In the new year, many people make resolutions to do more: get more fit, drink more water, save more money. But if we all resolve to do one thing “more” in 2016, it should be this — be more politically involved.
This hit home to me when I was reading about the laws that took effect at the start of the new year. Take, for example, the abortion law in NC. Prior to performing an abortion, a doctor must perform an ultrasound to determine the age of the fetus. It is also illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion more than twenty weeks after conception, except in cases of medical emergency. This law was signed into effect in June.
However, there’s a part of the law that is now in effect and about which, no matter how you feel about the divisive issue of abortion, more attention should have been paid: for abortions after sixteen weeks, doctors must now submit the ultrasounds taken before the procedures to the state Department of Health and Human Services for review.
Pro-life, pro-choice, or somewhere in the middle, a majority of Americans believe that, if abortion is legal, women should have access to it in an affordable, safe environment and that the experience should be comfortable and non-judgemental, and this faction of the law would make me feel uncomfortable and judged. I’m already squeamish about TSA employees viewing scans of my body as I navigate airport security, but at least I can consent. So an ultrasound and medical information about me being stored somewhere for an undisclosed amount of time without my consent? No, thank you.
To be fair, the purported intent of the law isn’t to make patients feel uncomfortable. It’s to prevent doctors from performing illegal abortions according to the North Carolina Values Coalition. Yet, if doctors performing abortions after twenty weeks were a common occurrence in NC, we’d be hearing more about it. Also, there are ways to make sure doctors follow the law without requiring women to relinquish their rights to their medical records. The most expedient way might be to have two health professionals in the room, similar to any examination of private parts, when the ultrasound takes place or have two sign off on the paperwork. Since there is now a 72 hour waiting period for abortions, there should be plenty of time for two health professionals to sign.
My gut reaction to this law was that it violated HIPAA, but it doesn’t because lawmakers deemed the information to be “in the public interest.” The law also states that the confidentiality of patients will be protected, but doesn’t explain how, nor does it mention the confidentiality of the doctor. Taken as a whole, opponents of the law believe it is more red tape and intimidation techniques intended to make doctors less likely to want to offer abortions for fear, a subtle undermining of women’s rights.
To me, it is a scary reminder of what happens when we are not paying attention. Sure, I remembered hearing about the law and being urged to take action at the time, but, by the end of the day, my mind was filled with sundry, less important matters. So 2016, here’s to listening up, following up, and standing up.
Jennifer Brick is a freelance writer and former teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.