As one event in a series during Reproductive Justice Week, on Tuesday night, the UR chapter of Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), hosted pro-choice panelists to comment on how their views affect their academic and professional lives. The ensuing debate emphasized the prevailing stigma that surrounds the issue of abortion as a reproductive choice.

“The purpose of the week is to raise awareness surrounding the issues of choice and reproductive freedoms,” VOX Co-President and senior Danielle Bombardier said. “Our events focus on abortion, but overall we are attempting to create a dialogue surrounding other rights, freedoms and choices that women and men make concerning reproduction.”

The night kicked off with a 25-minute film, “Voices of Choice,” which provided historical context on abortion as various doctors spoke about providing abortions before and after Roe vs. Wade, the seminal 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. Physicians in the video noted the importance of this ruling because it enabled them to offer safe, legal abortions to women in need.

Most of the night was devoted to a discussion between the 20 or so students and the four panelists, UR Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Menstrual Disorders and Reproductive Choice Morris Wortman, M.D., UR Associate Professor of OB/GYN Nancy Stanwood, M.D., and third-years UR medical students James Hildebrand and Rebecca Ryan.

“The panelists were chosen based on their association with pro-choice organizations – the medical students with Medical Students for Choice and the physicians with Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health,” Bombardier said. “Both MSFC and PRCH are associated with the University of Rochester.”

The panelists introduced themselves, highlighting experiences to articulate their pro-choice position. Students then posed questions that culminated into the dialogue. Ultimately, the panelists agreed reproductive choice is an issue that is not discussed enough.

Hildebrand noted the procedure goes unacknowledged.

“[Abortion] remains something heavily shrouded in mystery and heavily stigmatized,” he said.

He emphasized that it is a shared responsibility to create a space for abortion in common discourse.

“People are all around that have had this experience yet [they must be silent],” Hildebrand said. “The more people involved who are willing to talk about this, there’s less stigma. It’s important to recognize this isn’t just a women’s issue – this is a men’s issue, too.”

Stanwood cited that society’s inability to speak out may stem from unwillingness to talk about sex.

“We’re a little schizophrenic about sex,” she said. “There will be a commercial where people are practically fornicating over breath mints, but then you can’t show condom ads.”

The panelists were also asked to consider their roles within the medical field, albeit as a student or physician, regarding their position on abortion.

Hildebrand and Ryan felt it was important for students to be exposed to reproductive health education, including abortions. However, it is a topic not always covered by school curriculums.

“It’s our responsibility to offer counsel so we need to know all the options,” Ryan said.

Stanwood stressed abortion is not a practice that will go away.

“I think people forget when women don’t have access to abortions, they will still have them, often in desperate ways,” Stanwood said. She went on to say that in her position as a doctor, it is important to advocate for women.

“Often times the reality is lost…. The voices of my patients are lost in halls of power,” Stanwood said.

Wortman specifically addressed the fear that Roe vs. Wade could be overturned.

“Part of the problem of Roe vs. Wade, even though it represents and opportunity and liberated women, is that it did in a way as a second-hand gift,” he said. “Congress should have passed an amendment to protect women. [Instead, they] passed the responsibility away from the legislators to the Supreme Court, which created a law that could be taken away.”

Wortman stressed that during an election year, considering issues like abortion is paramount.

“Stay active,” he said. “This [abortion rights] will change in your lifetime.”

Squires is a member of the class of 2010.

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