iNDICA NEWS BUREAU-
Indian American doctors, Bhavik Kumar and Nisha Verma led the charge against abortion laws in Texas recently when Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing to examine Republican efforts to enact abortion bans and restrictions.
The committee heard testimony on September 29, 2022, from Dr. Bhavik Kumar, MD, MPH, Medical Director for Primary and Trans Care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast; Jocelyn Frye, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families; Dr. Nisha Verma, MD, MPH, FACOG Fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health; and Kelsey Leigh.
In his testimony, Dr. Kumar said: “As I’ve provided abortion care in Texas for over seven years, I have witnessed the steady erosion of our rights and freedoms at the hands of anti-abortion politicians. On September 1, 2021, S.B. 8 banned abortion in Texas at about six weeks, before many people even know they were pregnant. Less than a year later, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing states like Texas to completely outlaw abortion. At this moment, America is effectively two countries — one where people can control their own bodies and another where politicians have decided for them.
“Doctors have to wait to intervene. People have already been denied the care they need, even for early pregnancy loss, commonly known as miscarriage, because they weren’t sick enough yet – not bleeding enough yet, not miscarrying enough yet. All this in a state with extremely high maternal mortality rates, especially for Black women, who are already three times more likely to die during childbirth. Abortion bans are inherently racist, inherently classist, and fundamentally part of the white supremacy agenda,” Dr. Kumar added.
When asked by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi about the potential impact of a national ban, Dr. Kumar testified, “These impacts are always felt disproportionately by people of color, especially low-income folks and also Black folks, and that is what we will continue to see but it will only worsen from here.”
Dr. Kumar said that he grew up in Corsicana, Texas, where his family moved when he was 10. “I know what it’s like to be undocumented, a person of color, gay, and governed by white supremacist laws that burden our families and communities. I decided to become a doctor because I believe that everyone deserves quality health care,” he said.
Dr. Kumar said in his testimony: “Over and over again, we are forced to violate our conscience and our training to turn away patients who need us. There’s nothing more inhumane, cruel, or unethical than having to deny people the essential health care they seek in their time of need. Now as providers in Texas, our scope of practice is limited by the law.” He continued, “People have already been denied the care they need, even for early pregnancy loss, commonly known as miscarriage because they weren’t sick enough yet, not bleeding enough yet, not miscarrying enough yet.”
Chairwoman Maloney in her opening statement said: “Republicans are showing us the America they envision. It is a place that limits women’s freedom and imposes government control over our bodies and our choices. It is an America where a politician can force a woman to give birth against her will, regardless of the consequences for the woman and her family. While Republicans are pushing to criminalize abortion nationwide, Democrats are fighting to protect the freedom of every person to make their own medical decisions—without interference from the state—and to protect the doctor-patient relationship.”
Ahead of the hearing, Chairwoman Maloney released a committee staff analysis detailing efforts by Republicans at all levels of government to ban abortion or impose restrictions. The memo revealed that since 2021, congressional Republicans have introduced more than 50 bills to ban or restrict abortion nationwide, including bills that would imprison doctors and nurses who provide abortion care for up to five years.
The witnesses described how abortion restrictions impact the health and bodily autonomy of people seeking reproductive health care in hostile states.
In response to a question from Rep. John Sarbanes about the effects of the six-week ban that recently went into effect in Georgia, Dr. Verma explained: “We’ve absolutely seen this unjust patchwork of abortion bans forcing people to leave their communities and travel for care instead of being able to get that care in their own communities, and we’re also seeing that that’s delaying when they can get their abortion. In the United States, 90% of abortions happen in the first trimester and less than 1% happen after 20 weeks. What delays people in getting the care that they need is when we have these abortion bans forcing people out of their communities, when people end up thinking that they’re going to a health center but end up at a crisis pregnancy center that’s using deceptive practices, that’s lying to them about how far along in pregnancy they are, that’s tricking them into delaying that care, and then they’re not able to get the care they need in a timely manner.”
Dr. Verma said, “We are already seeing a devastating health care crisis in this country and it’s hard for me to even fathom how much worse things are going to get in the setting of a national abortion ban.”
Leigh, who received abortion care in February 2016, shared her story advocating against an abortion ban in Pennsylvania: “Pennsylvania’s law allows abortions until 23 weeks, 6 days into the pregnancy. I was able to access comprehensive, compassionate abortion care within the legal window, at a hospital just 10 minutes from my home. Just six weeks later, I stood before a bank of cameras and pled with the Pennsylvania legislature not to pass a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy. A bill that would have banned my abortion, and stripped me of my privacy in my most vulnerable moment.”
Leigh, while replying to a question from Chairwoman Maloney, stated: “I’d like to remind people that as Americans we all have the core value of self-determination, bodily autonomy, and to determine our futures for ourselves and our families. And I like to ground people in that because we all want that for ourselves. I was privileged enough to have that, and that’s what I want for everyone seeking an abortion in this country.”
The witnesses explained that abortion restrictions disproportionately harm those with less income and who have historically experienced health inequities. Frye testified: “What happens with abortion bans is that they take the decision out of the person’s hands, they force them to look elsewhere and rely on systems that have perpetuated disparities for decades.” Ms. Frye continued: “Bans that deny black and brown women the ability to control their own bodies are simply a step backward. This is particularly a problem with black maternal health disparities. We have a crisis in this country. Black women are three times more likely to die than white women.”
The witnesses also stressed the dangers of the Republican plan for a nationwide, criminal abortion ban—and how it would intrude on the right to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy.