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Planned Parenthood director remains optimistic

When Dr. David Eisenberg was in high school, his mother told him her story of the pregnancy she had in 1971 in northeast Philadelphia. 

She and Eisenberg’s father already had two children and she became pregnant despite the fact that she had an intrauterine device. Her obstetrician told her, “This is going to be a really challenging pregnancy. There is a high risk of early pregnancy loss in addition to the potential for… premature labor… and it could even threaten your future fertility.”

His mother opted to have an abortion.

“She used a wonderful phrase to describe the decision making that she and my father went through when choosing to end that pregnancy. They made the decision to end that pregnancy out of love, knowing that they loved the children they had, loved the children they would have and that they could not see the humanity of bringing a child into the world through such a challenged start,” said Eisenberg, who was not yet born when his mother had the abortion. 

Eisenberg, who is Jewish, heard that story again when he was in medical school, and it influenced his decision to become an obstetrician and focus on family planning. He now serves as medical director of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, which means he’s on the frontlines of the battle over abortion rights in the wake of legislation passed in Missouri and elsewhere. The Republican-led Missouri legislature recently approved a bill which bans abortion in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Gov. Mike Parson has said he plans to sign the bill.

Eisenberg spoke with the Jewish Light Monday about his views on abortion and what he thinks the future holds for people who, like him, are pro-choice. [His responses have been edited for space.] 

What do you see as the future of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis with this new law?

It will likely not go into effect for a long period of time because of the litigation that will be filed by many different entities to try to block it from going into effect. We anticipate that we will continue to be able to provide care in the way that we have been providing care because of those challenges.

I think it’s really important that people understand that just because a bill passes doesn’t mean it’s enforceable. There is a whole legal back-and-forth that could take months or years to work itself out. 

If it ever [is implemented] we will figure out a way to take care of people because the thing that we know to be true is that abortion is a part of healthcare; it’s a routine part of healthcare that more than one in four women will need in their lifetime. (The American Journal of Public Health reported in 2017 that one in four women will have an abortion by age 45.) 

Has Planned Parenthood been doing anything differently to prepare for legislation like this? Did you see this bill coming?

I have been here since the summer of 2009, and it has become harder and harder every year to take care of women and families in Missouri because of these overzealous regulations. It has not made the population of people we take care of in Missouri and beyond healthier. These regulations make the healthcare we provide more expensive, and [it’s] difficult to comply with the regulations.

We have seen that kind of constant march to regulating abortion care out of existence  — not because abortion care is difficult medicine or because it’s somehow risky — but the bottom line is it’s about women’s rights to self-determination and private medical decisions.

We have seen the writing on the wall with regards to legislation coming like this for a long time because they are trying to take away access to birth control. It’s not about abortion; it’s about the status of women in this country.

What do you foresee happening?

There are a couple things. Number one, abortion will always be part of the human condition. The circumstances of women being able to access it may change, and we will do everything we can to make sure that those circumstances are not only without significant hurdles or barriers but also so that it’s patient-centered and safe and affordable. 

On the political side of things, I’m a very staunch optimist. I call myself a pathologic optimist. I believe in the greater good. I believe in humanity, and I think that people will see through the false narrative about why these bills are being passed and see it for what is, which is an attack on women’s autonomy. 

How did this become work that you were passionate about?

I went into medicine with a public health lens. I believe the average healthcare provider has a responsibility to take care of more than just the patient in front of them because the patient comes from a family and the health of that person impacts the health of the family, and that family comes from a community, and the health of the family impacts the community, and the health of that community impacts the health of our society.

One of the things I know to be true about healthcare is that every person in their lifetime will at some point be a patient and they deserve access to the highest-quality, patient-centered care that they can get. 

What would you recommend to people who are opposed to the proposed anti-abortion law in Missouri?

Not just being engaged in a social media campaign such as posting something on Facebook or Twitter but also coming out and being present in person.  I believe that the reason that the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the women’s rights movement made such significant strides between the 1950s and 1990s is because to do something you had to be present. In the last 15 or so years to feel like you are doing something by posting something on social media no longer requires you to be present. If you are not present, in person in the face of these legislators who are creating these bad laws, they will not see it as a negative consequence to their future careers.