Monday, June 25, 2012

Richard Carmona: Abortion Is "A Decision That Should Be Made Between a Woman and Her Physician"

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Democrat Richard Carmona's campaign team is touting a new poll that shows the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate just 2 percentage points behind Congressman Jeff Flake, the GOP frontrunner. The Public Policy Polling survey showed that 43 percent of voters were supporting Flake, 41 percent were supporting Carmona and 16 percent were undecided. The Range talked with Carmona last week; a previous excerpt from the interview can be found here.

Richard Carmona: We should not have elected officials, on either side of the aisle, telling a woman how she should practice her reproductive health care.
  • Richard Carmona: "We should not have elected officials, on either side of the aisle, telling a woman how she should practice her reproductive health care."
One of the things you’ve been talking about in your campaign is women’s health care. What are you seeing that you’re concerned about?

What I’m seeing, in general, in a state that’s struggling with some of the highest foreclosures, that’s remarkably ranked among the worst educational systems in the country now, has significant immigration problems, is in a health crisis of its own for funding AHCCCS and health care—our legislature chooses to legislative contraception. Is that not a breach of fiduciary responsibility? Is it not malfeasance? It just makes no sense to me. You’re politicizing health issues. Anytime you deny any person—in this case, we’re talking about women but whether it’s children, whether it’s adults, whether it’s seniors—when you create a barrier to access to health care, the results are predictable. Your morbidity will go up, your mortality will go up, and ultimately the cost of that health care will go up because you’ll just show up later at the emergency room with a problem that could have been taken care of much earlier. Federal law says that hospitals must see you when you come for an emergency, so the hospitals then absorb the cost and physicians absorb the cost. So the cost is just redistributed. But the real issue to me, as the surgeon general, is creating barriers to health care results in deleterious health outcomes, period. So if you do it to women, what will you expect? If you deny them their reproductive health care, what happens? The amount of abortions will go up. The amount of unwanted pregnancies will go up. A whole set of health problems unique to women will increase when you deny or impede access. So to me, the bigger, overarching issue here is: We should never be politicizing health care. Health care should be one that we are all supportive of and no matter which side of he aisle you are on, we should be working to ensure that every American, women included, have access to a full set of basic health-care benefits, which include reproductive health.

State lawmakers also came up with some new restrictions on abortion, such as how late in a pregnancy a woman could have an abortion and new rules about whether doctors had to inform expecting women about birth defects. What is your general stance on abortion?

It’s a decision that should be made between a woman and her physician. Period. We should not have elected officials, on either side of the aisle, telling a woman how she should practice her reproductive health care. That just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The discussion should take place between the patient in need and the expert in the field, who is the physician or the nurse practitioner. A health professional who provides the care. So that’s my feeling. And again, if we politicize this issue, which is what’s happening now—pro-life, pro-choice—those are all artificial terms. They really don’t get to the crux of the issue. If you really want to solve the problem—which is unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions—then if you increase access to health care for women, what happens? The amount of unwanted pregnancies goes down and the question of abortion becomes moot. Shouldn’t we all be working for that endpoint? Each side looks at differently, but ultimately, no woman wants an unwanted pregnancy. And there’s a whole host of reasons why that happens. But if we ensure that everyone has access to unrestricted reproductive health care, every epidemiologist, every health professional will tell you, over time, the expected outcome would be that unwanted pregnancies will drop, and therefore abortions will drop and ultimately become moot.

What are your thoughts on stem-cell research and restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research?

I was directly involved with that when I was surgeon general and it was a big debate. The challenge was always, the people who didn’t want it said, well you’re taking life. Well, if you ask any scientist, there is no definition of life. And I respect different faiths see those cells as life or not. So some people will say, well, life isn’t really until you see the fetus. Others, theologically, say, No, you don’t have life until the baby is actually delivered. So I’m not here to pass judgment on whose theology—I respect all of them. But when I have cells that can potentially save the life of a child or a senior citizen or maybe somebody who was in an accident and will never walk again, why not unleash the power of those cells on research for the greater good of society? That’s what I believe and that’s what I stood by. We had a lot of discussions at the White House when I was there, and the president, I thought, at the time was fair. Because there were many in his party who said, “Stop all the funding of stem cells.” We said, “Don’t do that, because research will stop and there’s a lot of good things being done with stem cells. On the other hand, the other side, the Democratic side, said, “No, it should be unrestricted.” So my colleagues and I working, working with the White House, tried to carve out something that would temporize and not impede research. And the president, I must say, I thought he was fair. He said, look, I’ll approve all the lines that we are using today, I’ll still fund them. But I’m not going to fund any new lines. So I’m going to give something to each party. Which, to me, sounded democratic in nature. Now, the scientists were still upset because they said, “We really need more.” Each side was kind of upset, but those of us who negotiated this and tried to be voices of reason thought it was a reasonable compromise as we move forward and try to fix the problem. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the cell lines that were approved were contaminated and we ended up with—I don’t remember the exact number, something like 20-something cell lines, and in the next few years, people figured out how to do their research with other stem-cell lines, rather than just embryonic. So, science advanced. But at that particular point in time, I think it was a reasonable accommodation, where you had two parties that were diametrically opposed, so everybody got something.

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