BOSTON — To pundits, the midterm election was supposed to be a referendum on inflation. They predicted a massive red wave, with Republicans sweeping the Senate and the House. That didn’t happen — and to Chelsea Clinton, that just showed the disconnect between their takes and the reality for voters.
For many Americans, “protecting a woman’s fundamental human right and agency and also our democracy were the most important considerations when they were casting their votes,” Clinton said on a panel about abortion care Tuesday at the STAT Summit. “I’d like to establish that, of course, there’s a connection between supporting our democracy and ensuring that women are able to fully participate in the civic and social life of our country.”
Kristyn Brandi, an OB-GYN from New Jersey, has vivid memories of the day the Dobbs decision came down. She was getting texts and calls from other abortion care providers around the country. “They were providing care one minute and suddenly they had to stop,” she said. Even in her own state, she said, she often gets calls from patients, asking if abortion is legal. “There’s just mass confusion, even in places where there’s no restrictions,” she said.
That confusion — and the changing landscape of care — comes in the middle of a maternal mortality crisis. “In the United States today, you’re about 50% more likely to die in childbirth than your mother was,” said Neel Shah, chief medical officer for Maven Clinic, a telemedicine company focusing on women’s and family health, adding that the Dobbs decision would undoubtedly make those shameful statistics even worse.
He said that corporate America doesn’t like to be at the spear’s edge of issues they see as a politically divisive, such as abortion, but they are very concerned about pressure from their employees. That’s why many began approaching Maven about having the possibility of adding abortion care to benefits packages. For instance, it began to provide a travel benefit, for those who need to head elsewhere to seek care. “Before Dobbs, on average it took about 30 minutes to drive to a place that could provide abortion care,” he said. “Now, it’s 100 minutes on average, and in some places it’s much longer than that.”
Those distances become even greater as physicians start to leave states with restrictions on abortion care, the panelists said. As Brandi explained, she’s an OB-GYN, which means she provides abortion care, but also lots of other important medical services, and if she were to leave her community, that would only expand the maternity care deserts in this country. “It is really heartbreaking having the skills, having the knowledge, and not being able to provide the care you know is best for the person in front of you,” Brandi said.
She especially worries for trainees. The matching system for residencies doesn’t give you a choice: Once you match to a program, you need to go do your residency there. “Many people are hesitating … to rank places that are in the South,” she said, because they fear they won’t be able to get the training they need.
“While I loathe that it is being fought in the political arena, it is where we have to have this fight,” Clinton said, who described herself as church-going American who doesn’t want to see her own religious beliefs pushed onto others. “Until we codify abortion rights at a federal level, abortion is on the ballot in every election,” she said. That means showing up to vote note just for president and representatives in the House and Senate, but for your local sheriff, your county commissioner.