“I’m the only male here,” Stump, a medical student, said. “If my voice is shaking, that’s probably why.”
Stump was one of two panelists at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s celebration of the 38th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court ruling to legalize abortion in the landmark case, Roe v. Wade. At the event, a panel discussed the challenges the medical community faces while providing abortions.
“There’s obviously a lot of stigma around providing abortions, a lot of which comes from fear of persecution,” Stump said. “Most of our medical education is based on core sciences. Ethics, having classes that evaluate issues, or courses that ask you to do more than find where the heart is are fairly nonexistent.”
Not only was he the only man present, but Stump was also the only member of the medical society that was willing to take part in the celebration. The fear of harassment or violence kept other willing members of the medical community away from the event.
This reduced the panel of three to only two people.
“You’ll notice we have a place setting for Dr. (Damon) Stutes,” said Alison Gaulden, panelist and vice president of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. “In August, when we reached out to him, he said ‘Yes, I will come and talk to you about the challenges I face.’ As we got closer to the event he said he couldn’t do it.”
Gaulden said that Stutes, an abortion doctor in northern Nevada, has faced ridicule, violence and protestors for more than 20 years. According to Gaulden, he is threatened, called in the middle of the night at his home and even women who visit his practice face protestors. He is one of many doctors on a decades-old list with crosshairs next to his name, and even though the location of the event was private, he did not feel he could attend.
Along with Stutes’ empty chair and nameplate were five others, representing the doctors that Planned Parenthood tried to get to provide medical abortions.
“When we announced we were going to provide this service, we had two doctors,” Gaulden said. “One has a practice with someone who is anti-choice. She decided to leave. The other doctor felt that she couldn’t take on the whole role, so she left.”
After losing both their doctors, Gaulden said Planned Parenthood reached out to the community. Three more willing doctors were found, but backed out of the program because of their connection to other doctors who did not support Planned Parenthood, because they worked at religiously affiliated hospitals or could not get licensed in Nevada to provide abortions.
“These are the challenges we face in the medical community,” she said. “I think women should have control over their own bodies. Wombs do not need to be regulated.”
Patty Elzy, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, agreed that women’s health and rights are being threatened with regulation and accessibility.
“One out of every three American women will have an abortion and 87 percent of all U.S. counties lack an abortion provider,” she said. “Yet many people assume because abortion is legal, it is accessible. Here in Nevada we have the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and third highest teen abortion rate. That is why we’re here today.”
Stump said he believes the medical community is fearful of providing abortions because of what colleagues and advisors will think, and what will appear on their applications for residency.
“All these little tidbits go in a file that somehow resurfaces when we apply for residency and nobody really wants something that’s going to tarnish that application,” he said. “I know people that have taken organizations like LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer People) off their resumes because they’re afraid what the programs would think. I chose to keep my Planned Parenthood activities on there because if there’s a program that doesn’t want me because of that, I don’t want them.”