ON MAY 9, Seattle Clinic Defense (SCD), a grassroots abortion rights group, picketed the University of Washington's (UW) Students for Human Life event titled "What's Science Got to Do With It? Abortion from an OB/GYN's Perspective."
The talk was advertised as a "scientifically grounded" lecture by a "pro-life" OB/GYN named Dr. John Bruchalski of Tepeyak Family Center, which, according to their website, offers "a full range of obstetrical and gynecological services, including well woman care and cancer screenings, natural fertility consultation, obstetrics care, gynecologic surgery, a perinatal hospice, holistic medicine and level I and II ultrasounds while respecting the dignity and the intrinsic worth of each patient."
However, under their "mission and values" section, they state, "Tepeyac's mission is to convey the healing presence of Christ through excellent medical care that respects the consciences of patients and providers."
Although Bruchalski is a legitimate doctor, it is clear, even from his website, that his services do not fall under the realm of "full scope" care--which would include contraception and, at a minimum, unbiased, medically accurate counseling on abortion.
SCD partnered with two groups affiliated with the University of Washington for the picket--Third Wave Feminists and the International Socialist Organization. SCD held a picket of a similar speaker, also sponsored by UW Students for Human Life last May. Instead of choosing an anti-choice talking head, the group decided to attempt a meeting in which they tried to use a scientific argument against abortion.
The picket started with a circular protest outside the building in which the lecture was held. Protesters passed out fact sheets with reliable scientific studies about the safety and necessity of abortion to passers-by. The picket then moved inside and participants lined the doorway to the event so that those attending had to either walk through or even be escorted by one of the organizers.
Many of the protesters noted loudly how ironic it was that anti-choicers had to be escorted into the event, as the gauntlet was meant to be a recreation of what pro-life picketers do to women attempting to access reproductive health services.
The group then moved inside before the event started and stood at the back. After Dr. Bruchalski was introduced the picketers unfurled banners that read, "Trust Women" and "Seattle Clinic Defense" and marched down the isles of the auditorium while chanting "Pro-life men have got to go, when you get pregnant let us know."
After leaving the event, the group continued cheering and chanting in the foyer outside the lecture hall. Police eventually closed and locked the doors, having to unlock them in order for attendees to get back in.
Following the end of a question-and-answer session several students approached the protesters and noted that they had thought the event was going to be an unbiased examination of abortion from a scientific perspective. Instead, they reported that Dr. Bruchalski quoted Soviet-era studies on abortion causing breast cancer and being harmful to future fertility.
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SEATTLE CLINIC Defense not only defends clinics, but it is essential that our scope of organizing encompasses events such as these, and especially events in which those purporting to be compassionate medical providers are engaging in activities that deny women services and deny women access to medically accurate, shame-free care for any reproductive decision they may make.
Our current political culture is one in which women's reproductive decisions are colored by political rhetoric at best and outright restricted around the country, either by law or by anti-choice picketers who harass and intimidate women. Furthermore, in an era where Catholic hospitals are merging with secular institutions at an alarming rate, 44 percent of hospitals in the Northwest are Catholic-affiliated.
We must demand that our health care providers are safely and adequately prepared to give women the reproductive health care they need and deserve. Most importantly, we must call them out and demand that they live up to their oath to do no harm.
Instead of mitigating harm, the right is creating dangerous situations for women by denying access to legal, safe health care. Kermit Gosnell, a man who performed late-term abortions in West Philadelphia far outside the realm of safety and who was recently convicted of murder, was able to operate in part because of doctors like Bruchalski, who have contributed to a climate of restrictions and shame around women's right to obtain an abortion.
The fewer doctors that are trained in providing accurate abortion and contraceptive counseling the more harm will come to women who will seek care from those who are not qualified to perform safe abortion.
Many anti-choice physicians claim that they violate the Hippocratic oath by performing abortions, but what is unacceptable is to bring religion and politics in the exam room. When anti-choice events like Bruchalski's speech occur, pro-choice activists and health care providers must echo George Tiller and say, "You do not speak for me. Real providers trust women."