I found my calling as a family medicine physician in rural Maine. My patients are diabetics bringing their glucometers for review, babies arriving for their vaccinations, and excited pregnant couples. I take care of school-aged kids, grandparents and hard-working adults.

My patients are lobstermen, construction workers and college students. They struggle with depression, addiction, hypertension, obesity and sports injuries. They are survivors of, and sometimes perpetrators of, sexual assault.

I provide full-spectrum primary care, from acute care to routine health maintenance, from delivering babies to providing abortions, and from illness to health.

I visited Washington, D.C., twice this summer to share the stories of these patients with my senator, Susan Collins, as well as her staff, and to provide my expert medical opinion as she prepares for the vote on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Collins has been a longtime supporter of issues that are important to me and my patients. She has fought for affordable medications for Mainers, advocated around diabetes care opportunities, and has stood strong time and time again against overwhelming opposition to support women’s reproductive health care access.

I told Sen. Collins that the white coat I wear in clinic represents thousands of patients’ lives, so it was with deep appreciation and honor that I shared stories of my patients’ experiences and concerns about Kavanaugh.

I told her first about a 30-year-old man who I’ll call David. He knew that he had diabetes, but he didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford his medications or doctor’s visits. He had noticed a little sore on his toe a few months earlier and had tried to keep it clean and healthy. He knew his blood sugars were running high without his insulin, and his diabetic toe ulcer became infected. When David finally came to the hospital, the bacteria had spread to his foot bone and to his blood. David had a long hospital stay and ultimately needed an amputation, both of which could have been avoided if he had been able to access medicines and preventive care.

Collins also heard about a patient who I’ll call Marie. A teenager living in rural Maine, Marie was in an abusive relationship when she learned that she was pregnant. She knew that if she continued her pregnancy, she would never be able to escape a cycle of poverty and violence. Because they didn’t have a vehicle that could safely make the drive, a family member rented a car and borrowed money for the gas to bring her to the appointment. After her abortion, Marie tearfully thanked me and the staff for re-opening a future for her in which she could be free of the relationship, leave her hometown, and go away to school.

When I met with Sen. Collins in August, it was already clear that Kavanaugh was unfit to serve on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh had used his judicial power to limit access to safe and legal abortion, as the nation saw in Garza v. Hargan, the case of the young undocumented woman seeking an abortion. He also wrote that he believes employers have the right to deny their employees birth control in his dissent to the D.C. Circuit’s 2015 ruling on the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act.

As an American, I believe that the Constitution protects an individual’s liberty to make personal decisions about their bodies and relationships; as a physician, I believe that my patients’ right to privacy should not be supplanted by judicial meddling.

I watched with dismay and disappointment as Kavanaugh testified in response to sexual assault allegations. His anger at the process, sense of entitlement, and lack of empathy for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford disturbed me deeply. If I were to speak with Sen. Collins again, I would tell her that we cannot afford to have a man making decisions about fundamental rights when he clearly cannot respect those of the women he knew. Listening to Ford reminded me of the stories of Mainers I know who have survived sexual assault.

Collins has a unique opportunity to preserve her legacy as a champion for access to affordable, comprehensive, compassionate health care, especially reproductive health care. She has the opportunity to stand up for survivors of sexual violence. As she casts her final vote for Kavanaugh, I hope she remembers the stories of my patients, and that our futures and our freedoms are depending on her.

Dr. Julia McDonald is an Augusta-based doctor and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.


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