‘Physicians are scared’: Medical, law, social sciences professors reflect on the loss of federal right to abortion

Katie Langley, News Editor

Amid the Supreme Court’s June 24 reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which protected the right to abortion, Quinnipiac University administrators and faculty held an open meeting Tuesday to discuss Roe’s aftermath and its impacts on society. 

Students and faculty protest for abortion rights in the Carl Hansen Student Center on May 4, 2022. (Daniel Passapera)

“A community discussion about Roe v. Wade” was streamed as a zoom webinar and held in-person at the North Haven campus. Panelists included professors and experts from the fields of law, political science, sociology, women’s and gender studies, medicine and reproductive medicine. 

The discussion began with an introduction from President Judy Olian and was moderated by Provost Debra Liebowitz. 

When it comes to abortion rights in the context of the medical field, panelists from the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine said they are concerned about the safety of both patients and physicians in areas where abortion is no longer legal and/or accesible. 

“Physicians are scared, not only for themselves and whether they may be criminalized for actually treating patients, but also for their patients and watching what they may have to go through,” said Gladys Vallespir Ellett, assistant professor of nursing. 

Vallespir Ellett said that though some states allow abortion if the mother’s life is at risk, this puts physicians in a difficult situation where they must decide what is life-threatening, which she said can be subjective. 

“Abortion has always been an essential part of healthcare as far as OBGYN care has been concerned,” Vallespir Ellett said. “And so taking it away from us has really left us reeling, not knowing how to care for our patients properly.” 

Professor of social work Carol Awasu said that one danger of regulating or criminalizing abortion care is that more people will undergo unsafe abortions, especially in disadvantaged communities. 

“I really want to highlight and point out that what we’re talking about here is going to differentially, negatively impact particularly persons of color, women and other pregnant persons,” Awasu said. 

The panelists cited the statistic that Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth, according to the CDC. They said that this is an issue that will become compounded as abortions become more difficult to obtain. 

“Black women, Native American women, poor women of European ancestry, are already in the criminal justice system,” Awasu said. “We already have a foster care system that’s overflowing with Black and brown children and who are not getting the adequate care that they need, so we have a system that’s already failing the persons who are in that system, and now we’ve added a lack of access to healthcare” 

Lauren Sardi, professor of sociology and women’s and gender studies, said that this case raises the question of whether fetuses count as “alive” and therefore have the same rights as independent people, and if this means pregnant people will receive double the state protections and aid.

“I would say that (the life of a fetus) is oftentimes elevated far above the rights of the person with the uterus carrying a fetus,” Sardi said. “So I think that there has been a movement towards understanding that there is this hypocrisy that goes on when people do elevate this concept of rights over the living person who is carrying (the fetus). And say, ok, let’s carry that out in a very real way. What does it mean to be a person who now counts as two people?” 

This conversation has recently come up in the case of Brandy Bottone, which the panel spoke about. Bottone, a pregnant Texas woman, was pulled over for driving in an high-occupancy vehicle lane which requires two or more occupants per car. Under Texas’ abortion ban, Bottone is arguing that “two or more” includes her unborn fetus, since its life has begun under the law. 

Going forward, the panel said that the post-Roe world will see many more legal, medical and societal dilemmas and questions, including the legality of emergency contraception. 

“One of the one of the things coming down the road legally is, at what point, since the right to contraception is explicitly reaffirmed, at what point does that bump up against the state’s power now to prevent abortions?” Professor of Law Stephen Gilles said during the panel. “…There will be states that try to ban plan B because they not only prevent operation in some cases, but they can also prevent implementation of the fertilized embryo.” 

However, Gilles said that because many pro-life groups agree on life beginning at fertilization rather than contraception, these challenges to birth control are not likely to stick in the long term. 

Olian said that the goal of the community discussion was not to communicate pro-life or pro-choice opinions, but to spread awareness and understanding. 

“It’s a conversation with experts separating the facts from opinion, so that you can draw your own conclusions,” Olian said.