John Brumsted: Protecting patients’ rights and public health

This commentary was written by John R. Brumsted, MD, president and CEO of UVM Health Network.

As a healthcare safety net provider to more than 1 million people in two states, UVM Health Network exists to serve the needs of our patients. So when patients’ basic right to make decisions about their healthcare is threatened, we have a duty to speak up.

This is one of those times.

The US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—and the subsequent action by politicians in many states to limit or eliminate access to safe abortion services—undermines access to health care for millions of people. This impact falls disproportionately on those who already face long-standing health inequities and systemic or socioeconomic barriers to health and well-being. Access to reproductive health care—once a constitutional right—is now largely determined by geography, politics, and privilege.

This is not how healthcare should work. UVM Health Network supports preserving access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion services. We support the right of patients to make decisions, together with their health care provider, for themselves and their families. As a longtime physician who focuses on women’s and family health care, I’ve seen firsthand how personal and difficult these decisions can be: They come down to individual circumstances, at specific points in time. I am proud that our health care system is here to serve patients as they make these decisions.

As the political rhetoric intensifies, I want to provide facts and context on this issue as it relates to our network. First, it is important to note that our patients asked us for complete reproductive care and we responded by providing these services. We offer high-quality reproductive health care, including contraceptive services and education; preconception care and planning; infertility; assisted reproductive care (including in vitro fertilization); pregnancy; abortion; and adoption—in whatever manner is appropriate based on an individual’s unique clinical circumstances.

We believe that reproductive health decisions, including abortion, are a personal matter between patient and provider. The frequent reference to “late-term abortion” in public debate ignores the fact that late-pregnancy abortion is extremely rare (both in Vermont and nationally) and almost always results from a combination of acute medical need and intense social stressors. In rare situations where abortion is considered later in pregnancy, we follow a careful decision-making process that includes mandatory consultation with clinical ethics leaders and our Chief Medical Officer. We strive to provide attentive and compassionate care in these circumstances.

I also want to note that we have strengthened our policies that allow members of our staff and students studying at our institutions to opt out of certain procedures due to moral objections. This includes abortion.

I applaud recent actions by leaders in Vermont and New York to enshrine reproductive health care rights in state law. This November, Vermont voters will consider a constitutional amendment that declares that “personal reproductive autonomy is central to the freedom and dignity to determine one’s own life path.” This is an important step to ensure that these critical health services remain accessible.

In the run-up to Vermont’s constitutional vote, we’re likely to see an increase in divisive rhetoric. But at this point, we need to focus on the fundamental right of patients to make their own health care decisions—and the consequences for patients, families, communities, and public health when that right is taken away.

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Tags: abortion , abortion amendment , Article 22 , John Brumstead , Proposition 5 , Proposition 5/Article 22 , Proposition 5 , Proposition 5/Article 22 , UVM Health Network

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