Kyle Bukowski, MD, FACOG currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. He has dedicated his entire career to delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare. He aims to provide safe and legal care and emphasizes the importance of advocacy and intersectionality within this field.
Learn about Dr. Bukowski’s motivations for engaging in this work by reading the interview below!
How did you get involved in this field of work, and why is it important?
“I am an OBGYN by training, and I’ve worked at Planned Parenthood ever since I finished residency. It’s so necessary to ensure that people have the ability to choose when and how to parent and when not to parent. Pregnancy, while typically a very natural and joyous time in people’s lives, can absolutely be dangerous for people who have medical conditions or other socioeconomic factors that would make parenting a child or another child difficult for them.
And so having access to safe, legal abortion is, to me, a hallmark of our basic rights to bodily autonomy and usually a decision that is made to really protect the responsibility that they have to the children they may already have, to themselves, and to their futures.”
What is your favorite aspect of working in this field?
“As an obstetrician, I love delivering babies. It is one of the most special parts of medicine. But, there are few things in medicine that are as rewarding as abortion care. There’s so much politicization, stigma, and shame that surrounds abortion care. But in that moment, to be able to give somebody back their autonomy and their future by a five-minute procedure that is safer than driving your car down the street in terms of risk of major injury or death– it’s life-changing. You literally hand somebody back their autonomy and their ability to make a decision that is more in line with what their goals are. That is one of the most rewarding things.
I was raised in a very conservative, anti-choice home and community in the south, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to see and understand what this care really looks like. Each person’s story, [along with] the staff who come to work every day to take care of these patients—they are incredibly inspiring.”
How has the current political climate impacted the scope of your work?
“We always knew that relying on a Supreme Court decision was tenuous at best to ensure the rights of people to healthcare, so acutely, it has meant a lot of shifting and a lot of coordination of care to try to figure out how states that still have access to abortion care [could] allow patients to navigate getting out of a state where abortion is illegal or severely restricted to get the basic healthcare that they need. And a lot of that work has [entailed] focus on partnership– Planned Parenthood is not the only abortion provider in this country.
Compared to pretty much all other healthcare, [abortion care providers] are constantly having to balance risk with access. Every other healthcare provider doesn’t have to worry that, beyond the basics of having a fragmented, classist, and racist healthcare system in the US at baseline, they’ll have to navigate whether somebody can get their medication or get to a clinic. We are constantly having to balance not creating barriers, but also making sure that care is safe and we’re not putting anybody at undue risk.”
What is one of the most important things that people should keep in mind when considering access to abortion and reproductive healthcare?
“It really starts with investment in high quality, comprehensive sex education for children, for adolescents, for teenagers, and for young adults so that people understand their body, understand how to have safer sex, and reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy if they don’t want to become pregnant. It means making access to contraception as easy as possible, so that means removing unnecessary medical barriers, restrictions, and requirements to get on birth control, but also removing any financial barriers in terms of access to Medicaid, state family planning programs, or title 10 commercial insurance. And then lastly, it’s making sure that abortion is accessible and as easy as possible to get. Even in Maryland, where we have access, we live in a state where over 80% of counties in Maryland don’t have an abortion provider. We know that areas like Western Maryland, the Eastern shore, and rural communities are definitely under-resourced and have more barriers to getting access to abortion care than in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Every single person definitely knows and loves somebody who’s had an abortion in their life or has been affected by somebody because of an abortion in their life. And so as much as you can, talk about, normalize, and destigmatize that as basic healthcare.”
What advice would you give to other healthcare providers in this field who are currently navigating the social and political climate?
“As healthcare providers, we carry an immense amount of privilege and power, and we need to mobilize that power into advocacy and activism to fight for our rights to provide care for our patients, and to help them access the care that they need. We also need to push governments and policymakers to recognize that anytime inequity is not specifically the goal of a policy, there is a risk that inequity will come from it. Having an inequity lens on any kind of policy that is written, and thinking about who benefits and who is left out, is deeply important.
And for healthcare providers who are not directly related and are not providing abortion care, I think we should all be absolutely horrified and frightened by the fact that healthcare providers are being criminalized. There are felony laws in effect in some of these states that have bans, and no medical providers should be okay with the concept of healthcare provision being criminalized—basic, safe healthcare being criminalized—or healthcare providers being criminalized. That is a risk to all of us. Anytime a clinic closes, that is a loss for the health of a community; they’ve lost access to pregnancy testing and STI testing, preventative cancer screenings, and everything else. Losing abortion care is directly related to increased rates of maternal morbidity and maternal mortality, and we know that Black, brown, queer, and poor folks suffer the brunt of those complications the most. We should all be horrified anytime healthcare is criminalized as a larger medical community.”
Dr. Kyle Bukowski is a double board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist and Complex Family Planning Subspecialist. He currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, where he ensures that Marylanders and anyone traveling to Maryland have broad access to affordable, high-quality sexual and reproductive healthcare. Dr. Bukowski received his bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and received his medical degree and completed his residency at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Providing comprehensive, evidence-based, high-quality sexual and reproductive health care is his passion and drives his interest in advocacy, LGBTQI health, medical education, and improving access for our most vulnerable communities. In his free time, he and his husband enjoy hiking with their dogs and finding the tastiest food in any city they are exploring.
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The comments provided are solely the responsibility of the presenters and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Maryland Department of Health or any of its partners.