One of the most rewarding aspects of being a family physician is getting to care for every generation. Newborns and grandparents, pregnant mothers and proud fathers, all are my patients — and often, they see me as not only their doctor but a trusted friend they lean on for their emotional and spiritual well-being.
My first job always is to “do no harm.” That means respecting the life of every patient, no matter how old. Doctors of all kinds recognize the human heartbeat as a vital sign of life. Our lawmakers now have the opportunity to save tens of thousands of lives a year from abortion once an unborn child’s heartbeat can be detected.
Of the billions of heartbeats in our lifetimes, about 54 million occur before we are even born. It’s time this basic scientific knowledge is reflected in our laws.
I grew up in Puerto Rico. Many times in my career, in clinical settings, I’ve been in the position to care for the disadvantaged, poor, uninsured and minorities, including Spanish-speaking patients. I’m not surprised three-quarters of Florida’s Hispanic voters support heartbeat protections. Our culture has a strong sense of justice, as well as the importance of family and honoring our heritage. We take pride in caring for the family physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually.
So why do heavily Hispanic communities have some of the highest abortion rates in Florida? I’ve had patients come in and deliberate about whether to have an abortion. Women feel pressure from boyfriends, husbands and family members who are misled and influenced by misinformation or for financial reasons. We are targets of an industry that wants abortion facilities right near the neighborhood bodega, telling us abortion is normal and something responsible parents do. Our children aren’t getting the truth — not from abortion advocates or the media.
My first encounter with the reality of abortion was during medical school while I was doing a pathology rotation. I was young, naïve and unaware of what abortion was and how it was done. I was at a lab processing samples and suddenly came upon a bottle labeled “POC” — products of conception. I didn’t know what it was, but my job was to look at the contents and identify them for the pathologist. I received the shock of a lifetime when I saw a floating arm, a floating leg — parts of a dismembered human being. I was in disbelief.
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This child, just like any other, was no clump of cells. An unborn baby’s heart is the first organ to form, and at six weeks’ gestation, the baby’s average heart rate is about 110 beats per minute. Around eight weeks, the baby responds to a light touch. By week 10, the baby is able to wiggle his or her fingers and toes and already prefers either the left or right hand. By 15 weeks, if not earlier, the baby can feel pain.
As a primary-care physician, my focus has been prevention through education. Abortion is no exception. It as my responsibility to correct misinformation in a loving way and to provide life-affirming information for women — protecting their future and their family’s future for generations to come so that Hispanics can endure as the vital, loving, warm community that we are.
My message for every woman facing an unexpected pregnancy is that you are not alone; there are so many people across Florida and the nation waiting with open arms to help. Having worked with pregnancy centers for 20 years, I know well the scope of resources and support these nonprofits can provide: pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, medical exams and counseling; food, diapers and clothing; help with rent and utilities; classes on parenting, personal finance and more — all typically at no cost to the client.
For the amount of funding they receive, Florida’s pregnancy centers deliver vastly more — providing more than $18 million worth of services a year (including nearly $12 million in medical services) for more than 76,000 individuals and families, according to the latest data. The bill passed this month by the Florida Senate not only includes five times more funding, it expands the types of programs that can be funded and includes adoptive families as well.
I’m glad Gov. DeSantis has signed these protections into law. Florida deserves to be a national leader in saving lives and ensuring that moms receive excellent care from someone who truly cares for them and has their best interests, not their own profits, in mind.
LifeNews Note: Dr. Herrero-Szostak is an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a family practitioner with a focus on providing medical care to underserved populations.
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