The recent Supreme Court decision regarding “partial birth abortion” once again stirs up the trouble in my heart which has existed since I took the Hippocratic oath upon graduation from medical school. Why do I and the vast majority of physicians and our society have such difficulty dealing with the fact that abortions have occurred since the dawn of humanity and will continue to occur until there are no more of us to be conceived.
I am a U.S. trained, specialty certified Physician who has practiced Obstetrics and Gynecology since 1966. My experience has been with mostly poor women in a variety of settings: in solo practice, group practice, and public clinics. I was trained in abortion techniques and as part of that training, performed abortions for congenital anomalies, severe Rh incompatibility , life threatening diabetes and renal disease,. In addition I was a first volunteer resident member of the hospital committee established under the then new California law which decided who was to be eligible for an abortion at a University medical center. I am not a religious person. I belong to no organized church. I neither fear nor anticipate any sort of reward or punishment after my death for things I have done or not done. I have no antipathy toward religion or the religious and, in fact, abhor any sort of religious or political coercion that results in harm to anyone.
I am fortunate to have had excellent training in the varied aspects of obstetrics including abortion, but before the end of my residency I could not, with my hands, abort a living fetus except to literally save a mother’s life. This was not a conscious decision, and not a decision of conscience. Having been trained as physicians, we don’t make a “decision” to help someone who is injured, or to ease the pain of someone who is suffering we just do it. It becomes our nature. I believe the termination of the life of a human fetus or premature infant is just as evident. I simply cannot do it. This I also believe is the core reason why most obstetricians and other physicians, unless it is to save the life of a mother, will not provide abortion services. It is not religion, nor political conviction, nor misogyny; we simply cannot do it.
Yet, I believe in goodness of those physicians who are comfortable with or devoted to providing abortion services. I would vigorously oppose making abortion a crime for either the pregnant woman or the abortionist. Especially early but throughout my life providing for the health of women I have cared for many who were harmed and some who were killed by abortions performed by incompetent relatives, friends or greedy criminals. Thus, I also believe any woman who determines to terminate her pregnancy she should be able to do so in a manner as safe as possible. But I cannot do it. All I ask is that I and the thousands of physicians who feel as I do not be assumed to be bad people or misogynists because an abortion is something we cannot do.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.