do this work in Texas or places like Texas. We're used to it. It doesn't make it easy, but it's part of the work here. I think naming it is part of getting around it. Of course, the fear is there. I feel it all the time, but I don't allow the fear to control me. It doesn't serve me, it doesn't help me or the people that I'm trying to take care of, but it's there. I think some of us feel the fear differently and perhaps more heavily, but for me, the fear's there, but I try to move through it and recognize that it doesn't serve me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Moayedi. How does having this bounty essentially placed on your heads affect physicians' capacity to get insurance in the state of Texas?
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Yes, that's a great question and one that we all started grappling with very early on after this law was passed. For now, thankfully, it seems this is not a malpractice issue at all, because it is a civil proceeding. Currently, it has not affected our malpractice carriers. However, it's certainly a concern and I think something that was on their mind in this process, but since it is a civil procedure, and it doesn't have anything to do with actually with medical care, it is so far out of our purview of our malpractice insurers. That remains to be seen what will happen. I don't know what will happen if we start getting dozens of these frivolous lawsuits, what our state medical board is going to say, what are the insurance companies going to say after that? What will the hospitals say that we have privileges at? There's a just endless spiral of thinking through the career consequences of multiple frivolous lawsuits.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Bhavik Kumar is a staff physician for Planned Parenthood - Center for Choice in Houston and Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi is an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Texas and board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health. Thank you both for joining us and thank you both for your work.
Dr. Bhavik Kumar: Thank you.
Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi: Thank you so much for having me again.
[00:12:26] [END OF AUDIO]
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