Guest Columnist

I'm a nurse: Stop using my job to justify preventing access to abortions

You want to help health care workers? Get us more PPE.

Clinic assistant Rachel Runnells calls patients to confirm appointments during a lull in patient intake at the Planned P
Clinic assistant Rachel Runnells calls patients to confirm appointments during a lull in patient intake at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Iowa City on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

On April 9, Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of The Family Leader, a conservative advocacy organization in Iowa, wrote a piece for the Des Moines Register in which he argued that all surgical abortions should be halted throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. This came after Gov. Kim Reynolds had already issued a proclamation preventing surgical abortions as part of Iowa’s pandemic response.

For both Mr. Vander Plaats and Gov. Reynolds preventing access to abortions was done in the interest of preserving vital personal protective equipment for health care workers. It’s an incredibly flimsy excuse as months of checkups and the birthing process clearly use more protective gear even if there are no complications in the pregnancy.

Mr. Vander Plaats, however, wielded words such as “heroes” to discourage disagreement in a way that will be familiar to those who have heard “the troops” invoked by people who never served. He even cynically referred to health care workers who died of COVID-19 as a justification for a ruling that he is certainly aware will not make anyone safer from the virus. As an ICU nurse who lives and works in Iowa, I resent the use of my career to justify preventing women from receiving vital health care.

Blocking women from receiving safe abortion care is wrong during the best of times, but to do so now is particularly callous: a time when many people have no escape from domestic violence at home, when mental health services are difficult to obtain, when people are living with precarious finances and could be facing eviction, when chronic conditions that could be dangerously exacerbated by COVID-19 are further complicated with pregnancy. Health care workers have unwanted pregnancies, too. Facing the physically and emotionally exhausting task of working during a pandemic while unable to receive treatment for one’s own health needs can be a frightening prospect.

If Mr. Vander Plaats were truly interested in helping health care workers, there are many ways to do so: lobby for hazard pay, for example, or encourage greater use of the Defense Production Act so that we might actually obtain more protective equipment. What he should not do is use me and my colleagues to push his own political agenda.

For now, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Planned Parenthood have reached a truce since she first tried to use the COVID outbreak as a means to block access to surgical abortions. Planned Parenthood can still provide abortions considered medically necessary. However, there are always those willing to use any method to prevent women from receiving this much-needed health care. The use of buzzwords and a faux concern for “heroes” ought not obscure these actions for what they are: attempts to capitalize on a disaster to restrict our Constitutional rights.

Rachel is an RN working in an Intensive Care Unit. She is a nearly lifelong Iowan. She lives in Des Moines with her husband and two dogs.

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