Diane Horvath-Cosper

Abortion Doctor Sues Hospital Over Right to Speak in Support of Abortion Rights

This abortion provider hero in Washington DC is suing the hospital where she works for preventing her from speaking publicly in support of reproductive rights. ThinkProgress reports:

The doctor, Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper, performs abortions as part of her “Family Planning Fellowship” position at D.C.’s MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and has been a long-time advocate for abortion rights at the local and national level. Last October, just a month before an anti-abortion gunman attacked a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, Horvath-Cosper published an op-ed in the Washington Post that chronicled the constant death threats she and her family receive on a weekly basis.

“I stand by what I do. I know that it is contentious,” she wrote. “But threats and violence are not the appropriate way to debate. Americans of good conscience can disagree about the morality of abortion, but we should all agree that no physicians ought to be terrorized for doing their jobs.”

She never thought MedStar would oppose her public support, especially since advocacy is a required part of her fellowship.

But according to the complaint, MedStar placed a “gag order” on Horvath-Cosper after the November shooting in Colorado Springs as a safety precaution. When she argued against the ban, hospital officials threatened to fire her, according to the complaint. The claim alleges that hospital director Dr. Gregory Argyros told her he did “not want to put a Kmart blue-light special on the fact that we provide abortions at MedStar.”

To some extent, I can sympathize with the hospital’s position here. The Colorado Springs massacre was the most tragic incident in a disturbing uptick in anti-choice vandalism and harassment lately. Certainly, for decades, the very real threat of violence that abortion providers face every day has led many to decide to keep quiet about their work — an entirely understandable choice. But notably, MedStar hasn’t implemented many heightened security measures to keep Horvath-Cosper safe while she does her entirely legal and much-needed work.

As Horvath-Cosper’s lawyer said, “Muzzling employees and otherwise discriminating against them for speaking out about abortion doesn’t bolster the safety of patients and providers — but it does break the law.” Specifically, the Church Amendment, which protects physicians from employment discrimination based on their moral convictions and has typically been used by doctors who hold the opposite conviction and refuse to provide abortions. Frankly, I think it is absurd that the law permits ob-gyns to refuse to perform an extremely common aspect of reproductive health care. It seems to me that if you aren’t willing to provide a procedure that a third of your patients will need at some point, you simply aren’t qualified for the job.

I hope that Horvath-Cosper’s bravery here — not only providing abortions but legally fighting for the right to talk publicly about what she does and why — spurs others within the medical community to speak out. “Especially at a time when abortion is marginalized and under attack, I’m compelled to speak out about the importance of abortion as a legal and safe medical procedure that’s critical to women’s health,” she said in a press release. “Abortion has become so stigmatized in this country. As a doctor, I have a responsibility to urge that abortion be recognized as the integral part of women’s medical care that it is.”

Note that she says “as a doctor” — not “as a doctor who provides abortions.” The stigma around abortion — within and without the medical community — has become so severe that there are understandable reasons that young doctors are discouraged from offering the procedure. But even doctors who don’t perform abortions themselves have an obligation to speak out in support of their colleagues, patients, and the indisputable fact that safe abortion is a necessary part of good reproductive health care — and against the ever-increasing slew of anti-choice laws that violate the scientific and ethical standards of their profession.

Header image credit: MSNBC

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation