Commentary: Clearing the record on abortion and Planned Parenthood

When I read Moira Sheridan and Janet Grayson’s opinions printed March 20, (“Abortion is only surgical procedure ‘rooted in ignorance’”), I knew I had to respond. I am one of the nurses they referred to as “…blew the whistle on the Wilmington Planned Parenthood in 2013 because of “unsafe and unsanitary practice”

Before I go further, I want to emphasize these women are president and vice president of Delaware Right to Life and their expressed opinions reflect this position as well as statements that are not accurate.

My career has been as an RN in maternal child health. I worked, both as staff and management, in labor and deliveries, clinics, doctor’s offices and home health. I worked at Planned Parenthood of Delaware for 10 months in 2012 to 2013, first as staff then management.

While I identified many issues there, I focused on what I found to be the most dangerous to patient safety as poor staff training resulting in a lack of understanding of sterile technique. I took this concern through the proper channels, developed a training program and began training staff. There was a turnover in upper management and most staff were terminated. New staff were not offered training and I became increasingly frustrated. I chose to resign.

Nurses in Delaware are mandated to report to the state licensing agency “a medical practitioner when you reasonably believe that the practitioner is (or may be) guilty of unprofessional conduct or unfit to practice, when you know of, or suspect, child abuse or neglect, and any unsafe nursing practice … unsafe practice conditions.”

We went public when reporting did not result in investigation. I made it clear then and repeat, the whistle blowing had nothing to do with the abortion controversy nor did I want my reporting to be used by others to promote their views on abortion. The reporting was unsafe medical practices. Our efforts resulted in amending the law on medical regulation relating to women’s health requiring:

1. Planned Parenthood of Delaware to be accredited by an independent organization having no conflict of interest and

2. The Department of Health is to investigate and inspect any facility that was reported by a patient or facility employee for unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

A few facts about abortion:

•Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the United States. Fewer than 0.05% of women obtaining abortions experience a complication.

• There was a 41% decline in the abortion rate in Delaware between 2011 and 2014.

• Contraceptive use is a key predictor of whether a woman will have an abortion. In 2011, the very small group of American women who were at risk of experiencing an unintended pregnancy but were not using contraceptives accounted for the majority of abortions. Many of these women did not think they would get pregnant or had concerns about contraceptive methods.

A minority of abortions occurred among the much larger group of women who were using contraceptives in the month they became pregnant. Many women who fall into this category have reported difficulty using contraceptives consistently. (https://www.guttmacher.org)

The 2017 abortion law protects Delaware women’s right to choose. Reporting on this law said, “Under the new law, abortions will be legal as long as they happen before the fetus is ‘viable.’ Abortions after viability could only happen if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the mother or if the fetus is unable to survive without ‘extraordinary medical measures’.”

The debate is over what constitutes “viability.” The new law removes the 20-week rule and does not set a specific time limit. The bill’s sponsors say they did not include a hard limit for viability because every pregnancy is different, and improvements in medical science mean fetuses can be considered viable earlier and earlier. They say groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists set clear guidelines on what constitutes a viable fetus.

Particularly, I must respond to Moira Sheridan and Janet Grayson’s paragraph stating “Knowledge is power and abortion is the only surgical procedure rooted in ignorance. It may be procured in Delaware without a waiting period, without parental consent for minors, without gestational limits, and without meaningful informed consent that truthfully details what the procedure involves.”

I agree knowledge is power, but that knowledge must be grounded in truth. I have no idea what the statement that abortion is the only surgical procedure rooted in ignorance means. I am a medical professional who would never assume I have full knowledge outside my expertise. That is the purpose of informed consent which the staff of Planned Parenthood competently delivered both written and verbally in English or the patient’s primary language. Patients were not only informed truthfully about the procedure and risks but what to expect afterwards and warning signs. This information is on their website.

Waiting periods for abortion only make access more difficult. Women have made their decision when they make that call to schedule. And my experience at Planned Parenthood was that anytime a woman made any indication she was unsure or being forced; the procedure was not performed that day. And each staff member she contacted before the procedure asked her about her decision.

Planned Parenthood’s policy on parental consent follows Delaware law. Planned Parenthood clearly states notification requirements for all states. Delaware’s is for patients under 16 years of age.

Let us not confuse elective abortion with medical necessity. Delaware law most certainly does have a gestational limit for elective abortion. Abortion is legal to the date of fetal viability or the age a fetus might survive, even with medical intervention. Age of viability changes as medical interventions improve. Each agency establishes its own gestational limits for providing abortion. Planned Parenthood of Delaware’s limit is 15 weeks and six days, many weeks before viability.

The argument as to whether a woman should have the option to view the ultrasound of the fetus is worthless on both sides. Research has shown states that mandate women view the ultrasound have not seen a decrease in the number of abortions. My experience was many women not only asked to see the ultrasound but requested a picture. I observed these women holding the pictures lovingly.

Moira Sheridan and Janet Grayson stated abortion is “the most common surgical procedure.” It does not even make the top 10. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 10 most common ambulatory or outpatient surgeries are: 1. Lens and cataract procedures 2. Other therapeutic procedures on muscles and tendons 3. Tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy 4. Other O.R. therapeutic procedures on joints 5. Excision of semilunar cartilage of knee 6. Inguinal and femoral hernia repair 7. Cholecystectomy—gall bladder– and common duct exploration 8. Lumpectomy, quadrantectomy of breast 9. Myringotomy – ear tubes 10. Diagnostic dilation and curettage (D&C) — not abortion.

While men have paternal rights and can stop adoption, this does not result in mandating they be emotionally or financially responsible for that child as forcing the woman to keep the child does. Good childcare is expensive. Mothers, particularly, are unequal in the work force, both in pay and in advancement opportunities. Parents have limited resources when children are ill. Education opportunities are often unattainable.

Abortion has always existed. Abortion is legal in the United States. Legislating abortion as illegal will only permit the return of the back alley butchering of our past and making safe abortion, again, only available to the rich or lucky.

I believe we should focus our efforts on removing the reasons women feel abortion is their best or only option.

Joyce Vasikonis, RN, BSN, is a resident of Dover.

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