Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 24, 2020

OB-GYN advocates for better abortion policy

By JOHN FRYE | April 5, 2018

Voice for Choice, a student group advocating for women’s reproductive rights, hosted obstetrician and gynecologist Diane Horvath to give a talk titled “Conversation with an Abortion Provider” on March 29. The event also served as a fundraiser for the Baltimore Abortion Fund, a nonprofit seeking to make abortions more accessible.

Horvath discussed the challenges faced by abortion clinics, pro-choice activists, and the millions of pregnant women and gender non-binary people seeking an abortion. 

After receiving a Master’s degree in Public Health Studies from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Horvath began operating an abortion clinic in Baltimore.

At her talk, she shared stories about her patients which she feels show the importance of her work as an abortion provider. She said that she once saw a 16-year-old girl who had driven all night from Michigan.

“Her parents told her that if she got pregnant they would throw her out,” Horvath said. “She had her procedure, then drove all night to get back home. The fact that someone has to travel four states over to get health care that one in four women have in the United States is pretty ludicrous.”

She said that women who want an abortion often don’t know where to turn. Horvath hopes to provide women with a safe, medically sound facility to provide for their reproductive needs.

According to Horvath, there are only 788 legitimate abortion clinics in the country. She compared this to the roughly 4,000 “crisis pregnancy centers” run by pro-life groups which advocate against abortion.

“If you Google ‘abortion,’ you’re just as likely to get an anti-abortion website that’s going to steer you to a fake clinic as to a real clinic,” she said. “Everything about them looks legitimate, but they aren’t clinics. They aren’t licensed facilities.”

Horvath listed the dangers she associates with illegitimate clinics, as well as the tactics they employ to attract pregnant women.

“They provide free ultrasounds and pregnancy testing to get people in the door, but then tell you why you shouldn’t have an abortion,” she said. “They’ve been known to give information that abortions cause breast cancer or infertility, which they don’t. They even tell women that they’re farther along in their pregnancy than they really are.”

Horvath also mentioned that laws in certain states can mandate that legitimate clinics provide patients with false statistics about abortion.

“In Maryland, I don’t have to lie and say that abortion increases your risk of suicide,” Horvath said. “But when I was a resident in South Dakota, we had to tell people that, even though that isn’t happening. I had to lie to patients.”

Horvath added that, alongside fake clinics and medically inaccurate information, pregnant women face additional obstacles from pro-life protesters whose demonstrations traumatize patients.

“I’m lucky in that we rarely get protestors outside my clinics, but my friends in North Carolina and Mississippi and Georgia have,” she said. “Somebody who’s coming in for medical care — who is already terrified — they have to walk past people calling them whores and telling them that they’re murderers.”

Even in the face of opposition, danger, invasion of privacy or violent protests, Horvath stressed her commitment to reproductive healthcare. For her, the benefits of providing disadvantaged women with access to abortions outweigh the risks of her career.

“We have to look at the causes of unintended pregnancy and why there are such disparities in who gets pregnant unintentionally and why are there such [disparities] in how some people can access abortion,” she said.

She added that the sense of justice she associates with her career helps her avoid burning out and losing her passion.

“I chose this work because it’s a privilege to be with people in a time when so many other people turn them away,” she said. “It’s a tender, vulnerable time in people’s lives, and I think it’s a gift to be able to bring a smiling face or an open ear or to be able to give medical care without judgment.”

Audience members like juniors Laura Chico and Mallika Akhtar voiced their discontent with contemporary discourse on abortion.

Chico was surprised to learn about state interference in abortion clinics.

“The fact that the state makes doctors lie to their patients and commit this ethical crime to prevent abortions is crazy,” she said. 

Akhtar said that it was an important issue because it affects such a wide range of women.

“It was shocking to hear about all of the clinics that have seen so many protesters and how the police haven’t done anything to stop them,” Akhtar said. “Even if someone gets pregnant by accident, they should have the choice of having protesters not inhibiting it.”

Akhtar expressed her support for Horvath, adding that a lack of empathy is responsible for many violent actions she blames on the pro-life community.

“People, when they set their minds to something, can ignore the facts and feelings of people who are actually affected by the situation,” she said. “A lot of the protesters are old white men, and if they never had to go through an abortion, how can they relate to someone who has?” 

Conversely, Chico said that the laws and customs Horvath discussed could be overcome if more people were educated by abortion providers like Horvath.

“This might be optimistic, but I think humans are naturally sympathetic,” Chico said. “If they actually heard from someone who is struggling with this, they might shift their perspective a little bit.”

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