Outrage. Numbness. Despair. These are the emotions I cycled through when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson decision on Friday, June 24, 2022, a day that will truly live in infamy. This decision effectively overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, removing the federal protection of abortion rights and giving the legislative power to the States.
As a new genetic counselor, I've been contemplating how this decision will affect my practice. I recognize I am lucky in some ways, as I will be working in the field of adult cardiogenetics. However, I will be working in a state where abortion is now banned except in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal anomaly, or life endangerment of the pregnant person, as determined by the state legislature. This means my patients are effectively being robbed of their right to make a subset of healthcare decisions surrounding pregnancy. No field of genetic counseling, and thus no genetic counselor, is exempt from dealing with the ramifications of this decision.
For those of us who will be practicing in states that have or will severely limit abortion access, what do we do? What can we do?
First, I urge you to read your state's legislation regarding abortion. While this can be grueling, we as healthcare providers must understand how state-level legislation will affect our patients.
Second, look to your workplace. While there is likely little your employer can do to circumvent legislation, it's possible workplaces may have guidelines or procedures to follow when we see patients requiring abortion services. Also, talk to your coworkers and see what options there are for patients. Establishing a streamlined plan to help patients in this position, including establishing relationships with providers and clinics in states where abortion is still legal, will make the process smoother and help avoid delays in accessing necessary care.
Third, make a list of resources for patients. This list should include clinics, abortion funds, and other abortion support organizations that may be able to help with some aspect of the process, whether it be funding transportation, offsetting procedure costs, or other resources.
Lastly, have a list of ways patients can remember the pregnancy if they desire. Some individuals want to honor the memory of the pregnancy with a memory box or album. This will allow patients to have that connection to the pregnancy and normalize what they went through, especially when termination decisions have become politicized and critiqued from all angles.
The Dobbs v. Jackson decision has changed our practice, but we are not powerless to continue advocating for our patients regarding abortion access. In fact, this decision means we are needed now more than ever to help patients navigate abortion services and support them through the process. Yes, we are new to the profession, but that doesn't mean we can't make impactful decisions to support seasoned counselors in providing empathetic and nonjudgmental healthcare services to patients when they need it most.
Bailey Kamp, MS, CGC graduated from the Brandeis University Genetic Counseling Program in 2022. She works as an adult cardio genetic counselor at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, UT.