Pratima Gupta, MD

A Voice for Teen Patients 

The 15-year-old girl fled to San Francisco after Hurricane Katrina. Estranged from her father and separated from her mother, she now faced an unintended pregnancy. “This girl was already traumatized enough,” says Dr. Pratima Gupta, a first-year Family Planning Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, and a member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.

As a PRCH member, Gupta is busily advocating against the passage of Prop. 85, a California ballot initiative that would require physicians to notify a teen’s parents of her intent to have an abortion and impose a 48-hour waiting period after notification. Prop. 85 would have Gupta track down her patient’s mother, notify her by both certified mail and regular mail, and then require the girl to endure a “reflection period” before obtaining an abortion. Her only alternative would be to navigate the court system and obtain a judicial waiver. “To force her to jump through more hoops while dealing with an unintended pregnancy would simply be unfair,” Gupta says.

Gupta’s passion for science and compassion for individuals led her to medical school, where she had planned to study pediatrics with a focus on at-risk adolescents. Then, a rotation in obstetrics/gynecology—her father’s specialty—drew her in. “Reproductive healthcare services include everything from birth control to Pap smears, abortions to Cesarean sections,” she says. “I was amazed by the impact that an ob/gyn could have on an individual woman’s life.” Gupta also found inspiration in Dr. William Rashbaum, a founding member of PRCH who mentored her in a fourth-year Medical Students for Choice rotation. “His tales of the pre Roe v. Wade days were harrowing,” she says. “It was one of the most life-changing four weeks of my life.”

In September 2005, PRCH staff visited San Francisco General Hospital to talk to ob/gyn fellows about Prop. 73, a statewide parental notification ballot measure. Spurred to action, Gupta joined PRCH, and has since become an outspoken advocate for reproductive rights. In March 2006, she had her first taste of activism, joining seven other Bay Area PRCH physician members in Sacramento, California, to lobby for medically accurate sexuality education. “I had never done anything like that before,” she says. “It was a great opportunity to learn about advocacy.”

More recently, Gupta attended a PRCH media training, where she learned how to talk about Prop. 85 to a wide variety of audiences: a skill that’s come in quite handy, since she literally wears her opposition on her sleeve. “I wear buttons, have a sign in my window and literature that I pass out at school and at work,” she says. “If someone in the grocery store asks me about Prop. 85, I know what to say.”

Thanks to the work of PRCH members like Gupta and other advocates, Prop. 73 was defeated last year. “It was a real reaffirmation that voters in California know what’s best for our teens,” Gupta says. “But [the vote] was pretty close. That’s why the anti-choice community has brought it back [as Prop. 85].” That means Gupta is working overtime to make sure voters know about the dangers of Prop. 85. “Even doing something small, like putting a bumper sticker on your car—or telling your friends to vote against Prop. 85—can make a real difference,” she says.

Whether the issue is parental notification, comprehensive sex education, or any of the myriad bills designed to chip away at Roe v. Wade, Gupta says that PRCH has helped her develop the skills she needs to advocate on behalf of her patients. “PRCH continues to amaze me,” she says. “The support for physicians is incredible. We have a lot of weight, and our words get a lot of respect, so it’s really important that we know how to speak about the issues.”